The Abiding Mystery Pt. 3

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One anonymous reader questions the question

I think it’s a mistake to pin most of the blame for GOP decline on the intransigence of the Congressional Republicans. Yes, they failed to distance themselves from an unpopular President, but there was always a limit to the distance they might have achieved. What were they supposed to do, campaign on their opposition to the President’s policies? When has a congressional party ever established real separation, in the public mind, from a sitting President?

On the eve of the 2006 elections, the NYTimes put Bush’s job approval at just 34%. The conventional wisdom was that this represented an ebb tide for the GOP, and that the next election would put a fresh face on the party and allow it to recapture ground. So Republicans stuck to their guns, figuring it couldn’t get any worse. As a tactical decision, it was hardly crazy. But three things happened. Things got worse. Defying precedent and probability, Bush’s approval numbers sank even further: this time around, to 22%. Then, the Democrats nominated the most compelling candidate to run for executive office in more than a generation. And that candidate decided to keep the campaign focused squarely on the legacy of the Bush administration.

If there’s a connection between these two disasters, it can be found in the unwillingness of the GOP to acknowledge when theory diverges from practice. Its foreign policy failed, but it wouldn’t acknowledge that. Then its economic policy failed, and it wouldn’t acknowledge that, either. Voters have little patience for politicians who seem blind to their own mistakes.

True. There’s only so far a congressional party can realistically go in separating itself from its own incumbent president. But I’m not sure that’s precisely the issue. And this does focus my attention on how much of this was about Iraq — both as an issue in itself and as a proxy. As the reader notes, it was “the unwillingness of the GOP to acknowledge when theory diverges from practice. Its foreign policy failed, but it wouldn’t acknowledge that. Then its economic policy failed, and it wouldn’t acknowledge that, either.” In other words, it wouldn’t have taken attacking the president himself, just not so clearly taking his dictation on critical issues. I would also note that the reason President Bush’s popularity managed to fall from 34% to the unbelievably low level of 22% was closely tied to his and his party’s unwillingness to take any cognizance of the results of the 2006 election. Not everyone will shift their support from positions they deeply believe in, just because they’re unpopular. And usually that’s a good thing — at least as a matter of personal character. But parties as a whole will usually be more attentive to their demonstrable political interests, even if they can’t see when practice departs from theory.

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