Richard Morin, the Washington Post's lead pollster, has a piece in today's paper about Bush's eroding popularity even in states he won handily in 2004. Morin notes toward the end that Bush's flagging popularity in Virginia late in 2005 helps explain Republican gubernatorial nominee Jerry Kilgore's unusual behavior toward the president, "first deciding to be conspicuously absent when the president came calling in Norfolk only to invite him to a big election-eve rally a week later." Morin suggests "[t]he president may expect similar ambivalence from GOP office-seekers in tight races as this year's campaign unfolds." (Not that ambivalence saved Kilgore; he still lost to Democrat Tim Kaine.)
There's quite an irony here. Ever since his tenure as governor of Texas, Bush has cultivated a reputation as a party-builder — "the greatest Republican party builder since William McKinley," according to the Economist's John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge. Now, although the numbers still suggest that Republicans might keep the House in November (and the Senate is not a write-off either), it's starting to look as if the post-Bush Republican Party might be a shipwreck. Bush could wind up having more in common as a party-builder with McKinley's successors, Roosevelt and Taft, who failed to reconcile the GOP's conservative and progressive wings, costing the GOP the House in 1910 and, thanks to TR's third-party run, the White House in 1912.
If John McCain succeeds Bush, he could well both delay and exacerbate the crack-up. He's personally popular enough to have some coattails in 2008, helping to make up for ground lost in 2006. But a McCain presidency could set off the fault lines in the party over social issues and the war in Iraq, which McCain would prosecute even more vehemently than Bush has. And he's not exactly the man to settle the party's internal differences over immigration that are now causing Bush so much trouble.
It's true, of course, that the Democrats have little in the way of a program of their own, and they potentially face much greater internal dissension over Iraq and civil liberties than the Republicans do. But being in the opposition gives them a lot of leeway to criticize without offering an alternative and helps keep the party united. They might find a silver lining in failing to take the House this fall. Though if Bush continues to pull his party down, the Democrats aren't going to have to look for any consolation…