Tuesday, November 15, 2005After the Republican defeats last Tuesday and the continuing decline in the President's poll numbers, the conventional wisdom was that Bush's influence over Congress would suddenly evaporate as Republican congressman ran for cover. We saw one piece of evidence when Forrester blamed Bush's unpopularity for his defeat. Now we have an even better one: just a few days after Bush tries to rally his base around the Iraq War, basically calling anyone who disagrees with him a traitor, the Republican Senate calls for a troop draw-down.
Do you want to know what's funny about all of this? Congressional incumbents think they can insulate themselves by abandoning an unpopular incumbent from their party. After all, they survived the defeat of their Presidential candidates, didn't they? Unfortunately for them, this is the opposite of true. An incumbent President provides the essential political identity for a party in the voters' minds. This means that all Republicans, whether they support the President or not, are going to be held accountable for his failures. By distancing themselves, the Republicans are making Bush look even weaker and less effective, which will make him even more unpopular (people hate a loser), and thus doom their own re-election chances.
This scenario played out in 1994, when moderate Democrats in conservative districts thought they could get out from under Clinton's unpopularity by voting against him. And they all lost.
So keep jumping ship, guys! All you're doing is guaranteeing your own political annihilation!