Daily "Bad News for Republicans"
Fri May 16, 2008 9:50 am

The bearer is none other than Karl Rove, writing Thursday in the Wall Street Journal under the headline, "The GOP Must Stand for Something," about the Democratic victory in Mississippi's first congressional district, which I excerpt below:

[T]he GOP can't take "safe" seats for granted when Democrats run conservatives who distance themselves from their national party leaders. The string of defeats should cure Republicans of the habit of simply shouting "liberal! liberal! liberal!" in hopes of winning an election. They need to press a reform agenda full of sharp contrasts with the Democrats.

Why is it tough sledding for Republicans? Public revulsion at GOP scandals was a large factor in the party's 2006 congressional defeat. Some brand damage remains, as does the downward pull of the president's approval ratings. But the principal elements are the Iraq war and a struggling economy.

Gallup's 2007 report found that fewer voters identify themselves as Republicans now than at any point in the past 20 years – despite the fact that less than a fifth of Americans agree with Mr. Obama's call to rapidly withdraw from Iraq. And while many Americans are concerned about the economy, most are satisfied with their own finances.

As Republican ranks declined, the number of independents and Democrats grew. Has the bottom been reached? It's too early to know. But Americans are acknowledging progress in Iraq, economists are suggesting the economy will be in better shape this fall, and a recent ABC/Washington Post poll found GOP identification rising.

What is clear is that John McCain and Republicans will prevail only if they convince voters that there are profound consequences at stake in Iraq, and that more and better jobs will follow from the GOP's approach of lowering taxes, opening trade, and ending earmarks and other pro-growth policies.

Republicans also face challenges with the young (whose opposition to the war and attraction to Mr. Obama have made them Democrats) and Hispanics (the fastest-growing part of the electorate).

Rove does find some cause for optimism in a poll showing that McCain is attracting as much as 41% of the Hispanic vote, and in the problems facing Democrats: Obama's inability to attract blue-collar voters and the ultra-low approval ratings for the Democratic Congress.

The most interesting observation in the piece is that Rove believes that shouting "liberal!" is not a viable strategy, at least against conservative Democrats. The Republican party in Texas has found that to be true in its fruitless efforts to defeat the WD-40s. It is problematic to attack the other side's ideology when we are in a period when the right has far more ideological fervor (stem cell research) than the left. Another comment that stands out is his kid-gloves reference to the president's sinking approval ratings. I thought he went out of his way NOT to mention Bush's name.

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