Republican Agenda Has Lost Its Sizzle

January 24, 2006
Washington, D.C.
Vol. 41, No. 2b

To: Our Subscribers

  • Alito excels in hearings and will be confirmed — Democrats scramble for a last-minute excuse to torpedo his nomination.
  • Real battle expected to be fought over Bush’s next court pick.
  • Shadegg has momentum, but he may have entered the House leadership race too late. Blunt leads.
  • Santorum takes a risk by appearing together with pro-choice Specter before right-to-life marchers.

Novak’s Outlook

We have not seen Republicans so gloomy since the post-Watergate, post-Vietnam malaise of the 1970s. That is remarkable in that the GOP now controls the presidency, Senate and House, and is running only a little worse than even in the polls against the Democrats. Furthermore, the Democrats have not begun to resolve their internal contradictions. The Republican problem is fundamentally a matter of morale, and that in itself is extremely serious.

1) Republicans appear particularly to be ground down by the lobbyist scandal, not because a parade of Republican members of Congress are going to be shipped off to prison. Rather, it is a depression born of the current association in popular opinion of the GOP with scandal.

2) At the same time, the Republican agenda has lost its sizzle. President George W. Bush’s second-term Social Security and tax reforms were stillborn. Republican politicians say that the Reaganite standbys of smaller government and lower taxes no longer cut with the public. According to polls, voters are most interested in having their health needs taken care of — not a good Republican issue.

3) The defense of earmarks by House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and Acting Majority Leader Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), front-runner for the permanent leadership role, is a stunning position to take amid a climate of scandal. The argument that this is the way Washington works is counter-intuitive. It has to cope with the power of the popular Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in fighting earmarks.

4) An accompanying problem for the Republicans is the economy, with the growth rate slowing and the possibility of declining real estate prices submerging the entire economy. In the face of a $400-billion deficit this year, what the economy may need is more tax cuts that are not currently on the agenda.

5) The bright spot for Republicans is that their opposition Democrats are so much in thrall to left-wing pressure groups that they may be unable to take advantage of their great opportunity. Their apparently futile effort to block the confirmation of Judge Samuel Alito for the Supreme Court can only be described as self-destructive. The playing of Democratic senators to their left-wing base connotes an inability to get away from their party’s far-Left base.

6) The major blunder of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) in labeling the Republican-controlled Congress as a "plantation" was less a matter of placating the base than of reverting to her own nature. It was a good reason not to consider her a sure thing for the Democratic nomination, much less the presidency.

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