Regular readers of these columns will not have been taken by surprise by the recent turn of events against the Republicans in the forthcoming Congressional elections. I have warned for several months that the GOP faces "a handsome drubbing."
In part this is simply a reaffirmation of the old truism that the party in the White House traditionally suffers losses in Congress in the Congressional elections of its second term. In further part, however, it is a byproduct of the fact that this particular administration and its allies in Congress have succumbed to the familiar temptations of power.
Having controlled the White House and both Houses of Congress, as well as most of the major governorships, for almost all of the past six years, the Republican members of Congress have faithfully imitated the mistakes of their Democratic predecessors. Promises of budgetary frugality went out the window, and the members lined up to bring home federal pork for their districts. The device of the "earmark" was exploited beyond even the Democrats' wildest dreams. Inevitably, fragrant crooks like Jack Abramoff managed to steal millions with the help of a few corrupt politicians.
By midsummer it was clear that the American people had noticed all this, and were preparing to respond in the only way voters in a two-party system can: by throwing the rascals out, and throwing the other rascals in. The Democrats have done virtually nothing to merit victory, but they don't need to. All they have to do is be there when the GOP loses.
In August, President Bush did what he could to save his party. His role in the coming defeat was largely tied to his perceived failure to bring about a successful conclusion of the Iraq war, and he hit the road in a series of effective speeches in defense of his Mideastern policies. In addition, the British nipped an Islamic plot to blow up ten airliners headed for America, and the fifth anniversary of 9/11 reminded anyone who needed reminding of the dangers America faces.
The result was a brief uptick in Republican prospects, as reflected in the polls. The American people still trusted the GOP more than the Democrats when it came to security matters. But then came Robert Woodward's latest book, purportedly revealing that the Bush administration had ignored warnings about Al Qaeda's intentions in the months preceding Sept. 11. The book's publication came just as the public's attention began to focus on the elections coming in November, and undoubtedly damaged the GOP's image as a defender of the nation's security.
Finally (at least so far) came the brilliantly timed disclosure of Republican Congressman Mark Foley's "overly friendly" e-mails to male House pages in their teens. Foley resigned promptly, but that accomplished nothing. The e-mails disclosed to Speaker Dennis Hastert and others were so inconclusive that several newspapers had declined to pursue the matter. But the Democrats were understandably eager to keep the uproar going. "What did Speaker Hastert know, and when did he know it?"
There are still four weeks to go before Election Day, and it's conceivable that something (e.g.: a new terrorist attack on some American city) could refocus the voters' attention on security and prompt them to change their minds. But as of today, the Republicans can look forward to losing the House, and probably the Senate, as well. That will guarantee a stalemate between the White House and Congress during the next two years, which will probably suit the American people very well.
None of this heralds a true revival of the Democratic Party, which suffers from deep systemic problems, or means that the Republican Party has, unless it abandons its core conservative principles, permanently lost its grip on the support of the American people. But all this remains to be discussed in another column. Meanwhile, the Republicans had better prepare to take a well-deserved bath on Nov. 7.