The Republican Party is paying a fearful price for its loyalty to George W. Bush, something he rarely, if ever, has reciprocated.
Except for the whistling-past-the-graveyard propaganda put out by the Republican National Committee and its camp followers on the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, Republicans in Washington and around the country are beginning to believe Bush is their very own national nightmare. The Associated Press even quoted one unnamed GOP lawmaker saying "there's talk of us going the way of the Whigs."
C'mon, now, it's hardly that bad. It's just your ordinary garden-variety looming election disaster.
Farmer's essential thesis is that Bush has become a human wrecking ball where the GOP is concerned. Four senators and nine Representatives have chosen not to seek re-election this year, even though they are in districts or states that are, by and large, solidly Republican. He mentions John Sununu by name, noting that his association with Bush has him trailing badly in the polls, with dedicated conservatives crossing party lines to support his opponent.
Bush has insisted on a stay-the-course attitude pertaining to the Iraq war, despite the overwhelming unpopularity of that approach with the public. There's a place for being stalwart, and perhaps this is such a place, but it's also costing the GOP big time in political fund-raising. House Republicans have only $1.6 million so far; Democrats have more than 12 times that amount.
And Republicans are abandoning the principles of free trade, one of the hallmarks of conservatism. Farmer cites a WSJ poll that found that Republicans believe by a 2-1 margin that free trade is bad for America, costing too many jobs and bringing in shoddy products from overseas. (True, it's not like Bush has personally tainted toys with lead paint, but the measure of a president isn't how things that happen aren't his fault, but how he responds to them. Bush hasn't inspired the confidence he often seems to think he has.)
Agree or disagree with him, President Bush knows what he thinks is the right thing to do and will push as hard as he can in that direction without worrying about whether everyone's going to still like him by the time he leaves office. He reminds me of two people in this regard: The first is a bus driver who takes the bus through the guard rail and down the hill, crashing through bushes, smashing a fence, frightening livestock, and recklessly trying to ford a river. The passengers complain, and all he can say is, "Stop complaining. If you didn't want to go somewhere, why did you get on the bus?"
The other is his father, who also seemed unable to grasp that not everyone could see the superiority of his position and immediately follow it. The elder Bush was astounded when Clinton beat him; the younger seems unable to grasp why people disagree with his ideas, positions, and nominations when he's made no great effort to convince people that his judgment is sound. His "Trust me" around the Harriet Miers nomination was the most famous example.
Perhaps if he gave greater evidence that he was listening to advisers who weren't simply agreeing with him or (rather) giving him ways to advance his own ideas, but instead offered him contrary views that he could listen to and learn from, then perhaps his tenacity might be seen as an asset and less of as a liability.