The Abiding Mystery Pt. 4

From TPM Reader JB, a former GOP Hill staffer who’s moved on to greener pastures …

How many Congressional Republicans had political identities distinct from that of President Bush, while Bush was still popular among Republican voters?

The answer to this question — awfully damned few — is a big reason why the Republican setbacks in the 2006 election cycle were followed by more setbacks in 2008. For years, GOP Congressmen and Senators did what the White House told them to do and said what the White House told them to say; even Republican legislators who had been in Congress long before George Bush was elected President tied themselves tightly to him, avoiding public disagreement on any of the salient issues, particularly Bush’s tax cuts, Iraq and terrorism policy and initiatives sponsored by the Vice President.

Obviously 9/11 and the spike in public support for Bush afterward was a big part of this. But the nationalization of American politics, and the vastly greater ability campaign professionals now have to target likely supporters in everything from Congressional redistricting to Election Day turnout activities also contributed — because most Republican legislators were elected in districts that would support Republicans unless something unusual happened, something that made being a Republican an electoral liability.

Bush took care of the rest himself. When his great popularity among Republicans turned into modest popularity only among Republicans, the GOP legislators who had identified themselves with him and his White House/campaign organization had no where to go. A final factor in 2008 was the fact that many Republican legislators still had safe seats, even while the GOP brand nationally was in free fall. These legislators were hearing from their constituents what they had since 2001 — support the President — and they did.

Well, what happened, happened for the Republican Party, and the question Republicans now have to ask themselves is what they are for now that they cannot any longer just be for Bush. It’s a question that could take years to answer if Barack Obama turns out to be a bad President. If he turns out to be an effective President, it could take a generation or more.

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