I have consistently expressed confidence that barring some unforeseen set of extraordinary circumstances, President George W. Bush would be handily re-elected in 2004. But that's a far cry from expecting an emerging Republican dominance.
Because the electorate trusts President Bush at a time that trust in leaders is paramount, I still believe that he is the hands-down favorite in 2004, no matter which candidate the Democrats select to challenge him. But while Bush is very popular and his unprecedented fundraising successes continue to dazzle, there is no guaranty he'll have sufficient coattails to usher in a substantial Republican congressional majority.
Besides, it's not enough to have a nominal majority; moderate and liberal Republicans impede conservative policy initiatives as often as not. So for those conservatives who care about policy more than party, the goal is not just a strong majority of nominal Republicans in both houses, but a predominance of voting conservatives in the House and Senate.
But I'm not setting up a scenario for massive infighting between Republican Party loyalists and conservatives over control. While their ultimate aims certainly differ, their paths to achieving them are harmonious. That is, the best chance for Republicans to pick up congressional seats is to recruit conservative candidates.
Here's the rub. Apparently, some high-placed Republican operatives believe the best way to improve on Republican majorities is to find congressional candidates with Bush's popular style. But cloning President Bush is the wrong way to go.
In the first place, no one (other than Clonaid's experimental subjects) can be cloned, and Bush is particularly unique. What works for him may not work well for other candidates. Personality traits and matters of style are not transferable.
Republican Party honchos need to quit thinking about the cult of personality thing that starts and ends with President Bush, just like it did with Ronald Reagan. They can trade on Bush's enormous popularity and credibility with the voters to be sure, but they would be better advised, I think, to nationalize the elections on substantive policy issues than to make every congressional race a mini referendum on President Bush's performance.
No, you argue, the country is still evenly divided between conservatives and liberals, and focusing on issues will work in the Democrats' favor by neutralizing the advantage Republicans have in Bush's popularity. Not at all.