Richard Reeves

Republicans Feel Heat of Burning Bush

WASHINGTON -- "The Change You Deserve" may sound like scrambled Obama, but it was, in fact, considered as this election-year slogan of the National Republican Congressional Committee. It was rejected when someone noticed that it was also the slogan of a prescription drug called Effexor.

Effexor is an anti-depressant.

Maybe the Republicans should stick with it. They are certainly depressed about their prospects in the House and Senate this year. In special elections during the past few months, three normally Republican seats, including the Illinois seat held for 20 years by former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, have been won by Democrats.

The latest GOP defeat, in Mississippi last Tuesday, was an especially tough one. The National Congressional Committee spent $1.3 million and Vice President Cheney campaigned for the local Republican candidate -- but their boy, Southaven Mayor "Greg" Davis, still lost by eight percentage points in a district that went for President George Bush by 24 points in 2004. In total, the NRCC spent $3 million, half of its cash on hand, to lose the three races in Mississippi, Illinois and Louisiana.

"What we've got is a deficiency in our message and a loss of confidence in the American people that we will do what we say we're going to do," said the chairman of the committee, Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma.

Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia, who preceded Cole at the NRCC, sounded even more depressed in a 20-page memo he was circulating among party members: "These races were not in New Jersey or New England, where Republican erosion has taken place over the last decade. They were in the heart of the Bible Belt, the social conservative core of our coalition. ... Members and pundits, waiting for Democrats to fumble the ball so that soft Republicans and Independents will snap back to the GOP, fail to understand the deep-seated antipathy toward the president, the war, gas prices, the economy, foreclosures and, in some areas, the underlying cultural differences that continue to brand our party."

Finally, Mitt Romney -- remember him? -- weighed in, telling Politico.com: "It's critical that our candidates have a very clear set of principles. If we are ill-defined or, worse, if we're defined by the failures of the administration or the failure of Congress in the last eight to 10 years, then we're going to lose."

Well, yes. But why shouldn't they be defined by their record? President Bush, in the end, has to be judged as a man who inherited the world's only superpower -- economically, militarily and morally -- and look what he did with that power. What was it Ronald Reagan used to ask? "Are you better off now than you were four years ago?" How about eight years ago?

The fact is that Republicans deserve to lose, at least if you believe in such grand old virtues as accountability. Politico.com had a lot of fun at Republican expense, headlining one of its stories last Wednesday: "Six Ways the GOP Can Save Itself." Let me count two of the ways:

-- "Cut the Crap." The party of family values' latest young star, Rep. Vito Fossella of New York, was arrested drunk last week and began babbling that he had two families, which he did;

-- "Burn the Bush." Sticking with the man who did the most to get us into this mess is, said the site, "downright loony."

So, a lot of Republicans, in both the House and the Senate, are getting ready to pack it in, or pack up to go home. They think they are going to lose.

They'll be back, sooner or later. The American two-party system is pretty well protected by our election laws, which are essentially contracts between the two parties to preserve each other. Thus, our politics are cyclical; each party stays in power until it has screwed up so much that even the most patient of voters can't wait to send the rascals back where they came from.

That is how badly the Republicans have screwed up, and that's where they're going this year, back home for a while.

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