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GOP political strategists fear a shift in Congressional seats from Republican to Democratic hands in the mid-term elections this November could spur a renewed movement to impeach President George W. Bush.
Other strategists agree. Dissatisfaction grows almost daily with Bush in both the moderate and conservative Republican ranks and some might be willing to go along with Democratic calls for impeachment to protect their own seats if the GOP majority is reduced by the elections.
"Look, this administration has become the gang that can’t shoot straight," says one unhappy strategist that I worked with during my days on Capitol Hill from 1981-87. "The Democrats don’t even have to win back control. If they make enough gains that will scare the Republicans enough to think more about their own political hides."
Don’t expect any Republican to admit such a thought publicly. They’re concerned, not suicidal. But more and more grumble in the cloakroom and the back halls of Congress, saying Bush is a serious liability to the party and may need to go.
The private talk intensified this week with published reports that Vice President Dick Cheney may retire after the mid-terms, allowing Bush to select a new vice president who would need to be confirmed by Congress. Insight Magazine, a publication of the Republican-leaning, right-wing Washington Times, quotes GOP sources saying Cheney is also becoming a liability because of the indictment of his chief of staff in the CIA leak scandal and the controversy surrounding the delay in reporting his shooting of a friend and lawyer during a hunting trip.
"The sources reported a growing rift between the president and vice president as well as their staffs," the Insight article says. "They cited Mr. Cheney’s failure to immediately tell the president of the accidental shooting of the vice president’s hunting colleague earlier this month."
That’s no surprise to us. We reported the growing rift between Bush and Cheney two weeks ago.
New polls show Bush’s personal and job approval ratings plummeting to 34 percent but Cheney’s ratings fall even lower to 18 percent. What really concerns GOP political operatives, though, is the sharp drop in the President’s personal popularity.
"The prospects look very grim for Republicans," says Ross Baker, a political scientist at Rutgers University.
Larry Sabato, political analyst at the University of Virginia, says Bush’s problems in the midterms parallel those that faced the Republican party in the pivotal 1972 midterm elections after Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace or the 1966 midterms when widespread voter dissatisfaction with Lyndon Johnson cost Democrats seats in both the House and Senate.
"If the election were held next week, Democrats would probably take control of at least one house of Congress," Sabato says.
Such a thought means Republicans may have to start eating their own if they want to survive – and that means even more trouble for the star-crossed administration of George W. Bush.