SIMMONS: Republicans’ tug of war

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OP-ED:

The Republican Party ain’t what it used to be. Sure, it still takes on the Democratic Party and can be counted on to fight the good fight when it comes to faith, family and freedom. But Republicans have lost considerable ground with the very working-class and middle-class Americans who have delivered resounding victories to them since Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush took on Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale in 1980. The shift in relationship with those same voters began in 2006, when Democrats gained control of Congress, and it continues as the election draws near. This doesn’t bode well for the McCain-Palin ticket and the two dozen House Republican seats that are looking more purple than red.

Have Republicans lost their soul? Have they merely lost their way? Is the internal tug of war that began during the contentious primaries to blame?

The Huckabee-McCain-Romney split almost became too much to bear. And even after John McCain emerged from that brusing battle as the apparent nominee, many were left wandering.

The Moral Majority may be no more. But the moral majority remains those voters of all ethnicities who are pro-life, America-first, law-and-order, individual-freedom-loving, less-government-intervention, free-trade red-blooded Americans. Is the Republican Party paying attention?

First, Republicans proposed and supported a bailout of the financial system in all its unglorious corporate-welfare underpinnings. Then they didn’t. Then they said, “We believe” - sounding more like underdog fans during the fourth quarter of a football game than politicians elected to maintain America’s leading role in the 21st century. They fell in and out of love with Sarah Palin quicker than she could pluck a fast-wilting daisy and say, “They love me, they love me not.”

Mr. McCain knew what he was getting his party into when the name Gov. Sarah Palin passed his lips that fateful day. While some commentators were giddy (I’ve never seen Pat Buchanan so happy), many others momentarily held their breath before fully exhaling. Doug Wilder had this to say about Mrs. Palin: “If that is the cream of the crop, God save the milk.” Well-known voices are doubting Thomases, too. Syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker wrote: “As we´ve seen and heard more from John McCain´s running mate, it is increasingly clear that Palin is a problem.” Andrew Sullivan called Mr. McCain’s decision “the most irresponisble act any candidate has ever made.” Conservative George Will also let his doubts become known.

It really doesn’t matter what the Palin barometers register following the debate with Joe Biden. As Mr. McCain goes on Nov. 4, so goes the party.

What is happening of late raises questions about Mr. McCain’s leadership qualities, Mr. McCain’s coattails and the perception — and inside the Beltway perception is reality — the Republican leadership in both chambers.

Only in America would the president say there is a crisis at hand that needs the full time and attention of Congress, and then his own party - that would be the Republicans - fail to deliver to its leader. One chamber, the House, tells the president no and goes on holiday. Leadership, not experience, and hero-worship, not moral clarity, had a lot to do with that outcome.

Mr. McCain, aka Sir Anti-Earmark, was considered our knight in shining armor, coming off the campaign trail to the rescue of Main Street, Wall Street and both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. In the end, his lack of leadership delivered disappointment. Mr. McCain’s insertion into the deliberations either left his party brethen twisting in the wind or further stiffening their spines on the bailout. But then he turned around and did the unconscionble: Mr. McCain voted “yea” on the pork-laden Senate version of the bailout.

Mr. McCain broke his own rule and disavowed his own principle. His armor remains forever tarnished.

Mr. McCain cannot defend his support for this lard: Manufacturers for children’s wodden arrows get $6 million; $192 goes to Puerto Rican and Virgin Islands rum producers; auto-racing tracks get $128 million. Of course, that isn’t the entire list. But it’s enough — $326 million — to let struggling Main Street American voters know that there is little that remains “grand” about today’s Republican Party.

Two dozen Republican House seats are in the “voters’ dunno” column. Poll numbers for President Bush are so low they no longer are of any consequence. Sure, Mr. Bush can help raise funding, after all he is the president. But Republicans need more than money between now and Election Day.

Republicans need to win over voters who have lost their jobs and their job prospects, who see their American dream being dashed by stinking rich Republicans and Democrats who gambled and lost and voters who — and this is key — have fallen inline behind Barack Obama (or the Clintons) and know that change and reform are not synomous.

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About the Author
Deborah Simmons

Deborah Simmons

Award-winning opinion writer Deborah Simmons is a senior correspondent who reports on City Hall and writes about education, culture, sports and family-related topics. Mrs. Simmons has worked at several newspapers, and since joining The Washington Times in 1985, has served as editorial-page editor and features editor and on the metro desk. She has taught copy editing at the University of ...

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