By A. B. Stoddard - 06/18/08 06:17 PM EDT
For congressional Republicans, the cruelest month came a few weeks late this year. In May, as Rep. Vito Fossella (R-N.Y.) fell off the Family Values Wagon and added the 26th open seat for the GOP to defend, the party gained pariah status by losing the third straight special election in a rock-solid Republican district.
The circular firing squad pointed their weapons at House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) and National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Cole (Okla.). Former House Speaker and revolutionary-turned-party-savant Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) penned an urgent missive titled “My Plea to Republicans: It’s Time For Real Change To Avoid Real Disaster,” and retiring Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), one of the party’s keenest political minds, stated in his own 18 pages of doom, “if we were a dog food, they would take us off the shelf." When, around the same time, the leadership’s newest agenda slogan turned out to be the same one used to sell antidepressants, the public-relations debacle verged on the poetic.
It would be easy to blame the leadership, as if there were anything GOP leaders could possibly do in time to reverse a tidal wave that has been building for years. The reasons will be myriad, but a larger loss of seats this year won’t come down to what the leadership’s “Reasons to Believe” working group should have proposed or how strongly Republicans touted their opposition to the anemic record of the Democratic Congress. The voters, minds made up, aren’t listening.
At last count, more than two dozen Republicans are retiring. Add to that the 11 cases of corruption, ethics or embarrassment in this cycle, following the nine from the last cycle. The fundraising disparity is withering, the polling ominous. The voter registration and voter turnout for Democrats is staggering. After years under Republican stewardship, the economy verges on recession, with accelerating foreclosures, oil and gas prices that were unthinkable even a year ago, a declining dollar, a snowballing deficit, burgeoning debt, inflation, wage stagnation, you name it.
Don’t forget an unpopular war, the energy crisis, and anxiety about healthcare. Then there is a depressed Republican vote, thanks to the party’s broken promises about spending and limited government. Then there is a newly galvanized black vote, inspired by the candidacy of Barack Obama, that threatens Republicans in urban areas everywhere, and throughout the GOP stronghold in the South.
Then there is President George W. Bush, the Uniter himself, who after two terms has united more than 80 percent of Americans to conclude the country is on the wrong track. Bush has tied the entire Republican Party to the tracks, and a speeding train is headed straight at them.
What can be done now? Nothing. Literally. There is a continued, desperate lashing about, the common response to being tied to train tracks. But the question of where the Republican Party goes next, or just when it ran out of ideas, won’t be answered for years. Everyone wants a target now. But how can Republicans blame Boehner? He never asked for, nor has he taken, an earmark. His call for an earmark moratorium fell on deaf Republican ears this year. And it was Boehner who convinced them last year — when Iraq was teetering on the brink of civil war — to hold together to support the surge. Boehner intentionally did so without the White House. It took fortitude, and Boehner stopped what would have been a debilitating breakdown in his party over the war.
This fall John McCain, the un-Republican, may yet defy history to win his party a third term in the White House, but the Congress is now surely out of reach. How to sit back and enjoy the coming landslide? Lay off Boehner, and try a martini instead.
Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.