A consensus has developed that unless something significant happens to break the trend, Republicans are in for a drubbing this election.
As dispiriting as this is for Republicans, they certainly shouldn’t be too surprised. History and circumstances have been their enemy this year. There is the usual “six-year itch,” in which voters tend to vote against the party of the President in his sixth year in office. Add to that the unpopularity of the war in Iraq, voter preferences for the checks and balances of split-party governance, Republican bumbling on a whole series of issues ranging from the response to Hurricane Katrina to out-of-control spending. Garnish all this with a few ethics scandals such as Randy Cunningham and Mark Foley, and you have a recipe for an electoral drubbing.
But, as Michael Barone has pointed out, the 2006 election does not signal anything like a significant realignment in the electorate. In fact, the issue terrain — what Americans care most about — still favors the ideological positions of Republicans. It's just that Americans have lost trust in the electoral branch of the conservative movement to behave as they campaign, and to run the government with a modicum of competency.
Unfortunately, who can blame them for thinking that? Any fair analysis of Republican performance recently would lend strong support for that opinion.
In short, what we are seeing in this election cycle is the Republican Party doing itself in. Sure, the Democrats and the liberal media are doing all they can to undermine Republicans — including using some pretty slimy and underhanded tactics — but that is no different than in any other election over the past 50 years. What makes 2006 so different from previous elections is that Republicans have been providing the ammunition to make the charges of incompetence and malfeasance stick.
So what will it mean if the Democrats do succeed in taking back the House, or even both Houses of Congress?
On most things, the answer is almost nothing. On a few big things, it will make a world of difference. Certainly the Bush Administration will have a miserable 2 years of governing ahead of them. Investigations of the Bush Administration will proliferate like weeds in an empty lot; any chance of major progress on tax or entitlement reform will evaporate; and Bush’s Iraq policy will face much tougher scrutiny in Congress.
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