By Aaron Blake - 06/14/09 07:07 PM EDT
In recent weeks, GOP leaders and rank-and-file members have offered stinging rebukes of the Democratic control in Washington in terms that Democrats say have gone over the line.
That came as Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) was drawing heat from Democrats for saying that he told Chinese leaders that “the budget numbers that the U.S. has put forward should not be believed” and that Congress would spend more than what is contained in the budget.
Just days before, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) said at a fundraising dinner for House and Senate Republicans that Obama’s efforts to stimulate the economy and save automakers have “already failed.”
Democrats contend that Republicans have jumped the shark and staked out such an extreme position against the administration that they should no longer be taken seriously.
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) Chairman Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said after Cantor’s comments this week that the approach is alienating even members of the Republican Party.
A USA Today/Gallup poll last week showed 38 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents viewed the GOP unfavorably.
“When Republicans have no ideas and no leadership, they resort to personal attacks and bank on failure,” Van Hollen said. “It’s no wonder that recent polling shows that one-third of Republicans hold an unfavorable view of their own party.”
For their part, Republicans are mostly unapologetic. The rhetoric is part of a continued effort to portray the Obama administration as something of an inept “Big Brother,” unable to deal appropriately with the challenges created by the economy and, all the while, expanding government.
Ken Spain, a spokesman with the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), said Democrats should focus on what they are doing, rather than what the opposition is saying.
“It would be nice if Democrats could spend some time creating jobs instead of growing the size of the federal bureaucracy and pointing fingers,” Spain said.
But not every example of the GOP’s strong rhetoric has been focused on the economy.
Democrats point to comments made by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) in recent months which said Obama was well on his way to becoming the “abortion president.”
And then there are the usual suspects – Gingrich, former Vice President Dick Cheney, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and, increasingly, NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas).
Gingrich has also caused a stir in recent weeks by labeling Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor a “racist,” because she said that experiencing life as a Hispanic woman might make her a better judge than a white man. Gingrich later backed off that assertion.
Bachmann’s well-publicized statements have led to the creation of a section on the DCCC’s website devoted solely to her.
The first midterm election under a new president is almost always a referendum on how that president is performing. Election experts agree that, for the Republicans to make serious gains in the 2010 elections, Obama’s popularity needs to come down.
Democrats have labeled Republicans the “party of no” and said they are rooting for Obama to fail, as conservative talker Rush Limbaugh has openly advocated.
But Republicans say it’s not about rooting for failure, but rather keeping Democrats honest in their efforts to expand government.
“At some point Democrats are going to have to come to grips with the fact that they won the 2008 election and start governing,” Spain said.
Van Hollen said it’s time for Republicans to stop lobbing bombs and become a part of the process.
“Republicans should stop the name-calling, roll up their sleeves, and start working with the president and congressional Democrats to turn the economy around,” he said.