Many in the media perceive the Democratic wave of 2006 as a referendum on President Bush and, in particular, his handling of the war in Iraq. On the contrary: The Republican collapse was due largely to the Republican Party's failure to back President Bush. Republicans, afraid of President Bush's plummeting poll numbers in the aftermath of election 2004, criticized the war in Iraq unmercifully. "Things aren't getting better; they're getting worse. The White House is completely disconnected from reality," Senator Hagel stated in June 2005. "It's like they're just making it up as they go along. The reality is, we're losing in Iraq." His sentiments were echoed by Republican members in both houses of Congress. Even Republicans who supported the war in Iraq criticized President Bush's handling of it.
It is not quite that easy to dissociate from a president of your own party. Even if you oppose the leader of your party rather than allying with him, you will be forced by the electorate to stand with him. The Republican Congress constantly undermined President Bush's efforts on issue after issue, and Bush's approval ratings plummeted as he lost the support of his own party -- but when it came time to vote, voters still saw the "R" next to Republican candidates' names. Voters recognize that leadership matters, even if the Republican Party didn't.
What happens next? A return to conservatism for the new Republican minority -- a minority that is only a minority because it abandoned conservatism to begin with. A revival for President Bush, despite predictions to the contrary -- for the first time in a long time, he can credibly target Democrats for inaction and radicalism. Don't expect Congress to remain Democratic for long. Americans put the Republican Party in the repair shop. When it emerges, it will be stronger for its foray into minority status.??