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Archive for Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Bush leaves behind damaged GOP

January 14, 2009

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We already know that George W. Bush will walk away from his wreckage next week, having bequeathed us record budget deficits, a tanking economy, a needless war costing half a trillion dollars and thousands of lives, a sullied global image and so much more.

But one other facet of his legacy is widely overlooked: He wrecked his own Republican Party.

Don’t take my word for it. Various Republicans rendered their verdicts on Bush long before the November election. For instance, Peggy Noonan, the commentator and former Reagan speechwriter, argued a year ago that “Bush destroyed the Republican Party, by which I mean he sundered it, broke its constituent pieces apart.”

If that sounds too harsh, perhaps Tom Davis, a former House GOP leader, will strike you as more diplomatic. Referring to Bush last spring, Davis said: “He’s just killed the Republican brand. ... The Republican brand is in the trash can. ... If we were dog food, they would take us off the shelf.”

Well, that sounds a tad hostile, too. But given the precipitous decline of the GOP since 2004, these sentiments are no surprise. Bush doesn’t deserve all the blame; a scandal-marred Republican Congress, featuring Tom DeLay, sexual predator Mark Foley and convicted felon Ted Stevens, played a crucial role in alienating the electorate. But clearly the buck stops with the guy who dubbed himself the Decider.

Thanks primarily to Bush’s leadership, the Republicans have plummeted to minority status. They lost the ’08 presidential race by 10 million votes, the party’s widest losing margin in 44 years. Since 2004, they have lost 54 House seats and 13 Senate seats — probably 14, since Democrat Al Franken will likely weather the last-ditch GOP court challenges to his apparent victory in Minnesota.

Bush damaged his party in two fundamental ways: He turned off a lot of conservatives within the party’s base and, more important, he turned off the moderate and independent voters who typically swing elections to one side or the other.

Small-government conservatives lost their enthusiasm for Bush because he wound up spending like a liberal Democrat. While partnering with the GOP-led Congress, Bush never vetoed a spending bill.

But Bush’s worst political legacy for the GOP is his alienation of swing voters. The exit polls tell the tale. In the 2004 election, Bush essentially split the independents with John Kerry; in 2008, John McCain (dogged by the Bush track record) lost independents by eight percentage points — and the election itself by seven.

By a different measure, Bush lost self-identified moderate voters by nine points in 2004; four years later, McCain lost them by 21.

Why Bush lost the center is no mystery. The reasons include his mendacious salesmanship and poor execution of the Iraq war; the erosion of America’s image abroad; his inept response to Katrina; the aforementioned budget deficits; his elevation of incompetent party hacks to crucial government posts; his opposition to embryonic-stem-cell research; his notorious attempt, in cahoots with the Republican Congress and the religious right, to keep Terri Schiavo alive in defiance of state court rulings and the wishes of her family.

A new analysis by the conservative Hoover Institution deftly frames the GOP quandary: “The decline of Republican strength occurs when strong Republicans become weak Republicans, weak Republicans become independents, and independents lean more Democratic or (are) even becoming Democrats. ... The problem for Republicans is that their base is slowly shrinking, and they cannot win without the support of moderates” — all of which suggests “an emerging party realignment” to the GOP’s detriment, perhaps “a long dry run.”

The Hoover analysis barely touched on another Republican woe: the hemorrhaging of support among Hispanics, the fastest-growing ethnicity in the electorate. Bush, however, is not to blame for that. From day one, he intended to champion path-to-citizenship immigration reform — not just because his stance would draw Hispanics to the GOP, but because he sincerely believed in it.

He ultimately was foiled by the border-security activists and politicians on his right flank. Long after Bush is gone, the party will be stuck trying to figure out how to attract Hispanics while somehow appeasing wary conservatives.

But Bush deserves the brunt of the party’s ire. His arrogance, coupled with his certitudes, did much to trash the brand.

I doubt that Republicans are angry to the point of throwing shoes. But they probably were not amused at Bush’s huffy answer to a question during an ABC News interview that was part of his legacy tour. When it was pointed out that Saddam Hussein had not conspired with al-Qaida, and that al-Qaida had not been a presence in Iraq until we invaded, Bush fired back: “So what?”

He’s staying in character to the bitter end. And, in political terms, his party is stuck with clearing the debris.

— Dick Polman is a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer. His e-mail address is dpolman@phillynews.com.

Comments

Hoots 5 years, 10 months ago

Can we please get some genuine and intelligent smart people in congress? I’m so sick of the political dynasties. Just because you are related to someone stupid doesn’t mean we have to vote for you. America please wake up!!! Unless we all start reading a bit more and making good choices based on that we are all screwed.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 10 months ago

There will be a number of mindless drones posting here today still supporting Bush, which is proof that he didn't destroy the Republican Party all by himself.

jaywalker 5 years, 10 months ago

Bush made a lot of mistakes and has caused too much damage to summarize. And while he certainly has done little to strengthen the Grand Ol' Party, the majority of the blame for their demise is staring at them in the mirror. Lack of leadership, lack of backbone, fundamentally poor choices - Republicans brought all this on themselves. Bush is weighed down by numerous failings and/or bad policies. Throwin' this on his back as well is gratuitous and not a little ridiculous.

spankyandcranky 5 years, 10 months ago

Why must everything be divided into two parties? When will we ever come up with a better way of doing things? Surely not all democrats agree with everything the democractic party supposedly stands for, and same with the republicans. Why can't there just be Americans who vote on issues, and representatives intent on doing things in a way that create the most benefits and the least problems? It's definitely time for a change. I don't think the parties accurately represent the current mind-set of the public. It's clear to me that things would happen a lot faster if people could just find a way to compromise better.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 5 years, 10 months ago

Damaged GOP???? How about the whole damned country!The worst president since Nixon. The only thing Nixon didn't do was get us involved in a stupid war for oil for all his cronies big cars.

Flap Doodle 5 years, 10 months ago

How many people could be saved from cholera in Zimbabwe with $150 million?"President Barack Obama's inauguration next week is set to be the most expensive ever, predicted to reach over $150m (£102m). This dwarfs the $42.3m spent on George Bush's inauguration in 2005 and the $33m spent on Bill Clinton's in 1993."http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jan/14/barack-obama-inauguration-cost

JohnBrown 5 years, 10 months ago

So ends the conservative movement founded on the ashes of Goldwater's defeat in 1964. Goldwater garnered 27 million votes. After the election the conservative slogan was "27 million Americans can't be wrong" and they wore a little gold '27' pin on their lapel.Most Republicans back then weren't too bad: Dwight Eisenhower, Henry Cabot Lodge, Nelson Rockefeller, Everett Dirkson, just to name a few. Lyndon Johnson gave them the South, and that became the base for the 'new' Republican party, a party based on coded racism, fundamentalism, and free-market extremeists. Richard Nixon was a transition candidate; Ronald Reagan was their mascot. Even tho Reagan doubled the national debt, he was labeled a true conservative because of everything else, especially for firing the flight dispatchers (forget that he allowed 300 Marines to die because he didn't protect their barracks in Lebanon). Bush 41 wasn't all that bad, his biggest problem was he didn't know why he wanted to be President, so he lost. Then came Bush 43 with a second edition of the 'Southern Strategy' based on fear and obfuscation of intent. And wah-lah! Look where we are!The verdict is in: 27 million people CAN be wrong, VERY wrong.

Jason Bailey 5 years, 10 months ago

Bozo wrote:"There will be a number of mindless drones posting here today still supporting Bush, which is proof that he didn't destroy the Republican Party all by himself."Yes, and there will be a number of mindless drones posting her today supporting Obama, (who has done nothing besides continually run for higher office each time he's elected) which is proof that it doesn't take much to win an election.

Jason Bailey 5 years, 10 months ago

beobachter wrote:"How many Americans could have better lives if W hadn't spent hundreds of billions on a war that was not needed?"Boo hoo hoo. Sniff, sniff. You have got to be kidding.What if Kennedy had spent billions on people instead of racing the Russians to the moon?What if Johnson had spent billions on people instead of Vietnam?What if the moon were made of cheese?What if, my friend, is for Kindergarteners.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 10 months ago

Until you, no one had even mentioned Obama, jason. " which is proof that it doesn't take much to win an election."It may be proof of something or other, but certainly not that it's easy to win a presidential election.

J2od 5 years, 10 months ago

The aspect was proposed to me, pre-election, that anyone making less than $500,000 a year had no reason to vote republican, in this case, for McCain... my thoughts were: Why would anyone making more than $10,000 vote democratic? Fact of the matter is, our democratic process has only pitted one extreme against the other: the liberal democrat versus the conservative republican. The two pairs of adjectives CAN be mutually exclusive, and someone closer to the middle, no matter how disappointing to their respective parties, would probably satisfy the voting public much more. (Of course, John McCain was a pretty liberal republican, as standards go, which resulted in poor support from the republican party... Let's face it: each party wants the Extreme Alpha as THEIR champion.)CONCERNING the voting public, I have a significant dislike for the gall of anyone who questions where I laid my vote on election day. I was at work the day following the election, and was subjected to hearing some schmuck carry on why people voted for Obama, and how all those votes were misallocated, entered for the wrong reasons. Fact of the matter is, every person who is willing to vote is entitled to vote for the candidate of their choice, regardless of the esteem another may give in the reasoning. I’m not going to vote for or against a candidate based solely on a demographic (i.e. race, age, gender, religion, etc.), as I think that’s a trivial and silly measure of one’s competence… but it isn’t my place to instruct others on how to use their vote, hence, my disdain towards my colleague.I’d earlier mentioned the probability of satisfying the VOTING public with a different approach (i.e. liberal republican, conservative democrat, or a third party independent of the two main parties’ influence). I stress the word “voting” because it is ONLY those in the public that VOTE that warrant any satisfaction whatsoever, save those not yet old enough to do so.Furthermore, while on the topic of having a third party with the size or influence of the dominant two, it seems as though that would greatly exacerbate the situation: In a close election between three candidates, the winner would still only satisfy the minority of voters. Therefore, with just two candidates, as earlier suggested, the masses would be appeased by one that’s not so extreme.During this election, Obama won popular vote AND electoral college. Regardless of whom you voted for and why, it should still be noted the majority elected this man as our incoming Commander-in-Chief: No matter for whom you voted, he won, fair and square.[Read on below!]

J2od 5 years, 10 months ago

Personally, no matter the president or party, what I’d love to see is a leadership in this country that not only passively inspires, but also demands, the personal accountability of its citizens. I believe in charity, just as I believe in random acts of kindness, just as I believe in holding the door open for a stranger or an invalid. Sure: help someone unable to help him or herself. However, if a government is expected to personally cater to the lazy, the crazed, the bitter yet otherwise CAPABLE masses, it should at the very least be emphasized that such “charity” be a means to lift the recipients up to independence, not merely keep them afloat; beyond that, reciprocation of one sort or another should be expected.Concerning the Bush Administration, love him, hate him, whatever… how much can the President really do? Congress, particularly if pushed to a vote, can veto nearly action the President proposes. (However, the powers that be have failed to amend a little piece of legislation called the War Powers Resolution. Sorry, but any doctrine that gives one man full authority to, in essence, wage war (despite the technicalities involved that spare use of the word “war”, drawing distinction between it and merely “invasion”) should have immediately been altered with numerous provisions for a more even distribution of power.) Humorously, as implied, in 2003, the US was behind entrance into Iraq… and is inactivity not the equal of compliance when considering the end result? It is not my intent to absolve W of blame… however, what of the system of checks and balances? Nay, it is my intent to spread the blame around. (An interesting article is here: http://www. slate. com/id/2195083/; happy reading! Also, consider this: “The ‘President in every possible instance shall consult with Congress before introducing’ U.S. Armed Forces into hostilities or imminent hostilities… In 1991 and 2002, CONGRESS AUTHORIZED, by law, THE USE OF MILITARY FORCE AGAINST IRAQ. In several instances neither the President, Congress, nor the courts have been willing to trigger the War Powers Resolution mechanism.” (http://www. fas. org/man/crs/RL32267. html))

J2od 5 years, 10 months ago

The office of the Presidency is not, to me, an enviable one. Right now, everyone loves Obama. Will that opinion change in four years? One can’t be too sure, but, then, one shouldn’t be too surprised if it does. We’re a fickle group of voters, impatient and pessimistic, and if we don’t see changes soon, Obama’s praises may very well become jeers. Consider the last line of the Lauretta P. Burns poem “Let Go and Let God”: “What could I do? You never did let go.” The poem exemplifies the impatience of one who has put his problems into another’s (in this case, God) hands, only to insult the one from whom help was requested because the improvements weren’t made fast or satisfactorily enough. Is it too farfetched to imagine Obama’s supporters of today becoming his tormentors of tomorrow? I suppose one could blame the bureaucratic rigmarole, the red tape that almost certainly and always impedes progress.On that note, I ask the readers this: Is four years long enough for significant changes to be made? I further ask this: If George W.Bush was so appalling a President, how did he get re-elected in ’04?I fervently support change; in the midst of a recession, I implore all to remain accountable, and I invoke the leadership of this country, at all levels, to be LEADERS, putting themselves second to their obligation to those who put them in power.I’ve intentionally avoided mentioning for whom I’d voted out of this writing; the points I’ve made are just as valid, regardless. I merely regret that I was such a Johnny-come-lately to this blog.Cheers!

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