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Only Thing GOPers Have to Fear Is the GOP Itself

5 years ago
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If I had a gift certificate to a bondage-themed strip-tease club for every time I've heard Democrats complain that the mascot of their party ought to be a circular firing squad, I'd be able to entertain thousands of GOP operatives. But now it seems that it's the Republicans who are engaging in an orgy of cannibalism -- just when they're poised to mount one of the greatest political comebacks in years.

Let your mind drift back to the historic days of November 2008. After Barack Obama won the White House and his Democratic Party achieved super-majority control of Congress, it seemed that the Republican Party was in for a long, cold stretch of winter. There was talk of an era of decline for the Grand Old Party. The D's would dominate for years. Political scientists and pundits pondered permanent realignment.

That was then. Now, a short 16 months later, the sun appears to be shining on Republicans. A Gallup poll released on April Fools' Day -- but no laughing matter for Democrats -- noted that 47 percent of registered voters prefer the Republican House candidate in their district to the Democratic contender; only 44 percent went for the Dem. Four weeks ago -- when Gallup began asking this question -- the numbers were reversed. The most simple explanation for the shift is popular upset with the health care reform legislation. Obama's historic win has not yet cast a glow upon House Democrats. Perhaps more important for the political prospects of Republicans, it looks as if unemployment will remain rather high between now and the November elections. Consequently, the incumbent party can expect a good whacking from voters in November, with Republican bystanders reaping the benefits of such punishment. A CNN poll notes that Americans say that Republicans in Congress would better deal with the economy than Democrats, 48 to 45 percent. That's quite a worrisome snapshot for Democrats.
So what could possibly darken the skies for Republicans? Their own actions. After all, the party is a mess. GOP chief Michael Steele is a flytrap for controversy, the latest being the party's $2,000 expenditure at a bondage strip club in West Hollywood for entertainment purposes. This has caused much embarrassment for Steele and the Gang at party HQ. Fundamentalist groups have protested the party's lack of allegiance to family values. Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, an influential social conservative outfit, has called on his followers to stop donating to the party. Former Republican Sen. Rick Santorum, a darling of the religious right, and Penny Nance, the head of Conservative Women for America, have raised questions about Steele's leadership of the party. ("Look, if you can't run a party you certainly can't run a country," Perkins said on Thursday afternoon.) At the same time -- if not necessarily for the same reason -- Sarah Palin has asked the Republican National Committee to strike her name from an upcoming fundraiser in New Orleans. And the Republican Party has had problems with its own budget, outspending its revenues and possibly hobbling itself as the congressional elections approach. This has got GOP fat cats grumbling. With Steele ever-under fire, Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie, a former GOP party chieftain, have been raising millions of bucks for a new 527 political action committee called American Crossroads, which will collect tens of millions of dollars to assist Republican House and Senate candidates this fall. This effort is something of a no-confidence vote in Steele and his underlings.

On policy matters, the party has been caught up in internal debates concerning how to best position itself on health care and Wall Street reform. GOP 2012 presidential contenders are starting to snipe at each other. (Just ask any GOP operative working for a candidate other than Mitt Romney about Romney's record on health care reform when he was Massachusetts governor.) And Tea Partiers are challenging mainstream GOPers. See the nasty Senate primary races in Arizona and Florida.

Now should be a brilliant springtime of GOP contentment. After all, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, recently said that House Dems face "an uphill climb this November. The question is, the steepness of the hill." Yet GOP disorder could get in the way of a Republican rout of the Democrats. Organization does count in politics. Parties need to maximize their resources. They need to coordinate messages. If a party is efficient -- or at least, competent -- it can best take advantage of favorable prevailing conditions. True, sometimes a wave is so big, other considerations (and screw-ups) don't matter. But GOP haplessness appears to might be offering the Dems a fighting chance in 2010.

In January, when Steel was in the news for saying he didn't expect his party to win back the House, I noted that the sooner the GOP dumped Steele, the better off it would be:

The chief of the GOP has two challenges: to pull in big bucks and to maintain the peace within his party. Steele appears to have been too busy goofing on cable TV to do either. As I've noted previously, this election year offers Republicans a grand opportunity, particularly because unemployment is expected to remain high for months, if not years, to come. But a party burdened with a leader who alienates donors will not be best positioned to exploit that advantage. It's hard to imagine Steele getting his act together and functioning as an effective party chairman in the tough slog ahead. Though there might be a cost if Republicans send him packing now, the cost will be greater if Steele is forced out later rather than sooner.

It may be getting too late to de-Steele the party, for the subsequent recriminations would certainly distract from the mission at hand: winning the 2010 elections. Just imagine how much more damage a totally off-the-reservation Steele could do outside the tent. (If Steele is removed as party head, it would be a gigantic boon for cable TV -- the political news equivalent of the O.J. chase.) So the Republicans may be stuck with Steele and his dramas, as well as all the other inside-the-party bickering. But, as my father used to say often, it's smarter to be lucky than it's lucky to be smart. Merely being the non-incumbent party might be enough for the GOP to win big in 2010, and, ultimately, none of the side-show silliness may influence what happens when voters vote. Despite all the Republican miscues and blunders, GOPers might want to book the Voyeur strip club for a victory party on Nov. 2.

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.

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