A few days after the 2004 elections, the late Molly Ivins found a small sliver of a silver lining in the reelection of George W. Bush.
Some people think you cannot break a dog that has got in the habit of killin’ chickens, but my friend John Henry always claimed you could. He said the way to do it is to take one of the chickens the dog has killed and wire the thing around the dog’s neck, good and strong. And leave it there until that dead chicken stinks so bad that no other dog or person will even go near that poor beast. Thing’ll smell so bad the dog won’t be able to stand himself. You leave it on there until the last little bit of flesh rots and falls off, and that dog won’t kill chickens again.
The Bush administration is going to be wired around the neck of the American people for four more years, long enough for the stench to sicken everybody. It should cure the country of electing Republicans.
Nearly three years later, with the 2008 election ramping up, it appears Molly was right. Bush’s lousy performance, especially his mishandling of the war and the economy, has brought the Republican Party to its lowest point since Watergate. With fewer than 60 weeks until the election, chances that the GOP will win back the Congress and hold the White House are slim.
The Bush effect can be seen in a survey conducted in June in which just 31 percent of respondents self-identified as Republicans — down from 37 percent in 2004. Thirty-six percent identified as Democrats, while the number of independents was at an all time high of 33 percent.
With both parties laying claim to under 40 percent of the electorate, the 2008 candidates, like those of the recent past, must attract independent voters to win in November. This will be especially challenging for the GOP nominee who will not only have a slightly larger gap to fill than the Democrat but who will also be hobbled by having Molly’s dead chicken tied around his neck.
Since nearly two-thirds of voters view Bush unfavorably, GOP strategists would doubtless prefer to run away from, or even against, the Bush record. But they can’t. The chicken must stay firmly wired to their candidate’s neck because, in spite of his bad odor, Bush remains inexplicably popular with the the GOP base. Since Bush dead-enders represent upwards of a third of the electorate, the nominee will have no choice but to keep them appeased.
With the two main components of his constituency diametrically opposed over Bush and his war, the GOP candidate could find himself in a trap. If he runs against Bush, he risks alienating the GOP base, none of whom he can afford to lose. If he runs with the president, he’ll have a very hard time peeling off 20 or 30 percent of independents, without whom he can’t win.
And it could get worse. If the surge ends next spring, violence in Iraq will return to previous levels just in time for the nominating conventions and the 2008 campaign’s final heat — making the GOP nominee’s quest to win over independents close to impossible.
Earlier this week, Buck wrote about the the increasingly dire outlook facing the GOP next year, particularly in the House. Things look bad in the Senate, too, where 22 GOP seats are up for grab while the Dems are defending just 13 seats, all of which but a couple are considered non-competitive.
And now this.
“Lucky me,” Bush used to joke in another context, “I’ve hit the Trifecta.” Finally, it appears that Bush may actually win three races — the House, the Senate and the White House — but in true Dubya fashion, he’ll win them for the Democrats.