[the strategy for ’06]

Topic: Politics

I am beginning to see the outlines of a Republican strategy for this year’s Congressional elections, and I don’t like what I see.

The Dems have been sitting around waiting for the Republicans to implode, and the GOP has done its share to make an implosion seem likely. Bush’s post-Katrina approval ratings are disastrous, while the Congressional leadership is mired in scandal. Candidates for Congress, and potential candidates for the presidency in ’08, have been scrambling to distance themselves from the party leadership.

The obvious thing for that leadership to do is try to consolidate its hold over the party, searching for issues that all Republicans can agree on and that force the Dems to take unpopular positions. Instead, the Republicans are up to something much more clever.

What’s Bush’s most recent big public failure? The Dubai ports deal, which was opposed by many members of both parties. And what issue has the president trotted out as the midterm elections grow near? Massive immigration reform, with enough in it to alienate both hardliners and pro-immigrant groups. On the face of it, this looks like another chance for Republican failure. But consider what happens when incumbent Republican Congressional candidates take this stuff back to their districts. They get to tell the folks back home that they protected our ports from scary A-rabs, that they’re fighting to keep illegal aliens from further sullying the good ol’ US of A, and that they’re standing up to the president.

And what will the Dems say? That they couldn’t decide where to stand on the Dubai thing? That they agree with some parts of Bush’s immigration plan but not others? That we shouldn’t be distracted by issues so pressing that thousands of immigrants poured into the streets in protest, but should focus instead on the administration’s failures with Katrina (so 2005!) and Iraq (such a downer!)? And as far as scandal goes, how long can you keep talking about the Hammer once he’s gone? The real issue is security — securing our borders to keep out the scary brown folk, that is. I think we’re going to see an ugly nativist campaign this fall that leaves the Democrats trying to squirm out of being tagged the party of illegal aliens and coziness with Arabs. (Try not to let the cognitive dissonance of that last one give you a migraine.)

I have until now given the Democratic Party a certain benefit of the doubt in terms of coming up with a solid platform. It’s still early for that, and the longer your platform is out there, the more time the opposition has to shoot holes in it. But the elections are drawing ever nearer, and this keep-silent approach won’t work for much longer, especially as the White House lobs hot potatoes.

Of course, all this is predicated on a Republican strategy of further destroying the current presidency. But how much do they need Bush anyway? The man is incapable of vetoing pork, and if the GOP holds Congress this year, they can enact whatever they want. They don’t want the federal government to be effective at much of anything anyway. Bush will be a lame duck no matter what after the November elections, so why not start separating him from the party now? If the GOP strategy works in ’06, I can guarantee you that in ’08, some Republican will run for president as an outsider intent on cleaning up Washington.

Dems, is there a plan to counter any of this?