I believe that people have dramatically underestimated how much damage George W. Bush has done to the Republican Party. A new survey out today begins to show the extent of the damage. In 2002, the number of people who identified themselves as Republican or Democrat was the same. Both parties had 43% of the population on their side.
In 2007, that number has become 50% for the Democrats and 35% for the Republicans. That is an enormous lead for the Democrats. The Pew Research Center says that is the biggest lead either party has ever had since they have been asking the question.
Before the 2006 elections similar numbers were coming out in favor of Democrats in generic questions about party affiliation. Conventional wisdom dismissed those numbers as irrelevant because they wouldn't affect specific Congressional races. The idea was that people hate Congress in general, but love their own Congressmen. Conventional wisdom was wrong.
Democrats picked up 36 Congressional seats that used to belong to Republicans. Republicans picked up none. Zero. That"s a 36-0 blowout. The trend against the Republican Party is not some sort of theoretical statistical anomaly. It"s real. And it's here to stay.
I suspect that right now if you asked the question, "Which party understands your concerns and has your best interests in mind?" the Democrats would crush the Republicans. The jury is in. Republicans are for the rich and connected and they don't care about the average guy.
You know who reinforced this idea over and over - Karl Rove, Dick Cheney and George W. Bush. How many no-bid contracts does Halliburton have to get, how many political cronies have to get jobs in place of qualified, decent people, how many tax cuts for billionaires do you have to pass and how many people do you have to leave to die in New Orleans before people get the message?
Well, don't worry, mission accomplished! They got the message. The Bush administration has been running this government for six years as if none of their decisions have consequences. This doesn't just apply on the policy level, where they started a war without a post-war plan, as if that wouldn't turn out to be a gigantic problem. It also applies politically.
The reason you fire unpopular Secretaries of Defense or Attorney Generals or political advisors is because if you don't, your party suffers. People get pissed and start to think you don't give a damn what they think. For six years, this administration and their Republican enablers thought they were bullet-proof. They thought the regular rules of politics had been suspended.
Karl Rove entranced them into thinking that voodoo politics would work forever - just run to your base, don't worry about the center and there won't be any consequences. Well, there were. And now the chickens have come home to roost.
They had only one go to move -- the war on terror. Now their one trick pony has turned into a dead horse. The more they beat it, the less people believe them. And they have nothing left to fall back on.
Maybe they could have gotten away with one secret energy committee or a couple of no-bid contracts or just a little bit of torture or taking away a couple of amendments or getting rid of some allies or one round of tax cuts to the super wealthy, but they clearly couldn't get away with all of that, all of the time.
What's that saying about fooling some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time, but ...
That "but" eventually leads to getting your butt handed to you. And that is what's happening to the Republican Party right now. Rick Santorum was thinking of running for president. Three years ago, he was considered one of the favorites on the Republican side. He lost by 18 points! Eighteen points! That's gargantuan.
Four years ago I wrote a piece on our website called "The Inevitable Downfall of the Republican Party." I argued that the political strategy of this administration was untenable. You can't continue to piss off the center and think there won't be consequences. I said the Republican Party was going to run into an iceberg. Now, they have. And what's worse is that, they think it's an ice cube.
They have to steer away from this mess right now. If they wait a whole two more years and keep defending Bush, they are going to sink so fast they're not going to know what hit them.
President Bush has been in the low thirties in approval rating for forever now. Those numbers are unprecedented for this length of time. People do not like him! They think he's a terrible president. Yes, the right-wing might have done a masterful job of tricking the press into thinking they represent the middle of the country, but you know who's not buying it? The country.
So, as the press and the Republican Party kept telling themselves that the Republicans spoke for the heart of this country and kept telling themselves that their ship could not sink, they had already hit the iceberg.
This country doesn't stand for torture. This country isn't for aggressive, unnecessary wars that get our kids killed. This country isn't for incompetence and indifference. This country isn't about a government so small that it doesn't care to respond when its citizens are in trouble. This country isn't for endless tax cuts for the absurdly wealthy. This country isn't for taking away people's constitutional rights. This country isn't for the extreme views of the religious right.
This is a free and open society. We believe that the government shouldn't be so small that it can't help us when we need a hand in hard times. We believe that the government isn't so big that it can take on the world without the help of our allies.
Sometimes people are a little slow in catching on, but they aren't stupid. And the Bush administration has been treating them like they are for quite some time now.
This ship isn't going to hold, so the Republicans are soon going to be faced with a decision. Are they going to let Bush take them down with him or are they going to cut their losses? If they choose to keep defending the kind of corruption we see in the US attorneys scandal or the mess in Iraq or the endless subsidies and contracts for politically connected companies at home, there is going to be hell to pay.
If they thought 2006 was bad, wait till they get a load of 2008.
The Bush administration in its limitless arrogance broke so many rules, regulations and yes, laws, that there is going to be an unending stream of scandals as we go through the next two years. Do you think people aren't going to be pissed when they find out we flat out lost $8.8 billion in Iraq? We just lost it. Don't know where it went. You think people who don't like to give away money to welfare queens aren't going to mind giving it away to corporations who steal it? I'm sorry, I meant misplace it.
And that's Iraqi oil revenue. What about our own taxpayer money? We have been defrauded and over-charged out of $10 billion. Who doesn't think that Americans will be enraged over that?
And who stole that money? Companies who got no-bid contractors because they knew the right people inside the Bush administration. The people who live inside Washington live in a bubble. Their friends and acquaintances take that as common and acceptable. That's not how average Americans are going to see it. There is no constituency for corruption.
Just because the Republicans inside the beltway don't mind it, doesn't mean that Republicans and independents outside the beltway see it that way. People get pissed when you take their money and give it to your corrupt buddies, no matter what party they're from.
The general population doesn't even know much about this so far because the media hasn't covered it very much and the Republicans in Congress buried it to protect the administration. But now that the Democrats have taken over, they are going to shine the light on these abuses. And when they do, if you thought people were pissed about corruption in 2006, wait till you get a load of them in 2008.
If Republicans don't get out ahead of this thing and help to lead the charge, they are going to get swept up in it. They covered up for these guys for six years, thinking there wouldn't be any consequences. They were drunk with power and high on the delusion that the bubble would never burst. Rove had told them about a permanent majority. Cheney had told them that deference to authority works.
But like all bubbles, whether they are stock market bubbles, real estate bubbles or Bush bubbles, they all eventually pop. And then it's a long way down.
So, over the next two years, Republicans are going to be faced with a decision. Do you go down with the ship or do you throw the captain overboard? Something has to give. If they stick with this captain on this ill-fated voyage for another two years, they are going to have to swim home.
If they have any sense, they'll look out for the party and rush back to the center. Which might mean that there comes a point some time over the horizon when a couple of Republican Senators make the long walk over to the White House and have that uncomfortable conversation with the president. The kind of conversation where they come to pack his bags, show him the door and wave toward Crawford as he slinks away.
Or Bush could figure it out in the next eight months and jettison Gonzales, Rove and Cheney, and limp toward the finish line. That's his best case scenario. And the quicker he gets there, the less damage he'll do to the Republican Party.
Either way, what Republicans have to understand now is that it isn't the Bush administration versus the Democrats anymore. It's a struggle between the White House and them. They're not both going to make it out alive. And if I was still a Republican, I'd be grabbing a life jacket right about now.