'06 Elections May Not Fill Leadership Vacuum
All second-term presidents eventually become lame
ducks, but President Bush is looking more and more like a truly
crippled duck. He is plagued by miserably low approval ratings,
an unpopular war, a stalled legislative agenda, gigantic federal
budget deficits, and several scandals within his administration
Joseph Ellis aptly summarized the president’s problems on
CBS News’ Face the Nation last Sunday, saying,
“Lame ducks can’t enforce [party] discipline, …
chickens come home to roost,” and second-term presidents
are so cocooned in the White House that they “lose touch
with the American people.”
two independent national polls indicating that 43 percent of Americans
“strongly disapprove” of Bush’s performance,
it is difficult to imagine that the president will be able to
significantly strengthen his position. Meanwhile, Congress appears
unable to provide meaningful leadership or to advance a signifi-
cant legislative agenda, either before or after the 2006 elections.
Republicans’ once-rigid party discipline has broken down,
resulting in a series of embarrassing losses or nearlosses. The
leadership model that worked so well for Speaker Dennis Hastert
when he played good cop to then-Majority Leader Tom DeLay’s
bad cop isn’t nearly as effective with four good cops—Hastert;
Majority Whip Roy Blunt, the acting majority leader; Rules Committee
Chairman David Dreier; and Chief Deputy Majority Whip Eric Cantor.
Where is the S.O.B. who will keep the troops in line?
ahead, the midterm election will probably result in: A) House
Republicans losing five to 14 seats and maintaining their majority
but without real control, or B) House Republicans losing 15 to
20 seats, giving Democrats a microscopic majority but not real
Republicans have very little chance of padding their majority
in a meaningful way. Likewise, odds are against the Democrats’
seizing the speaker’s gavel with lots of seats to spare.
So, just as neither party truly has a working House majority today,
neither is likely to have one after next year’s elections.
the Senate, Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., is one of the
most talented people in modern times to hold a Senate leadership
position. But most observers, including his own partisans, would
concede that he is the weakest majority leader, from either party,
in recent memory. Having announced when he was first elected to
the Senate that he would serve only two terms, Frist is now a
lame duck, making the always difficult task of herding those proverbial
Senate cats virtually impossible.
Republicans have a respectable 55-44-1 majority. But because several
moderate-to-liberal Republicans often go their own way and because
very few Democrats side with the GOP on key votes, the Republicans’
advantage is weaker than it looks.
most likely outcome of the Senate midterm elections is: A) Republicans
lose one to five seats, maintaining their majority but slicing
their precarious edge even thinner, or B) Democrats pick up six
or seven seats, gaining a very slim majority but with no real
control. In 2007, a very cagey Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is
almost certain to become his party’s Senate leader, with
either Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania or, more likely, former Majority
Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi stepping into the role of GOP
whip. The Senate GOP will probably keep something of a majority;
new, stronger leaders will be in front of a smaller army.
bottom line: This country now has a very serious leadership vacuum,
both in the executive branch and in Congress. Regardless of whether
Republicans maintain their majorities in both chambers (which
still seems most probable), or Democrats grab at least one razor-thin
majority, neither party is likely to be in a position to exercise
will it mean for national and international affairs if the world’s
only true superpower drifts somewhat aimlessly for next three
years or so, with no person or party in true control? Can that
be healthy for the United States or for the world? Healthy or
not, the nation’s leadership vacuum probably won’t
be filled anytime soon.
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by National Journal.
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