Gravity. What a Concept …

Atrios has a post riffing on today’s Times article, which begins (the Times, that is): “The Republican defeat in a special Congressional contest in Mississippi sent waves of apprehension across an already troubled party Wednesday, with some senior Republicans urging Congressional candidates to distance themselves from President Bush to head off what could be heavy losses in the fall.”

But, as Duncan asks, how can they really do that?

When you step back for a second, what’s weird is that we even see the Mississippi special election result as a surprise. The Republican party is tightly defined around George W. Bush. And his job approval has not consistently gotten out of the low thirties (deep crisis numbers) for almost two years. And amazingly, over that period, the congressional party has made little attempt to get out of under his mantle.

I think what we’re seeing here is the fall-out of the confidence game tactics that defined Bush’s early presidency — and has oddly persisted into the present. Whether it was the Iraq War or early tax cuts of various other policy moves, the idea was always to brashly push ahead even in the face of widespread public disapproval for particular policies. Such inexplicable confidence could goad adversaries into thinking the given policies were more popular and the president’s position more powerful than it was. Later, as some of these policies went south, the president’s message to congressional supporters was that if they maintained a united (you support me and I’ll support you) that they’d pull through notwithstanding public opinion.

This confidence got a hard knock in the November 2006 elections. But the White House managed an odd after-the-fact success in putting this on the congressional party and removing the blame from the president. And now we’re surprised that a party that has tightly defined itself around the most consistently unpopular president in modern political history is tanking at the polls?

Seriously, what’s the mystery?

I agree with Duncan. I don’t expect congressional Republicans to successfully separate themselves from President Bush. It’s too ingrained at this point. And making the effort would be similar to what happens to an Army that breaks and buckles into a free-for-all retreat — perhaps inevitable but still insuring an even worse result as the stragglers become easier to pick off one by one.