Is 2006 Going To Be The Democrat’s 1994?

Over the past few days, there have been several columns and articles written focusing on the “big year” Democrats are going to have in 2006 like, “Bush’s fall should give Democrats hope,”The conservative crack up,” & “Democrats See Dream of ’06 Victory Taking Form.” So, is it all true? Is the GOP in trouble in 2006?

Maybe, maybe not.

The GOP may have the wind in our face right now, but there are also a lot of things in our favor. With the vote on the Iraqi Constitution, Saddam’s trial, another election, and some of our troops likely to start coming home next year, the polling numbers on the war are likely to head north. Furthermore, the economy is still solid, gas prices are likely to drop significantly over the next few months, and there are some signs that the GOP in the House is starting to see the light on spending. Those are all big pluses.

On top of that, when you start digging deep into the numbers, all is not as gloomy as it may appear to be at first glance. For example, the GOP’s polling numbers are in the tank, but the Democrats aren’t doing significantly better:

“(T)he Pew Research Center shows the approval rating for Congressional Republican leaders at 32 percent, with 52 percent disapproving, a sharp deterioration since March. (The ratings of Democratic leaders stood at 32 percent approval, 48 percent disapproval.)”

Next, consider that because of gerrymandering, it’s practically impossible for the Democrats to take the House back right now. Theoretically, there are 435 seats up for grabs. However, back in the real world, there will probably be about 20 competitive races and the incumbents will have such a big advantage over their challengers that it would be a surprise if either party could capture more than a handful of seats from the other side.

In the Senate, the odds are against the Democrats as well because the GOP is “defending 15 Senate seats, 14 with incumbents; Democrats are defending 18, including four open seats. The GOP says it has recruited top candidates for those open seats.”

That’s the good news.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of bad news as well. Bill Frist and Tom DeLay are both being investigated for ethics charges and although they’ll probably be cleared when all is said and done, it doesn’t look good. Add to that the possibility of indictments over the Valerie Plame leak and you have the makings of a great talking point for the Democrats in 2006. You may be thinking, “Wait a second, when it’s all said and done, there may not be a single conviction that comes out of all these investigations.” True, but in politics, perception equals reality and there are a lot of people who’ll figure that where’s there’s smoke, there’s fire on the corruption charges.

Then — and some of you are going to hate hearing this — there’s the fact the White House and Congress have been resting on their laurels for a year. They’ve paid little attention to issues the American people have been screaming about — like deficit spending & illegal immigration — and George Bush has allowed the Democrats to use him as a human punching bag since the election while refusing to fight back. Meanwhile, Bush’s biggest policy issue, Social Security reform, went absolutely nowhere. Then there was Katrina. The media blew things way out of proportion, but nevertheless, considerable political damage was done.

This is where we were BEFORE the Harriet Miers nomination.

You think the last two weeks of political knife fighting have been bad? Well, the actual Senate vote on her confirmation probably isn’t going to be until sometime around Thanksgiving, which means we have about 5 1/2 weeks of this intra-party brawling to go unless there is a withdrawal of the nomination.

Assuming there is no withdrawl, then it gets really fun for the Senators involved. Imagine you’re poor Mike DeWine, who is expected to have a tough fight for reelection next year. DeWine was pummeled by the base for signing on to the “Gang of 14” compromise and this nomination could have been an opportunity for him to redeem himself. Imagine a Janice Rogers Brown or Karen Williams being sent to the Senate and DeWine loudly telling the press that he would vote for the nuclear option if the Democrats tried to filibuster. That would have shored up his credibility on judges and helped him get back in the good graces of the conservatives who are angry at the Republican members of the “Gang of 14.”

Now, because Miers is the nominee, DeWine will be put in a position where he’ll have part of the base telling him, “Either you show your loyalty to the President by voting for Miers or we won’t support you next year,” and another chunk of the base telling him, “If you want our support next year, you’ll vote against that under qualified crony!” DeWine and the other Republicans up for reelection next year are going to get to see what, “damned if you do and damned if you don’t,” really means if and when it comes time to vote on Harriet Miers.

Bush will have it even worse if he manages to shove Miers through in the Senate. If Miers ends up on the Supreme Court, this isn’t going to be a passing storm for him, it’s going to permanently damage him with part of his base. That doesn’t mean you’re going to see Charles Krauthammer, Peggy Noonan, and National Review ripping Bush day in and day out like the Daily Kos, but Bush will pay a terrible price all the same. Not only will a lot of unhappy conservatives be much more willing to criticize Bush when he deviates from the conservative line, they’ll also be much less willing to go to the mat to defend him. It’ll be like a football game where the offensive lineman suddenly become very ambivalent about whether the quarterback is sacked — except worse. In a football game, at least you can put in other offensive lineman. In politics, you only have one base, and if they’re anxiously counting the days until you’re out of office, you’re in deep trouble. In Bush’s case, he may not have to run for office again, but spending 3 years with an approval rating “Miered” in the forties because half his base thinks he stuck a shiv into their back on the domestic issue they care the most about will likely prove to be rather unpleasant.

Right now, the base is down, demoralized, disappointed and things are likely to get much worse before they get better. President Bush and the rest of the GOP in Washington had better take notice of that and start doing something about it — and fast. There is still time to turn things around for 2006, but it’s going to require doing more than aimlessly stumbling and bumbling forward, hoping things will work out for the best. The GOP’s poll numbers aren’t in the toilet today because everything’s ducky, they’re low for a reason, and it’s well past time that the Republican leadership started pushing popular programs, appeasing the base, and tearing the hide off of the Democrats to get those numbers up.

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