Conservatives bail on Bush

Even conservatives are losing faith in President George W. Bush now, putting Republican control of Congress at risk in November’s midterm elections.

Six months before voters decide the balance of power in Congress, an increasingly gloomy and anxious electorate has become disenchanted with Bush and grown more pessimistic about the Iraq war, gas prices and the country’s future, according to a flurry of recent polls.

More than two-thirds of the American public thinks the country is on the wrong track and voters prefer Democrats to Republicans by double-digits margins. Bush’s job approval rating has reached a low for his presidency of 31 percent.

Throughout Bush’s five-year presidency, conservatives have remained remarkably faithful. But the latest polls suggest that is no longer true.

A Gallup poll this week found just 52 percent of conservatives and 68 percent of Republicans approved of Bush’s performance, record lows for both.

Polls also show Democratic voters are more motivated and enthusiastic about November’s election, a reversal of the political mood in 1994 when Republicans swept to victory and took control of both houses of Congress

“Unless they can find a way to inspire some enthusiasm among voters, Republicans are toast. This is a very serious erosion of support,” said Karlyn Bowman, a poll analyst at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

“If things keep going as they are, the Republicans are in enormous trouble in November,” she said.


Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center, said conservative unhappiness at Bush’s handling of the now-dead Dubai ports deal and the growth of federal spending has grown to encompass doubts about his leadership and competence.

“Many conservatives think Bush hasn’t stuck to his core principles, but that is just part of it,” Kohut said. “This is not strictly about ideology, this is about performance.”

Republicans have appeared in disarray as they squabbled over spending, immigration, what to do about record-high gas prices and the port deal.

“The dynamic over the last 12 or 15 years has been Democrats split, Republicans united,” said Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, chairman of the Democratic Senate campaign committee.

This year, he said, “on issue after issue, immigration the most, it’s Republicans split, Democrats united.”

Democrats must gain six seats in the Senate and 15 in the House of Representatives to reclaim control, a task strategists in both parties say is tough but possible.

“If we do hold our majority in the House, it will be a testament to gerrymandering,” said Republican consultant Dan Schnur, referring to the politically motivated redrawing of district boundaries after the 2000 Census that helped protect many incumbents in both parties.

In the Senate, Democrats must beat at least five incumbent Republicans to regain control, a difficult challenge even in a favorable Democratic political climate.

Republicans hope to rally conservative support with a $70 billion tax cut package approved by the House, a series of votes on hot-button social issues like gay marriage and warnings about the consequences of Democratic control.

Brian Nick, spokesman for the Republican Senate campaign committee, said there was time to recover.

“It is a tough environment for Republicans and we’ve had the wind in our face for months now, but we have six months to get our message out and show the Democrats are not a good alternative,” he said.

© Reuters 2006