Mark of Distinction
What the Democratic field can learn from Mark Warner.
This year, the GOP seems determined not to make that mistake again. Thanks to Tom DeLay's resignation and President Bush's unpopularity, party discipline will no longer hold Republicans back. Bush's low numbers free other party strategists to move out from under the shadow of Karl Rove. Although Rove is fully capable of leading his party to defeat—he nearly blew the 2000 election in the closing weeks, and deserved to lose in 2004—he's not the kind of sure loser who can botch entire elections all by himself.
Free to think for themselves at last, Republicans have already come up with at least three distinct and contradictory losing strategies for 2006. The contradictions alone suggest that together, Republicans can do worse.
The first Republican strategy, coming from the White House, has been to raise the president's profile down the stretch so that the election is all about Bush. Even with the slight uptick in some recent polls, Bush's unpopularity is conservatives' best hope for big midterm losses.
The second GOP strategy, coming from the Senate, has been to remind voters that any Republican voices of reason will be detained and forced to undergo intense negotiations—and that the president himself retains ultimate authority to make sure that moderation is allowed only on a case-by-case basis.
Yet both of these strategies can only carry the GOP so far. Bush's name is not actually on the ballot in November, and some voters may be confused about how to vote against him. Others may see John McCain and John Warner on the news and somehow conclude that what Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times calls "the prudence party" has gained the upper hand in Republican circles.
To be on the safe side, Republicans have come up with a third strategy to lose the midterms: let Congress be Congress. The press loves to focus on Bush's approval ratings, which hover in the high 30s and low 40s. But according to the most recent New York Times poll, Congress's approval rating is just 25%—the lowest since the 1994 election.
Conservatives, rejoice! America hates the current Congress—and unlike Bush, every Republican House member is actually on the ballot.
In recent weeks, growing tensions between the House and Senate have helped remind voters how little Congress has accomplished. With his eye on the Republican nomination, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has a particular incentive to give conservatives the midterm spanking they're demanding. With only a week to go before adjournment, he seems poised to deliver a do-nothing Congress well worth losing.
Republicans will need all these strategies, and a national tide, to make their base happy losers in November. If they didn't want Congress, Republicans shouldn't have fought for partisan redistricting that saddled them with so many safe seats.
Of course, if their party fails to lose this fall, conservatives will be quick to blame Democrats. But by fighting back, running hard, and offering an alternative, Democrats are trying to help Republicans take a beating in November. Conservatives are right to put their foot down: If Republicans can't lose this year, they ought to find a new profession. ... 1:17 P.M. (link)
Friday, Sept. 22, 2006
Bruce Reed, who was President Clinton's domestic policy adviser, is CEO of the Democratic Leadership Council and co-author with Rahm Emanuel of The Plan: Big Ideas for Change in America.E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his disclosure here.
Photographs of: George Bush on the Slate home page by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images; power station on Slate's home page by Digital Vision; the Eiffel Tower on Slate's home page by Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images; Karl Rove on Slate's home page by David McNew/Getty Images.