Is It Dead Yet?

The Bush Administration, that is. Today Dan Froomkin asks, “Where’s the Base?

In case there was any doubt, today’s New York Times/CBS Poll makes it clear: Even a substantial number of Republicans and conservatives are turning against the president.

Adam Nagourney and Megan Thee write in the New York Times
: “Americans have a bleaker view of the country’s direction than at any time in more than two decades, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll. Sharp disapproval of President Bush’s handling of gasoline prices has combined with intensified unhappiness about Iraq to create a grim political environment for the White House and Congressional Republicans. . . .

… “Mr. Bush is even losing support from what has been his base: 51 percent of conservatives and 69 percent of Republicans approve of the way Mr. Bush is handling his job. In both cases, those figures are a substantial drop in support from four months ago.”

A number of pundits say that, more than any other issue, Bush’s immigration policies have cost him support within his base. Power Tool John Hinderaker suggests that Bush could enjoy a rebound if he would do something he has never been willing to do before —

The time has come, though, to go on national television and say you were wrong, and you’ve changed your mind. About immigration.

Give a major speech in prime time. Say that you still think that a long-term solution to the immigration issue should include a guest worker program. Acknowledge, however, that many Americans disagree and there is currently no consensus on a long-range policy. Say that, more fundamentally, you’re now convinced that our first priority has to be getting control over our borders. Until we control our borders, and know who is coming and going, any immigration policy we may announce will be meaningless anyway….

… If you really want to get the conservative base back in your corner, go and meet with the Minutemen–on camera–and tell them you appreciate what they’re doing.

That’s not going to help him outside the base, but the Tool Man thinks it would energize Republican voters in the upcoming midterm elections. Hot Air seconds this, but says it might not be a bad for the White House if the GOP lost one of the Houses of Congress in November. Why? Because it would give the Bushies someone else to blame for all the bad stuff that’s happening.

The Tool understands his own people better than I do, so I’m going to assume he’s right — if Bush would reverse himself on the immigration issue, he would gain back much of his losses among the base. I’m sure many of the newly disillusioned would like to re-enter the collective. Of course, I can’t imagine Bush ever saying the words “I was wrong” without his lips falling off. But his usual course-changing maneuver is to suddenly issue an entirely new policy and pretend that was his plan all along. The evil libruhl media usually can be counted on not to notice the President just flip flopped. So we’ll see.

I can’t imagine Bush winning back independent voters outside his base, however. Too many scales have fallen from too many eyes. I think the majority has had it with a cult leader who can’t govern. Froomkin published an email he received from a reader discussing Bush’s slide in popularity:

“… September 11th changed the way that the American people saw President Bush and the office of the president in general. They gave him much more credit than usual for small successes and refused to hit him hard for the many big mistakes of his first term.

“So many reports now are focusing on why his poll numbers are so low today (Iraq, gas prices, Katrina) but no one has examined the psychology of the American public and press that elevated the man to such high ratings not for what he had done but for what had been done to us.”

Finally the wind has gone out of Bush’s 9/11 sails. He’s stalled by his own incompetence, going nowhere. And I think most Americans now realize this.

Next question — will Bush’s swan dive into unpopularity and irrelevance hurt the Republican Party, both in the November elections and long term? Can the VRWC still use fears and smears to stampede the electorate into voting conservative?

Remember that Republicans, not Democrats, are out of the mainstream on issues. For example, as Will Bunch explains, a majority of voters support Roe v. Wade, think the Iraq War is a mistake, and are opposed to a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. “The Democrat’s positions are very much in the majority — a new kind of “silent majority” that leans to center-left as opposed to Nixon’s center-right grouping,” says Mr. Bunch.

Yet this has been true for a while, but Dems haven’t been able to translate their support for majority positions into enough votes to win enough elections. That’s mostly because the Dems have been too timid and badly advised to exploit the fact that they support majority positions. But the GOP seems to be running out of exploitable issues.

Yesterday Billmon suggested that the White House might have miscalculated the Hayden nomination. Apparently Karl and Co. are counting on Dems to grill Hayden on the the NSA spy program. They plan on slapping Dems with the charge that they’re operating with a pre-9/11 mindset. But says Billmon:

I think Turdblossom’s problem is that he’s operating with a pre-31% mindset.

He may also be making the same mistake the Democrats usually make (how’s that for irony?) which is looking at the polls and thinking that because a majority says they agree with you on a particular issue, that means the voters are basically on your side.

Which is why John Kerry is president today.

The truth is, except for the Pavlovian dogs of the ideological right — gay marriage — and, to a lesser degree, the left — ditto — most issues aren’t worth the byproducts of Dick Cheney’s last rectal exam when it comes to actually influencing how people vote. Or rather, it has to be an enormously big issue (i.e. the size of Dick Cheney’s prostate) before elections are won and lost based on where you or your party stand on it. The war in Iraq is one such issue; illegal wiretapping, sad to say, isn’t — and to the extent there is any kind of partisan shove to be had from it, it’s on the left.

Rove is smoking from the same crack pipe as his boss if he thinks there is some huge silent majority out there frothing at the mouth because the insolent libs have dared to challenge the Divine One’s right to violate any law he sees fit. At worst, the public seems evenly divided on the issue — which is usually a sign that a.) they’re not paying particularly close attention or b.) they see strong arguments on both sides. (Of course, as one cynic has already pointed out, an even split on shredding the 4th Amendment is a hell of a lot better than the regime is doing on any other issue.)

This is just a hunch, but I think much of the electorate is feeling more than buyer’s remorse. I ‘spect a lot of them are feeling used. Those who supported the war and now think it’s a mistake; those who bought Bush’s initial “compassionate conservative” line and then watched him climb into bed with the hard-core Right; those who have been affected by Bush’s incompetence, like Medicare recipients (and their children) — I think at least some of these voters have become immune to VRWC attack, smear, and scare tactics. To anyone who is not living in Bush Cultie alternate reality — where the Iraq War is a victory-in-the-making, Gulf Coast rebuilding is zipping along fine, and the Medicare prescription drug program is a huge success — the ol’ talking points must seem more and more absurd.

Harold Meyerson wrote today,

Karl Rove and his minions have plumb run out of issues to campaign on. They can’t run on the war. They can’t run on the economy, where the positive numbers on growth are offset by the largely stagnant numbers on median incomes and the public’s growing dread of outsourcing. Immigration may play in various congressional districts, but it’s too dicey an issue to nationalize. Even social conservatives may be growing weary of outlawing gay marriage every other November. Nobody’s buying the ownership society. Competence? Ethics? You kidding?

The so-called “party of ideas” is out of ideas. The only strategy Karl has left is to frighten voters into preventing Dems from re-taking Congress.

Unspecified horrors lurk behind every corner if the Democrats take control and hold hearings about the administration’s relations with the oil and pharmaceutical industries. A sea of partisan vendetta, Republicans prophesy, stretches to the horizon if the Democrats are allowed to win.

As a strategy, this has its shortcomings. It’s not clear how many independents, or even conservatives, will warm to a campaign that focuses on forestalling congressional oversight — not with gas prices soaring and the American military bogged down in a war with an increasingly undefinable mission. Moreover, the Democrats are now, finally, having some success at defining themselves.

What if Karl says boo and voters don’t blink? And if they don’t, will the Republican Party find there is life after Karl?

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