The most fascinating political development of the summer has occurred with little notice. Republicans are respected again. Wait, what?
Believe it or not, entering the final quarter of the eighth year of the George W. Bush presidency, Republicans are ascending in popularity, Politico.com reported yesterday. Half of registered voters and half of independent voters have a favorable opinion of the GOP, according to a new poll from the Pew Center for the People and the Press. Democrats hold a slight edge in favorability among registered voters (55 percent to 50 percent), but they are statistically tied with Republicans among independent voters (Republicans 50 percent, Democrats 49 percent.)
How could this happen? Anyone half-paying attention for the past eight years can rattle off the list of reasons voters are supposed to be fleeing the GOP: Iraq, Katrina, Wall Street, Abramoff, DeLay, Bridge to Nowhere, bin Laden at large, gas prices, and home mortgages. When Democratic presidential candidates dream, they dream of election years like this one.
And yet since August the Republicans have closed an 18 point gap with Democrats among independent voters. A new Gallup poll finds that Democrats have only a three-point edge (within the margin of error) when people are asked which party they want to control Congress.
I think the answer is pretty clear: The Democratic leadership in Congress took the golden opportunity it was given in 2006 and pissed it away on petty partisanship -- just like the Republicans who preceded them did.
A Gallup poll out this week is revealing. It found that only 47 percent of Americans say they have trust in the legislative branch of the federal government. That's the first time that number has dipped below 50 percent since Gallup began asking that question in 1972. The same poll found that only 18 percent of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing vs. 31 percent who approve of the job President Bush is doing.
There is good reason for those low ratings. When voters swept Democrats into power two years ago, they expected that the party would deliver on its promises. It hasn't. Instead of leadership and statesmanship, we got gamesmanship. Instead of governing, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid embarked on a two-year political campaign.
The Democrats opposed the troop surge in Iraq. When the surge turned a raging insurgency into a slinking retreat and the Democrats ridiculously proclaimed that it wasn't working, an average American listening to both sides could only shrug his shoulders and wonder what in the world the Democrats were smoking.
When Democrats opposed every measure to increase domestic oil production, they angered millions of Americans. And when they finally tried to claim they were for new drilling by producing two bills that allowed new drilling only where there was little or no oil, Americans quickly picked up on the scam.
On all of the major issues of the past two years, the Democrats chose to play political gotcha instead of actually govern. The public, it turns out, seems to have seen through the charade. It's kind of hard to convince Americans that you feel their pain when, for example, you are doing everything in your power to keep gas prices high through the election. By being Democrats first and public representatives second, Democrats have lost the enormous advantage in goodwill the Republicans handed them on a silver platter two years ago.
This election year should have produced a Democratic sweep of historic proportions, delivering the White House and massive majorities in the House and Senate. But thanks to the incompetence of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, Republicans might pull a respectable showing.