Campaign Crawlers

Back to Base Tactics

With speculation rising about 2006, Republicans need to realize where they come from.

By 11.14.05

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There's a certain voice popularly associated with intrigue, or suspense, belonging to the fellow doing voice-overs for movie trailers, and you would expect his baritone whisper humming the tunes practically shrieked throughout the past week. I don't know if you've heard it, but the Republican Party is in deep (Hooray! Hooray! -- ahem) trouble. No big deal, you know, just the inevitable failure of the Grand Old Party.

That's what the pundits said last week. Last week was known as "A Really Bad Week for Bush." That of course followed "A Week of Uncertainty for Bush," which was teased by its predecessor, "Hard Times Looming for Bush." This week ought to be more of the same, but perhaps it will be "Republicans in Crisis: Really Bad Uncertain Week of Hard Times and Grave Misfortune for Bush." Got that?

There's a whiff of truth here. Bush's Veterans Day speech was met with sighs of relief, but not righteous encouragement. Far too much praise has been allotted for Bush's tactic of letting Democrats overplay their hand, as though it actually deserves to be called a tactic. Bush's crack team of public relations advisers have failed to make clear to Americans the facts behind the Plame-Wilson issue. Americans should be aware of our victories in Iraq, Afghanistan, and in other distant venues. Bush has not been having a bad couple of weeks at all, particularly given the success of certain nominations, a lack of indictments, and obvious desperate moves on the part of the Democrats. But his administration's public relations efforts have made him seem aloof, and this hurts not only the President's ratings, but those of his colleagues down the street.

Not that they are doing so great at staying on message either. A Washington Post article has Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) offering strange insights:

...The current fixation on conservative voters may jeopardize his party's prospects for holding on to some of its seats. "If the leadership just plays to the base, they're going to be a minority leadership in the next Congress," he said.

This comes from a former National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman, but reflects a failing attitude in Congress, that somehow the base isn't enough to maintain seats. As it stands, it can hardly be said that there's been much of a fixation on conservative voters at all; though tax cuts and Supreme Court picks are well within the margins, these have been in the President's domain. Mid-year elections are typically the stomping ground of the party faithful who bother to turn out; this means conservatives.

Congressmen, defending their conservative credentials, remark that spending would be a lot worse if left in the hands of Democrats. Perhaps. But such a defense dances around the corpse of the spirit of 1994, when the party's mission was made clear in bullet points. The sign "Under New Management" was probably a misnomer. Given the past 10 years, it is disingenuous for Rep. Davis to claim that the lack of growth in Republican control of Congress has been a result of unreasonable fastidiousness to conservatism.

None of this would really be news unless it called attention to this small window of opportunity for Democratic ascendancy. There's hope for a reversal of the '94 Republican Takeover, and news anchors everywhere have a strange sense of optimism for the Democrats. Robin Toner of the New York Times runs with it:

Democrats dream of another 1994, with control of the House changing hands, this time to them....They are preparing to run as a party of change, offering "new priorities"... with an emphasis on "putting our fiscal house in order" and making new investments in energy independence, healthcare and education.

Which is it? Putting finances in order or making new investments? What new priorities? What change? What is new on the platter here? And the message isn't the only problem. Incumbency is seldom overturned. Democratic legislative victories are few and far between. (Name a piece of popular Democratic legislation.) Democratic mantras are negative and coarse, if not downright paranoiac.

The same weekend, the Washington Post ran "Democrats Losing Race for Funds Under Dean," noting that the DNC has been losing the funding race 2 to 1 with Republicans. Surprise, surprise, Dean has been having difficulties delivering on his mandate to expand Democratic fundraising, in part because, as one staffer put it, "people aren't certain that the DNC is a wise investment." With Dean at the helm?

Daydreams about a Democratic remake of 1994 are a long way off. Newt Gingrich had been working on building up the conservative base since the mid-1980s under Reagan, focusing on state primaries and encouraging candidates with conservative credentials. Numerous seats were left open thanks to a wave of retirements. Democrats were still reeling from the House bank scandal. What in the news today, between the intra-party squabbles and difficulty in moving legislation, would make the Republican Party so susceptible to defeat?

The 2006 election is too distant to call, but when you hear echoes such as these, just pay attention to what happens when someone does something marginally conservative. The President's Friday speech earned him plaudits, just as Alito and Roberts created a whirlwind of excitement. The activity surrounding those moments crowded out moderate feints like the Miers nomination and big deficits. Republicans need to play it conservative by the book. Otherwise, 2006 is theirs to lose.

J. Peter Freire is a Journalism Fellow at The American Spectator under a grant from the Collegiate Network.

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About the Author

J.P. Freire is a writer in Washington and a former editor at the Washington Examiner and The American Spectator. You can follow him on Twitter @jpfreire.