The Conventional Wisdom Is Wrong: The GOP Has Moved To The Middle Too Much, Not Too Little.

According to the latest Zogby Poll, Bush’s approval rating has plunged again and weak Republican support has a lot to do with it:

“President Bush’s job approval rating dipped two points in the last three weeks, despite the foiling of an airline terror plot and the adoption of a cease–fire deal between Israel and Hezbollah forces in Lebanon, a new Zogby International telephone poll shows.

The survey was conducted Aug. 11–15, 2006, included 1,018 respondents, and carries a margin of error of +/– 3.1 percentage points.

The numbers continue to reflect erosion in the President’s political base – just 62 percent of Republicans give him positive marks for his job performance, while 38 percent give him negative marks.”

The conventional wisdom you seem to hear for politicians always seems to be, “When in doubt, move to the middle!” Yet, a big part of the reason that Bush and the GOP are in trouble this year is because they’re following exactly that advice.

Just look at Bush’s approval ratings among Republicans and you’ll see what I mean.

In 2004, Republicans, like Democrats, were responsible for 37% of the electorate. In this Zogby poll, Bush is at 62% approval and 38% disapproval among Republicans. That’s an enormous drop from the 93% approval and 6% disapproval that Bush got from the GOP during the 2004 elections.

So, let’s do some very rough math. If Bush has lost about 1/3 of his support from Republicans and the GOP were to again make up about 37% of the electorate, then that drop would be responsible for about 12 points that have been shaved off his approval rating. If you were to add 12 points on to Bush’s ratings, that would push Bush up to a 46% approval rating. That’s still not great, but at that level, Bush wouldn’t be a drag on the ticket in most parts of the country either.

So, why has Bush’s approval rating dropped so much among Republicans? You could blame it on war weariness, high gas prices, bad press after Katrina, the Dubai Port deal, Harriet Miers, refusing to cut spending, Bush’s immigration stance, and Bush’s refusal to fight back against the Democrats’ non-stop attacks on him.

But, if you look at all the damage that has been done to Bush’s rep with conservatives, you’ll note that much of it has been self-inflicted. Bush chose to back the Dubai Port Deal publicly even after the base perceived it to be a monumental screw up. He pushed Harriet Miers, a candidate that was so unacceptable to conservatives that they rallied to defeat her. And illegal immigration and spending? Those are the number one and two issues that conservatives have been complaining about.

Which brings us back to the conventional wisdom. Given that the public is very displeased with the performance of the Democrats as well, had Bush and the Republicans in the Senate done nothing but try to please the Republican base on all the issues listed above, they would have much more Republican support right now and certainly wouldn’t have to worry about losing the House. In fact, the GOP would have probably been in position to break even this year or perhaps gain seats.

Moreover, other than the war, there’s not a single issue where the GOP is paying a significant price for sticking to conservative principles. Heck, to tell you the truth, I’m not even sure that Iraq is a significant minus given that a lot of Republicans are making their support for the war, and the war on terrorism in general, the centerpiece of their campaigns (And no, I don’t think stopping the minimum wage or stem cells are going to have a significant impact in November).

Does that mean that conservative politicians, Bush included, are always making a mistake by moving to the center? No, but they are doing it way, way too often. So often, in fact, that they’re significantly eroding conservative support for the GOP. This year, unless something radically changes, Republicans can only hope to contain the damage at the ballot box. But, if Bush and the rest of the GOP are going to actually turn things around, they are going to have to do a better job of representing the Republicans that are voting them into office in the first place.

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