Two factors will work against Republicans trying to retain control of the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate in November -- and they both have to do with the downside of being the party in power in Washington.
First, there's President Bush. I've covered politics long enough to have lived through this cycle before -- the scorn that insiders in both parties heap on a White House in its second term, when every mistake made by an administration has been magnified and dissected. In another five years, Americans will look back at the Bushies' achievements. Today, the focus is on the screw-ups. (Witness the Sunday New York Times page-one story about GOP candidates who are dissing Bush guru Karl Rove.)
Then, there is the GOP House, which clearly saw its leadership corrupted by power. The prosecution of uber-lobbyist Jack Abramoff revealed unholy ties between K Street lobbyists and congressional staffers. Take Tony Rudy, former deputy chief of staff for GOP biggie Rep. Tom DeLay. Rudy pleaded guilty this year to "a scheme and artifice to defraud and deprive" the public of "the honest services" of House staffers.
In June, while under indictment for campaign money laundering in Texas, DeLay resigned from the House. Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio -- who keeps popping up in Abramoff-related plea agreements -- is not running for re-election. Former U.S. Rep. Duke Cunningham, R-Calif., is out, too -- after he pleaded guilty to accepting $2.4 million in gifts and cash from defense contractors and was sent to jail.
With the worst actors out of the picture, the House doesn't look as bad as it did this spring. Besides, at least Washington Republicans stand for something -- which is more than you can say for Washington Dems.
If anything, Capitol Democrats seem committed only to rooting for the Bush administration to fail in every arena. Voters have to see it, that the Democrats have this way of always hitting Bush for not doing enough while doing too much. Consider Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who appeared on CNN Thursday, hitting the Bush administration for both under-doing airline security -- not checking passenger plane cargo sufficiently -- and overdoing it -- by banning lip gel. As if it is wrong to ban liquids after a real and specific threat.
Hitting the Bush terrorism speech, Boxer even parroted a phrase, mocked when Bush said it: "Well, we say, 'Bring it on, right now.'"
Of course, everyone has a right to criticize Bush. But there is criticism designed to improve the situation -- such as the Thursday Washington Post editorial that articulated where the Post believes the Bush plan for prosecuting terrorists is flawed -- and there is criticism designed solely to bash Bush in order to score political points. Like the lip-gel line.
Meanwhile, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and the Senate Democratic leader, truly is the gift who keeps on giving to the GOP. Or as he told The New York Times this week, "If Republicans want to spend the whole month on nothing that is relevant to the American people, we are happy to do that." You know, I believe him.