It is understandable that those who think President Bush has done a poor job want to replace him with a Democrat they think might do a better one. What is not understandable is why voters, who think Congress has performed poorly, would vote to keep the Democratic majority in place and, according to many polls, expand it.
The latest Rasmussen tracking poll finds that a pathetic 9 percent of the public think Congress is doing a good or excellent job, a record. A majority of voters - 52 percent - think Congress is doing a poor job, which ties a record.
Even Democrats disapprove of the performance of the Congress led by their party. Among Democratic voters, approval of Congress fell from 17 percent to 13 percent in the poll. Unaffiliated voters are the most critical of Congress with just 3 percent giving it a positive rating and 63 percent of these independents saying Congress is performing poorly.
Given these astounding figures, why do polls show that as of now a majority of voters intend to vote for the Democratic candidate in House and Senate races? In a recent McLaughlin and Associates poll, 43 percent said they would vote for the Democrat and just 34 percent would vote for the Republican. Twenty-three percent were unsure.
A USA Today/Gallup Poll taken in mid-June found that 52 percent favored Democratic candidates and 42 percent favored Republicans. That's down from 55 percent for Democrats and slightly up from 41 percent for Republicans in a February poll.
Polls taken by ABC News/Washington Post and NBC News/Wall Street Journal reflect similar numbers.
How can this be? If a contractor working on your house fails to do the job and overcharges you in the process, does it make sense to keep paying the same company while it adds additional incompetents and crooks to cause further damage?
The reason Republicans don't benefit from voter disaffection with Congress is that Republican incompetence - ranging from sexual indiscretions to illegal activities - remains fresh in their minds. Republicans promised they would do things differently. They'd bring "change" to Washington (always be careful when you hear politicians talking like that). Instead, Republicans caught the same Potomac fever that infected the Democrats who ran the House for 40 years prior to 1994 and the Senate, off and on, for much of that period.
If Republicans are going to take advantage of voter disgust with the Democratic Congress they are going to have to take the equivalent of a blood oath. A new "Contract with America" won't suffice. Neither will a "we've learned our lesson" from the current Republican "leadership" who are part of the problem that brought on the Democratic resurgence.
For a GOP comeback to have a chance, several things must happen.
First, John McCain must take a page from Harry Truman's 1948 campaign in which he lambasted the Republican "do-nothing Congress." McCain should say what a do-SOMETHING Democratic Congress would do if it retains its current majority and gains a Democratic president: raise taxes, boost regulations, further limit our liberties, haggle with terrorists and advance a social agenda (including unrestricted abortion and same-sex marriage) that is anathema to most Americans.
Second, Republican delegates to the St. Paul convention in September should demand their party's congressional leadership be replaced by Republicans who would renew core party principles: low taxes, smaller, less expensive and more effective government, personal responsibility and accountability, encouragement of individual initiative and programs that help people out of poverty rather than sustaining them in poverty.
Third, Republicans must pledge to limit themselves in office as the Founders intended. If they won't approve term limits, GOP members should pledge to get themselves out of Congress after no more than four terms in the House and two in the Senate, less time in any place where an infectious disease rages diminishes chances of exposure and illness. They also should begin a discussion and debate about the proper role of the federal government. The Founders had that debate. It needs to be renewed in our time. Government is out of control.
Only dramatic and believable actions like these will restore public confidence in Congress and possibly restore Republicans to a majority they will only then deserve.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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