The Republican base, that vaunted entity whose every mood swing has controlled the zigs and zags of the Bush administration policy, has moved out, according to the latest Gallup polling. Karl Rove’s heroic efforts to preserve its fealty have failed to move Republican base voters. Karl cannot compensate for Bush’s failure to project his issues as the midterm disaster for the Republican Party nears.
The Gallup poll of Oct. 6-8 shows that, in the wake of the Foley scandal, the number of “white frequent churchgoers” who are planning to vote Republican has dropped from 58 percent to 47 percent since last month. The margin of their support for Republicans over Democrats, 26 percentage points in September, has entirely disappeared and the parties are tied among this core element of the Republican base.
The Gallup poll also reveals that Democrats now win all eight major issues, including terrorism and morality. Asked which party would do more to enhance “moral standards in the country,” Democrats now win 47 to 36! And on terrorism, Democrats now have a 47-to-42-percent advantage.
The Foley scandal has wrought extraordinary damage to the Republican Party and appears to have had a particularly negative impact on the base. No amount of blame shifting onto Democrats for breaking the story or for holding it until September is likely to compensate for the evidence that House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) did not act promptly to expose it himself. According to the latest Fox News poll, 61 percent of voters believe that Hastert knew about the Foley affair early on and did nothing to stop it.
Churchgoing whites are the core of the Republican base. The fact that they are now breaking even in the approaching midterm elections foretells total disaster for the GOP. For this group to leave is, quite literally, the political equivalent of the last dog dying! It is now likely that they will lose both houses of Congress.
With this kind of defection, Republican Sens. Mike DeWine (Ohio), Conrad Burns (Mont.), Rick Santorum (Pa.), Jim Talent (Mo.) and Lincoln Chaffee (R.I.) seem likely to be gone. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist’s (R-Tenn.) seat seems likely to go to Rep. Harold Ford (D-Tenn.). And Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) may also be on his way out. In New Jersey, after trailing Tom Kean Jr. for most of September, Sen. Robert Menendez (D) seems to have moved out to a small lead that will probably grow.
And all of this trend is before the final weeks when downscale Democrats, who have not yet focused on the elections, “come home” and vote their historic party loyalties.
The defection of the Republican base is likely to be felt even more keenly in the House races. The very gerrymandering that GOP leaders had hoped would leave their House margin invulnerable may now backfire as the Republican white churchgoers, whom the district lines had incorporated into swing Republican districts, now defect and vote Democrat or stay home in massive numbers. The gerrymandering designed to keep Democrats out may have the perverse effect of keeping disaffected Republicans in the swing districts, magnifying their effect on the election.
Can the Republican Party reunite with its base? It’s hard to see how they can win it back until the 2008 election. A Hillary Clinton candidacy would obviously help them to regain the fierce loyalty of their base, but she would also bring in millions of single women voters who would support her candidacy by huge margins. The recent census data showing that half of all households are unmarried indicates how extensive a political force single women can become.
In the long term, of course, Democratic policies on same-sex marriage and abortion are likely to bring the base back to its traditional bearings, but these issues seem to be having little impact on holding the Republican majorities in Congress.