A message from Mississippi has interrupted the leisurely cruise Republicans in
Congress have been taking up that famous river in Egypt, de Nile. Democrat Travis
Childers soundly defeated Republican Greg Davis in a special election in a House
district that President Bush carried by 25 percentage points in 2004.
Mr. Childers' victory completes a trifecta for Democrats in once heavily Republican
districts. On May 3, Democrats won a seat in Louisiana in a district President
Bush had won by 19 percentage points in 2004, and in March a Democrat won the seat
vacated by former House Speaker Dennis Hastert in Illinois, which Mr. Bush had
carried by 11 percentage points.
More than twice as many people voted in Democratic presidential primaries than in
GOP contests through Super Tuesday, when races in both parties were competitive.
You don't need a weatherman to tell which way the wind is blowing. The Republican
brand today is as popular as Tylenol's was during the cyanide poison scare.
The bitter wind from Mississippi has replaced complacency with panic, but many
Republicans don't know what to do about it.
Many blame President Bush, with good reason. His dad has an aircraft carrier named
after him. But if the Navy wants to name a ship after Dubya, it ought to be a
submarine, to commemorate how deep his party has plunged under his leadership. He's
the most unpopular president in the history of polling, plunging beneath the depths
plumbed by Harry Truman after he fired Douglas MacArthur during the Korean War.
But the larger reason for the troubles of congressional Republicans is that they are
viewed (alas, correctly) as being motivated by little else than self enrichment.
Voters now prefer Democrats to Republicans on all ten of the "key issues" he tracks,
said pollster Scott Rasmussen, even though they disagree with what Democrats
advocate on some of those issues.
For instance, "Government Ethics and Corruption" is a "very important" issue for 71
percent of likely voters, Mr. Rasmussen said. These voters prefer Democrats on this
issue, 45 percent to 26 percent.
Part of the reason for this is the tendency of the news media to mention a
miscreant's party affiliation in the lead if he or she is a Republican, but to
mention it deep in the story or not at all if the offender is a Democrat. And part
of the reason is because questionable behavior by Republicans gets more media
attention than questionable behavior by Democrats.
But the larger part of the reason is people like Sen. Ted Stevens and Reps. Don
Young and Jerry Lewis, all of whom are under investigation by the FBI. They may
join disgraced former representatives Randy Cunningham and Bob Ney in federal
prison, but they retain their positions of power in their respective GOP caucuses.
Alaskans Stevens and Young are the premier GOP porkmeisters, being responsible for,
among other things, the infamous "bridge to nowhere." Lewis is barely a half step
Republicans should stay as far away from pork as do devout Muslims and Jews, because
their base is allergic to it. Democrats expect their representatives to loot the
public treasury on their behalf, and don't mind much if their senator or congressman
takes a little for himself along the way. But most Republican voters want taxes low
and government honest, and are infuriated when their lawmakers behave like
Democrats. Anger over the lack of fiscal discipline is the chief reason why
contributions to GOP congressional committees have plunged.
If Republicans in Congress could set aside their personal greed and grow a spine,
there would be opportunity. The Democratic led Congress is the least popular in
the history of polling. The Democrats are committed to massive tax increases
which, according to Mr. Rasmussen, 60 percent of Americans think will hurt the
economy. The Democrats are about to nominate a weak general election candidate,
and the Republicans have in John McCain a candidate uniquely qualified to take
advantage of Barack Obama's shortcomings.
But for Republicans in Congress, their addiction to pork is more important than
political survival. On Wednesday, nearly half the Republicans in the House voted
for a farm bill so stuffed with pork that President Bush himself no slouch when
it comes to spending plans to veto it.
Democrats may not deserve to win the congressional elections this fall, but
Republicans deserve to lose them.