What ought Congressional Republicans to be fighting for and rallying around? It isn’t complicated:
Win the war.
Confirm the judges.
Cut the taxes.
Control the spending.
Twelve words. Not difficult to express, but apparently beyond the ability of the Congressional majorities to articulate and defend. As the worst week for the Congressional Republicans since their rise to power in November 1994 comes to a close (Jumping Jim Jeffords’ big bounce is a distant second as that was an individual betrayal, not a collective failure of political will), the electeds are about to scatter without so much as one hour of serious floor debate about the hard left turn taken by the Democrats, or even the latest front page leak of a national security secret.
You cannot win arguments that you don’t make, and you can’t maintain majorities when those majorities make little difference in the life of the country.
The only thing for the center-right committed to the twelve words to do is keep up the pressure via direct communication with Senate and House GOP leadership and with endangered GOP “moderates” who need to hear that their bigest problem getting re-elected will be the open and sustained opposition of GOP regulars. All the key contact info is toward the bottom of this post.
“This will be remembered as the week that President Bush lost control over the Iraq War debate,” writes E. J. Dionne in his column today. The biggest problem, he notes, isn’t with the Democrats:
Even more alarming for Bush is the fact that Senate Republican leaders felt obligated to introduce and pass their own resolution declaring 2006 “a period of significant transition to full Iraqi sovereignty.” The resolution called, without specific timetables, for “creating the conditions for the phased redeployment of United States forces from Iraq.”
Sen. Richard Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, noted that the Republican resolution drew heavily on the language of the Democrats’ proposal. Durbin praised Sen. John Warner, the Republican chairman of the Armed Services Committee, for a speech this week arguing that the next 60 to 180 days — notice Warner’s time line — were critical to the future of Iraq and that the Iraqi government needed to come to grips with its “internal problems.”
“Warner’s speech,” Durbin said in an interview, “was as clear a signal as this White House will ever get that its loyalists in the Republican Party have lost faith in its strategy.”
It isn’t just liberal columnists who are judging the Senate GOP’s collapse accurately. This is from today’s Wall Street Journal lead editorial:
It’s been a bad week for the American war effort, not in Iraq or anywhere else in the field but in Washington, D.C. The American Congress is sending increasingly loud signals of irresolution in Iraq, including panicky calls for withdrawal….
There’s little comfort in the fact that Senate Republicans stood up Monday to Democratic demands for a specific troop-withdrawal timetable. The GOP Senate leadership still put itself on record that it believes time is running short. No wonder Minority Leader Harry Reid is bragging of having “change[d] the policy of the United States with regard to Iraq.”
The incredibly shrinking Congressional GOP has lost its footing and even its ability to respond to outrageous posturing like Congressman Murtha’s. (Mudville Gazette manages to help set some of the record straight on the casualties from the GWOT.)
This is all subject to a rapid turn-around, but the thing about a breach in a previously solid dam is that the fissure can widen quickly if it isn’t repaired quickly. Pretending it hasn’t happened or downplaying its significance seem exactly the strategies to take a week of defeats and turn it into a month of setbacks until that month becomes three and Judge Alito is tossed overboard.
What is most necessary now is clarity about both the defeats and about the need for urgent action behind a unified political front.
Given that priority, Senator Frist’s statment yesterday about Monday’s debacle is very alarming:
“The Republicans in this body are 100% behind the President as Commander in Chief. We will not cut and run. The [Monday]amendments were crafted as a cut and run, and it sends the wrong signal to our troops, to Al Qaeda. The letter we crafted was intended to address the cut and run approach generated by Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI). The Administration reports to us on a regular basis about the progress of the war and their plans. Our amendment was crafted to thwart the cut and run strategy of the Democrats.”
The Majority Leader’s denial of the reality of Monday’s collapse mirrors the House leadership’s studied indifference to the deletion of ANWR exploration from the budget bill, and both Houses cannot expect the refrain of “it will get fixed in conference” to obscure the disarray. The party activists know what it takes to win elections and especially center-right voters. It takes leadership, not dithering and deal-cutting.
The House GOP notched a small victory last night, but it is so modest as to be embarassing, and of course ANWR exploration is missing.
But it is a start. Now if both Houses were to take up Congressman Murtha’s resolution and debate it through the weekend along with the Patriot Act, the repair work would be well under way, and the post-Thanksgiving session an opportunity to remind the American public that there is a huge difference between the two parties, a difference that can be explained in twelve words.