Friday, May 12, 2006

The Bush base bailout

I’m on the road today – I’m slated to be on a panel that will debate whether the media has been too hard or too soft on President Bush – so forgive me if this blog entry is a bit undernourished. In fact, let’s just turn it over to Peggy Noonan.

In yesterday’s Inquirer, I wrote a column about Bush’s sliding poll numbers. I don’t normally do poll-driven stories, but the current situation is particularly newsworthy, because of the solid evidence that followers in his conservative/Republican base are starting to bail in significant numbers. (This morning, in fact, the Wall Street Journal reports that a new Harris survey pegs Bush’s overall approval rating at his lowest ever, 29 percent.)

It is Noonan, the former speechwriter for Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, who provides the best insights into why so many conservatives and Republicans are bailing on the current president. Writing yesterday in the Journal, here are the key excerpts:

“(T)he administration and the Congress are losing their base, but it isn’t because of the media….The Republicans talk about cutting spending, but (instead) they increase it – a lot. They stand for making government smaller, but they keep making it bigger. They say they’re concerned about our borders, but they’re not securing them. And they seem to think we’re slobs for worrying. Republicans used to be sober and tough about foreign policy, but now they’re sort of romantic and full of emotionalism. They talk about cutting taxes, and they have, but the cuts are provisional, temporary. Beyond that, there’s something creepy about increasing spending so much, and not paying the price right away but instead rolling it over and onto our kids, and their kids....What’s a voter to do? Maybe stay home….One gets the impression that party leaders, deep in their hearts believe that the base is…unsophisticated. Primitive….But if history is a guide, the base is about to teach them a lesson instead.”

Sounds like a great political opportunity for the Democrats, but there are no guarantees that they won’t screw it up. Note, for example, that party chairman Howard Dean is heatedly at odds with the party leaders on Capitol Hill who didn’t want him to be chairman in the first place. Dean wants to spend money on organization in all 50 states, but his many party establishment detractors think he is wasting precious bucks in a lot of red states where Democrats don’t have a prayer of gaining ground in the November congressional elections.

And nobody should overlook the track record of Bush maestro Karl Rove, notably his longstanding ability to turn the tables and paint the Democrats as weak, wimpy, wobbly, feckless, and frightening. With emphasis on the frightening. In fact,, the key strategy for re-energizing Peggy Noonan’s grousers will boil down to this message:

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

I hope to write about that, in detail, this weekend.

And if anything insightful happens on that aforementioned press panel, I’ll pass it along here.