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Republicans Are on a Different Planet, Posing Problems Into 2009

05/25/2011 12:30 pm ET

George Bush's approval rating among Democrats is 1%. Among Republicans it's 67%. And among Independents it's 14%, according to the American Research Group poll last April. Every other poll shows substantially the same partisan disparity. News outlets talk about Bush's approval levels approaching "Nixonian" levels, but they shy away from acknowledging the obvious -- that the GOP has become marginalized from the American mainstream.

George Bush's Job Approval
CBS News: Democrats 12%. Independents 22%, Republicans 55%
Rasmussen: Democrats 11%, Independents 28%, Republicans 70%.
Gallup: Democrats 7%. Independents 26%, Republicans 60%

Disapproval of Bush's Job Performance
ARG: Democrats 95%. Independents 78%, Republicans 27%
CBS News: Democrats 87%. Independents 67%, Republicans 29%
Fox News: Democrats 82%. Independents 63%, Republicans 28%

As we begin to deal with the failures of the past eight years, will the political landscape be defined by a permanent Democratic majority and permanent Republican obstructionism? Democrats and Independents are on the same page; Republicans are on a different planet. Literally. Less than half of all Republicans believe there is solid evidence of global warming, compared to 84% of Democrats and 75% of Independents, according to a recent Pew poll. Republicans still support Bush's handling of the economy and believe that we should stay in Iraq until "we complete the mission."

Approval of Bush's Handling of the Economy

ARG: Democrats 1%, Independents 15%, Republicans 65%.

Respondents who say we should leave Iraq within a year of sooner:
Rasmussen: Democrats 89%, Independents 60%, Republicans 30%.

Respondents who say we should stay Iraq to complete the mission:

Rasmussen: Democrats 8%, Independents 34%, Republicans 66%.

Why did Republicans become so estranged from the rest of us? Because they still listen to the lying crackpots who got us into this mess. Facts never seem to discredit the likes of Charles Krauthammer or Fred Barnes because, as Arianna details in her book, the mainstream media still treats them with undeserved respect.

So David Brooks could offer up the same old nonsense in a different wrapping last Friday. "Newt Gingrich wrote a highly influential piece this week in Human Events, Brooks told The NewsHour,"where he said you can run that kind of event, that kind of [traditional Republican] campaign. [But] we know it does not work." What would work? Gingrich's "Nine Acts of Real Change That Could Restore the GOP Brand," which included:
"Repeal the gas tax for the summer,"
"Declare English the official language of government,"
"Overhaul the census and cut its budget radically," and
"Remind Americans that judges matter."

This is what Gingrich calls real change. And this is what David Brooks deems to be highly influential. Last year Gingrich told Fortune, "I am seeking to create a movement to win the future by offering a series of solutions so compelling and so deeply drawn upon the American people that if the American people say I have to be president, it will happen." Which is more stunning, his grandiosity or his intellectual feebleness?

Republican spokesmen not only get indulged by the mainstream, they have a sanctuary in their own cable network, which sends the message that the other side is not to be believed. As a Pew survey noted last August, "being a Republican and a Fox viewer are related to negative opinions of the mainstream media." Gingrich appears on Fox News almost every other day. And only 41% of Republicans have a favorable view of national newspapers, versus 79% of Democrats.

Though the Republican party keeps losing support, Fox News holds on to its viewers. And since those viewers are older, they are more likely to show up at the polls. Historically, turnout has been more reliable among older voters than with any other segment. About 75% of Brit Hume's viewers or Bill O'Reilly's viewers are outside of the 25-54 age range coveted by advertisers. (I assume that few of the non-25-54 viewers are younger than 25. Most young people get their news from the internet.)

The GOP seems incapable of reforming itself. Its base is in deep denial. So-called moderate Republicans -- John Sununu, Norm Coleman, Gordon Smith -- are the ones with the dimmest prospects for reelection. In any event, the moderates have proved to be spineless and ineffectual, as we saw when Arlen Specter declined ask Alberto Gonzales to swear under oath, and when Susan Collins refused to subpoena the White House when investigating Katrina. And of course, there's John McCain, who doubled down on the Bush tax cuts and on the Bush surge. He opposed opportunities for bipartisanship when he rejected the Baker-Hamilton Commission recommendations, and when he rejected Senator Webb's bill on veterans' benefits.

McCain and the Republican leadership remain wedded to Gingrich's last-man-standing style of politics, which sacrifices the greater good for the sake of making the other side, i.e. Congress, look bad. That approach has been largely effective, in the sense that disapproval of Congress is consistent across party lines.

Congressional Job Approval
Fox News: Democrats 20%. Independents 27%, Republicans 22%

"Congress is doing a good or excellent job"
Rasmussen: Democrats 18%. Independents 10%, Republicans 10%

In 2009, when we have a new president and Democratic majorities in Congress, we will be able to confront the Bush legacy and deal with our problems. But there's every reason to expect that Americans will be in a recriminatory mood. Irrespective of blame, the cold facts are that the U.S. Army has been substantially destroyed, Social Security has been bankrupted, Iran's influence in Iraq will expand as U.S troops are forced to withdraw, the mortgage crisis will not be over, economic competition from China and India will accelerate, and global warming will trigger more humanitarian crises. And Republicans are very effective in stirring up resentment and in thwarting compromise. This is what Gingrich's Republican revolution was all about.

Despite all the talk about the GOP hearing a wake-up call, we should expect more of the same. Remember, the McCain campaign consults with the White House and receives advice from the new political analyst at Fox News, Karl Rove.

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