Sunday, December 04, 2005

Anti-War Sentiment Spreading Among GOP Stalwarts

Declining support for the Iraq war and the directly proportionate declivity in Bush's approval ratings are well-established public opinion trends by now, but whether or not those negative feelings will manifest themselves at the polls in 2006 is an open question. According to a Washington Post story from today's edition, conventional wisdom among GOP insiders has it that House and Senate incumbents will be immune:
. . . Republican campaign strategists who are carefully monitoring public sentiment insist that, for now at least, the war is not likely to be a crucial issue in 2006, unlike taxes and health coverage. Moreover, they say, Bush -- not members of Congress -- will bear the primary political burden for events in Iraq.

"National security is not something you run TV ads on in a House race," Carl Forti, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said late last week.

I, as usual, am skeptical. A spin-doctor's job is to portray every situation in as positive a light as possible, and I'd expect nothing less of the GOP's finest. But my intuition tells me that the 2006 elections may hinge upon how closely Republican lawmakers are perceived to have hewed to Bush's agenda in general. In this way, widespread dissatisfaction with the administration may bleed over onto those who have supported its every move. The same lockstep party discipline that got the GOP into power in the first place may prove its undoing, if the public decides it doesn't like the status quo.

While taxes, national security, cultural issues, and political scandals will definitely be on voters' minds next year, Iraq isn't going anywhere. To the extent that it remains relevant to the 2006 elections, Republicans will need to come up with some sort of plausible plan for an eventual pullout. One of the reasons for the war's growing unpopularity is that it was originally sold as a very brief engagement on the order of months or even weeks. Another is that Saddam's purported WMD threat turned out not to exist--and Iraq is a greater danger to the US today than it was before the invasion. The administration originally claimed that invading Iraq was essential to maintain American national security, and now that it's saying the same thing about staying indefinitely, the people are understandably upset. Most would prefer obvious signs of progress over an immediate pullout, and if neither starts happening within the next year, the GOP will suffer accordingly.

Update: the WaPo's Jonathan Rauch opines similarly, citing historical evidence as well as recent poll results.