January 24, 2006
Where Did the Democrats' Big '06 Go?
between President Bush’s Veterans Day’s speech last
year when he personally fired back at Democrats who had been continually
suggesting that he had lied the country into war and the December
16th New York Times revelation of the NSA wiretapping
program, the outlook for the 2006 elections began to shift.
Many of today’s
pundits are getting side-tracked by the Abramoff scandal and are
missing the change in the political terrain. While the Abramoff
mess is indicative of much of what is wrong in Washington, it
is not the earth shattering political typhoon that is going to
wipe out the Republican majority in Congress. There is just no
evidence that this issue is galvanizing the public in a way that
will cause them to vote out incumbents who aren’t directly
caught up in the Abramoff fraud.
to say the Republican majority in Congress, particularly in the
House, hasn’t lost its way to a certain degree over the
last four years, and the Abramoff story does serve to make this
point. But Republicans appear to recognize that they
have strayed and need some fresh blood in their leadership if
they are going to 1) accomplish what they came to Washington to
do in 1994 and 2) continue to remain the majority party.
in many ways the success of the Democrats and the media in demonizing
leading Republicans has worked to help the GOP hold on to power.
Gingrich’s departure in 1998 helped the party put a different
face on their majority and removed a big public negative. DeLay’s
current troubles and his having to step aside are providing Republicans
with another chance to rejuvenate their majority. They would be
wise to take advantage of this opportunity.
victory in the race to fill DeLay’s leadership post would
be the most bullish for GOP prospects because it would signal
the clearest return to the spirit of 1994 and a break from the
business as usual mentality of the last 2-4 years. But even if
Blunt ends up holding on to win, he carries significantly less
public baggage than DeLay.
are smart they would do more than just make cosmetic changes on
private travel and focus on the serious problem of earmarks and
out of control spending. At the end of the day, Congress will
pass some kind of lobbying “reform” which should
be enough to provide members the Abramoff cover they are looking
us to the Democrats and their prospects in November. Back in the
fall in the aftermath of Katrina, with the White House asleep
in defending the War and then culminating in October with the
disastrous Miers nomination, the Democrats were dreaming of House
chairmanships and Speaker Pelosi. Given where things stand today,
let’s just say those expectations need to be extremely dialed
as the NSA wiretap story was unfolding and the debate on the Patriot
Act was ongoing in the Senate, I suggested that Democrats had
right into a trap with their relentless attack on Bush and
recognizing the political ground had shifted beneath their feet,
Democrats continued to press forward with their offensive against
the President. They’ve now foolishly climbed out on a
limb that Rove and Bush have the real potential to chop off.”
Karl Rove began to saw that limb off. In a speech
before the Republican National Committee, Rove made it clear what
the Democrats can expect in 2006.
the core, we are dealing with two parties that have fundamentally
different views on national security….Republicans have
a post-9/11 worldview and many Democrats have a pre-9/11 worldview.
That doesn't make them unpatriotic -- not at all. But it does
make them wrong -- deeply and profoundly and consistently wrong."
will scream foul that Republicans are challenging Democrats’
patriotism, but those complaints didn’t save Max Cleland’s
senate seat or get John Kerry elected President. Why the Democrats
continue to focus their attacks on national security related issues
(Iraq, wire-tapping, Gitmo, and torture) is beyond me. I suspect
a big reason is the Howard Dean/Moveon.org/DailyKos influence
that is becoming increasingly more mainstream in the Democratic
Party. And while this influence may bring increased grass roots
energy to the Democratic side, it also leads to Democratic politicians
in Washington losing touch with where the average American is
on these fundamental national security issues. The NSA wiretapping
story that the left pounced on as some kind of Nixonian crime
is likely going to turn into a complete public relations debacle
for the Democrats.
I am not
a constitutional lawyer, but it seems clear that there is a gray
area as to whether the President’s policy breaks the law.
In the post 9/11 world the public expects - in fact, the public
demands - that their Commander in Chief do everything in his or
her legal power to protect the American people. So when a President
gets counsel that he can legally monitor international-domestic
communications involving al Qaeda suspects and when he consults
with the appropriate leaders in Congress, the only political damage
will be to those politicians who demand this type of program be
a long way out from November and, as the last three months have
shown, the political field can change quickly. But Rove tipped
the Republicans’ play book when he highlighted the 2006
agenda: national security, the economy and the courts. National
security is clearly a winner for the GOP. Economic growth has
been booming the last three years and unemployment is below 5%.
In the courts the confirmation victories of Roberts and Alito
help maintain the energy of the conservative base while sapping
the spirit of liberals who realize the federal judiciary is slowly
slipping into conservative control.
three issues of substance that matter to voters, and if the Democrats
are going to give themselves a shot at taking back either the
House or the Senate they are going to have to come up with something
more substantive than “A Culture of Corruption.” Otherwise,
Democrats may end up looking back on the 2006 elections with the
same sense of disappointment they now feel over 2002 and 2004.
McIntyre is the co-founder and President of RealClearPolitics.
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