This morning, I was watching Joe Scarborough plugging his book on the Today Show. He’s not as extreme as some Republicans, but he’s still a tool. His take on why the Republicans have taken such a drubbing during the last two elections is a study in denial. Basically, he stated that Republican losses are because the party abandoned its conservative principles and got American into the mess in Iraq. Well, kudos to his admission about Iraq. But George W. Bush’s (and his party’s) ratings tanked in the aftermath of domestic overreach and Hurricane Katrina.
Indeed, the resurgence of Conservatism for one last gasp is the result of a bizarre set of circumstances that no fiction writer would dare invent. The Conservative movement was already waning in 1998 when Republicans, attempting to impeach President Clinton, lost seats in that year’s election. The election of 2000 threw the Presidency to Bush on the basis a fluke in the Electoral College which has never been properly addressed. This also occurred in 1876 and 1888. I will not go into the Florida election fiasco here. But one whether believes Al Gore or Bush “won” Florida, the fact is that Gore won 543,895 more votes in the national election. Nationally, the American people rejected Conservatism.
During the first months of his term, Bush was largely seen as ineffective and not up to the job of being President. Over the summer of 2001, his approval ratings began to tank and most analysts were concluding he would be a one term President.
9/11 changed all that. As has often been the case, the American people rallied around their chief, and Bush’s approval ratings rose to stratospheric levels. It enabled him to sell a foreign policy agenda that would never have gotten out of the gates had 9/11 not occurred. Between 9/11 and the shameless, terror-baiting tactics of the national Republicans (which included defaming the character of Vietnam veteran and triple amputee Max Cleland), the 2002 midterm elections bucked the historical trend and gained seats for the party in power. This was the peak of the Conservative resurgence.
The 2004 election was close, certainly not a landslide and not a mandate by any means. Bush’s popularity was already waning on the basis of the quagmire in Iraq and anemic economic growth. If the Republican Party had not deployed the same snake-belly tactics as they had in the 2002 election, it’s doubtful they could have won. John Kerry, a qualified candidate who was unable to connect with America’s heartland, lost by 2.5 percentage points.
By early 2005, Bush approval rating was hovering at the 50% mark and began to sink when he proposed privatizing Social Security. It dropped further in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina – not because of the abandonment of Conservative principles, but because of the lack of government response. Broad swaths of the American public believe that there are times when the Government is the solution to the problem: that includes natural disasters, and in binding contracts between generations.
It’s useful to remember that the economy was not technically in recession when the Republicans dramatically lost both houses of Congress in the 2006 midterms. The main issues which sank the Republicans were continued outrage over Katrina and the pileup of American casualties in Iraq. The Republicans lost power, and the last nails were driven into the coffin of 20th Century Conservatism not because the government did too much domestically, but because it did too little.