Elephants Gone Wild

In a political world defined by ambiguity and uncertainty, one thing seems undeniably clear: the Republicans will be in electoral trouble in 2006. Less than a year away from the 2006 midterm elections, the Republican Party has a higher unfavorable rating than any majority party since the Democrats in 1994. In that year, the voters soundly rejected the governing party and helped execute a dramatic Republican takeover of the Senate and the House of Representatives. Since then, Republicans have used their political prowess to firmly entrench themselves as the ruling class of Washington. Republicans control the White House and both houses of Congress. And they are responsible for the appointment of five of the nine Supreme Court Justices. This monopoly makes next year’s Congressional elections something of a referendum; a vote for a Republican ticket is a vote for the status quo, and a vote for a Democrat is a vote for change. Now that they own the whole Capitol, Republicans cannot blame Congressional Democrats or any outside events for the country’s situation. The Republican agenda is on the verge of demise and voters have responded. The leader of the Republican Party, George W. Bush, has become one of the least popular second term presidents ever. During last weekend’s Andover-Exeter football game, the Exeter fans (possibly because they had nothing else to cheer for) began chanting degradingly, “George Bush went to your school.” It is a sick twist of irony that today it is considered an embarrassment that the president of the United States, the leader of the free world, attended our high school. But the problems for Bush and his party extend beyond the confines of a bitter school rivalry. Several polls released over the past two weeks show that President Bush’s approval ratings are the lowest they’ve been during his presidency. In a recent Newsweek poll, Bush had a 36 percent approval rating. He fared only slightly better in the Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, which showed that 38 percent of Americans approve of the job the president is doing. On a litany of issues the American people are unhappy with the President’s performance. Only 34 percent approve of his handling of the economy and 39 percent approve of his handling of terrorism. Additionally, just 35 percent approve of Bush’s foreign policy and a staggeringly-low 32 percent of Americans believe that the President is handling the War in Iraq well. The president has become so unpopular that Republican candidates running for office are now trying to avoid his coattails. In the 2002 and 2004 elections, campaign appearances with the president greatly bolstered the standing of Republican candidates. This year, many Republican candidates are going out of their way to avoid President Bush. During a recent visit to California, the president was shocked to discover that Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was unable to find time to meet or appear with the Commander in Chief. In last week’s gubernatorial race in Virginia, the president took a gamble by making a last-hour appearance with Republican candidate Jerry Kilgore. The next day, Kilgore was soundly defeated by Democrat Tim Kaine. Many analysts believe that Bush’s appearance linked Kilgore with the troubled national Republican Party and hurt Kilgore’s chances of winning. Virginia is not the only state that has provided bell weather indications of electoral problems for the GOP. On the same day that Kaine won the governor’s house in Virginia, Democratic Senator John Corzine claimed victory over Republican Douglas Forrester in a hotly contested battle. Perhaps even more alarming for Republicans, Democrat Paul Hackett nearly defeated his Republican counterpart in a special election in a heavily conservative district. Hackett verbally attacking the president throughout the campaign (calling him a “chicken hawk”), and garnered over 47 percent of the vote in an area that Bush carried with over 60 percent in 2004. Even though the election is nearly a year away, there are no signs of improvement coming from the GOP. President Bush pegged the success of his second term on two issues: Iraq and Social Security. His Social Security proposal was so unpopular that it got thrown off the table altogether, and Iraq has sunk into a terrifying state of chaos. Barring a miracle or dramatic shift in political fortunes between now and next November, Republicans will likely occupy far fewer seats in the 110th Congress.