Bush’s troubles mount as Republican defections increase

A private poll recently commissioned by Republican leaders shows the GOP would lose control of both the House and Senate if midterm elections were held today and supports mounting evidence that the party must distance itself from President Bush if it wants to hold on to Congressional control in 2006.

GOP strategists who have seen the poll warn House and Senate leaders that Bush’s numbers will continue to fall and there may be no way the party can avoid catastrophe as long as the President remains in office.

Increasingly, GOP candidates for office – both incumbent and challengers – tell the White House and the national campaign committee they want nothing to do with Bush and will refuse to appear with him at any events.

Republican Senator Rick Santorum cancelled plans to appear with Bush in Pennsylvania on Veterans Day, a wise move as backlash continues to mount over the President’s use of the day to bash opponents of his failed war in Iraq. Rep. J.D. Hayworth of Arizona told the White House this week he wants no help from the President and will not use Bush in any campaign ads in his re-election effort next year.

GOP campaign consultants increasingly advise their candidates to avoid any appearance of an alliance with Bush and some are going so far as to suggest avoiding use of “Republican” or “GOP” in election ads and literature.

“Focus groups show voter approval drops significantly when the President’s name is mentioned,” says a senior Republican strategist. “Any embrace of the President’s policies is a death knell.”

The Senate Finance Committee last week killed a tax bill pushed by Bush when Rep. Sen. Olympia Snowe came out against a capital gains tax break that favored the wealthy. House leaders postponed a vote on the bill after too many members of their party revolted.

But the crack in the Republican façade has been building.

“The fissures have been there all along,” says Jack Pitney, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College in California. “A lot more red ink, much worse poll numbers…it all adds up.”

Some GOP strategists cling to the hope that political fortunes can quickly reverse and the party can rebound but such optimism is rare among the doom and gloom that dominates meeting of party leaders at the National Republican Committee and National Republican Congressional Committee.

“We’re in trouble. There’s no doubt about that,” says one GOP pollster. “Based on what I’m seeing in the national mood the only way out of that trouble is to get as far away as possible from President Bush and his policies.”