The Republicans' Gathering Storm
November 2, 2005
By Bennet G. Kelley
1994, Democrats were hit with the political equivalent of "the
perfect storm" which enabled Republicans to pick up 62 House
and Senate seats and seize control of both houses of Congress for
the first time in 42 years. For today's beleaguered Republicans
watching the gathering clouds anxiously, the good news is that the
forecast does not call for another perfect storm in 2006. The bad
news is that, instead, they face something much worse.
The 1994 storm was the result of an unpopular president (Clinton's
approval was only 39% in September 1994), a backlash over a scandal-plagued
Congress (73 percent disapproval) and unpopular policies (health
care and taxes) combined with a loss of support from the Democratic
base (women's turnout dropped by 2 million).
Fast forward to 2005: President Bush's approval has plummeted
to 39%; Congress' disapproval rate is at 65 percent amidst growing
scandals; the Republican base has frayed over Harriet Meirs and
government spending; and there is widespread dissatisfaction over
the Iraq War, Bush's Social Security plan and Hurricane Katrina.
The more alarming statistic for Republicans, however, is that
unlike in 1994 when the voters repudiated Clinton's performance
but not his policies (54 percent favored continuing the Clinton
agenda), today only 25 percent favor a continuation of the
Bush agenda. In addition, polls indicate that voters now reject
or believe the Republicans have failed on the key elements of their
agenda - tax cuts, Iraq, social security reform and restoring integrity
This overwhelming opposition suggests that the Republicans face
a scenario similar to the 1980 collapse of Jimmy Carter and the
Congressional Democrats. Bush now faces what Carter once faced:
low approval ratings, a weak economy with rising gas prices combined
with setbacks in Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf that have left
Americans feeling less secure. Both Presidents also had a single
event that defined their ineffectiveness, with President Carter's
botched attempt to rescue American hostages in Iran being his "Katrina
The 1980 election was a disaster for the Democrats as not only
did Carter lose to Ronald Reagan by 8 million votes, but the Republicans
picked up 47 House and Senate seats and regained control of the
Senate for the first time in 26 years. Even worse, for the next
twelve years (until Clinton's victory in 1992), Republicans ran
against Jimmy Carter in every election by tattooing their Democratic
opponents with all of his failures. Ronald Reagan's subsequent popularity
enabled Republicans to make substantial gains among independent
voters and erase the Democrats' advantage in party leanings. The
Republicans' 1994 sweep would not have been possible without this
The failure of the Bush administration is having a similar effect
for Democrats, as there has been a double-digit shift in their favor
among voters as to which party can a do a better job and should
control Congress. This is why Republicans are alarmed, since they
know that if the Democrats are able to "Carterize" Bush
and the Republicans in 2006 or 2008, it will be a lasting wound.
The Bush agenda has been a continuation of the ideological course
set by Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich and, just as Carter's defeat
was the final nail in the Great Society's coffin, Bush's collapse
may have the same effect for the "Reagan Revolution."
It is somewhat ironic that the President whose reelection was seen
as the culmination of the Reagan Revolution may be the agent of
its ultimate demise. But Reagan, Gingrich and Bush each deserve
the blame for such a collapse since a revolution based on "free
lunch" tax giveaways without concern for deficits, ideological
extremism and a disdain for the details of governing is a house
of cards whose disastrous end is predestined.
The current climate presents Democrats with an enormous opportunity
to define the contrast between the two parties for years to come.
Democrats need only remind voters that, under Clinton, not only
were they the party of peace, prosperity and budget surpluses, but
they were able to reduce the size of government and still be effective;
while the Bush record is the exact opposite on all counts.
There is a proverb that "the firm tree does not fear the
storm." With dark clouds looming on the horizon, the current
forecast for Republicans in 2006 is "be very scared."