Thursday, May 11, 2006

The parties of disarray

It will come as no surprise that the Republicans are in disarray, with even hard-core partisans turning on President Bush.

The Gallup polling organization recorded a 13-percentage-point drop in Republican support for Bush in the past couple of weeks. These usually reliable voters are telling pollsters and lawmakers they are fed up with what they see as out-of-control spending by Washington and, more generally, an abandonment of core conservative principles.

There are also significant pockets of conservatives turning on Bush and Congress over their failure to tighten immigration laws, restrict same-sex marriage, and put an end to the Iraq war and the rash of political scandals, according to lawmakers and pollsters.

Those are just poll numbers, of course, and it's never a good idea to read too much into them. But the trend has been significant. And the really bad news for Republicans is that conservatives increasingly see little difference between them and the Democrats:

Michael Franc, a top official at the Heritage Foundation, said his organization hosted 600 of its top conservative donors last week and heard more widespread complaining about Republicans than at any other point in the past 12 years. "It begins with spending, extends through immigration and results in a sense that we have Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Dee for the two parties," Franc said.

Without that difference the election will come down to a referendum on Republican governance, which they will lose. This is a good thing in general -- I think most elections should be a referendum on the party in power. And in this case Republicans roundly deserve to lose. Let's just hope we don't see a whole lot of bad legislation over the next six months as the GOP desperately tries to shore up its prospects.

What might be surprising is that the Democrats are in disarray, too:

Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean and the leader of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee have clashed angrily in recent days in a dispute about how the party should spend its money in advance of this fall's midterm elections.

Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), who is leading the party's effort to regain majority status in the House, stormed out of Dean's office several days ago leaving a trail of expletives, according to Democrats familiar with the session.

The problem is that some Dems want to focus on winning seats this November, while Dean wants to take a long-term view and rebuild the party from the ground up -- and there's not enough money to do both well.

Dean's right that the party needs restructuring. The Dems need to rebuild their platform, and they need to find effective leadership -- something that neither Nancy Pelosi nor Harry Reid provide. But it's not at all clear that Dean is the man for the job, either. His public gaffes have been mounting, and his fundraising hasn't kept pace with his ambitions or the GOP, which has outraised him 2-to-1 in the current election cycle. He's very smart and charming, something I'm reminded of every time I hear him speak. But he's not the measured moderate I want to see in charge.

His triumphs -- energizing the base, using the Internet -- seem largely tactical, not strategic. And his strategy -- spending heavily in Republican strongholds as a long-term effort to build the party base -- is quixotic if it costs the party seats in the meantime, and pointless if that spending is not supported by leadership and platform reforms. If you have a flawed product, no amount of marketing is going to get people to buy it.

Dean should be laying the long-term foundation first, and only then spend heavily to market it. He can do that on the cheap, freeing up money for the November campaign. Increased Democrat influence should translate into increased Democrat fundraising, which will make achieving Dean's long-term plan easier.

Sometimes the Republicans' greatest asset is that the Democrats are their chief opponent. Few governing parties have offered their opponents such an opportunity as exists now for the Democrats. It would be sadly typical if the Dems failed to capitalize on Republican woes because they were too focused on their own problems.

On the other hand, perhaps the sorry state of both parties will cause the rank-and-file to finally get fed up with the current leadership. And then perhaps the ideologues will be thrown overboard and the moderates reassert control. The public hunger for such a move exists; and the first party to make it happen could well be in the driver's seat for years to come.

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Blogger Charlie said...

This has been a long time in coming. I'm surprised that it took this long, actually. The GOP will need a strong leader in 2008 to guide them back to a more traditional Republican position.

5/11/2006 2:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Even if true, how is that possibly anything postive for Democrats? Do you really think that because some Republicans might think Bush hasn't always upheld the conservative agenda, that this will equate to votes for Democrats? I don't follow that logic.

All it means is that they'll vote for someone even more conservative in the fall and in 2008.

5/11/2006 8:57 PM  

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