Ah, the Democrats. They wanted to change Congress, and they have. Today's Gallup Poll shows Congress' lowest confidence level ever - at 12%. Note that this is Gallup's annual rating, not the monthly tracking update of Congressional approval:
PRINCETON, NJ -- Gallup's annual update on confidence in institutions finds just 12% of Americans expressing confidence in Congress, the lowest of the 16 institutions tested this year, and the worst rating Gallup has measured for any institution in the 35-year history of this question.
For comparison, the 2006 "Confidence in Institutions" level for Congress (when the GOP was in charge) was at 19% - considerably better than this year's figure, but still admittedly anemic.
Gallup also recently released their June 2008 approval poll, and it showed the Democratic Congress at an approval rating of 19%. Compare that with the Congressional approval numbers for the GOP controlled Congress in the June 2006 poll at 27%. Even immediately before the 2006 November elections, when the GOP got routed, the Republican-led Congress had an approval rating of 26%.
I'd also observe that in 2006, the media was working feverishly to portray the Republicans in the worst light possible. The situation is reversed this year (actually ever since the Democrats took over control of Congress in 2007). The press is doing their best to cover for the Democrats - from Barack Obama on down. And no-one has promoted a Democratic Congress more than the media.
Can the Republicans take advantage of this? Probably not with the same faces in control, unless they do something drastic over the next few months. And with the Congressional recesses and local campaigning upcoming, I'm afraid it might be too late. But these numbers do show that virtually no-one likes Congress right now - so there is still a chance. Pundits point out that along with historically low approval ratings, polls like Gallup also show that the voters still want the Democrats to lead Congress. I posit that those superficially conflicting polls are a result not of the public thinking that the Democrats "haven't had a chance to change things yet", but because the Republicans still haven't offered the public 1) evidence that they've learned their lesson, and 2) a real alternative message to the Democrats that appeals to people. To succeed, the Republicans have to offer a positive message packaged with a reminder of the Democrats' negatives.
If I were a GOP campaign, I'd use as a background picture in all of my ads one of the Democratic Leadership (Pelosi and Reid) together with the opposition's local candidate. Superimposed over the picture would be their approval numbers, the change in the price of gas from 2007 to today, figures indicating that economic growth has stagnated since the Dems were elected, etc. - creating an overall image tying the Democrats to the 'pain' Americans are going through. (God, I hate sounding Clintonian...) Depending on the development of Obama's negatives over the next few months, I'd consider adding him to the background as well - along with the liberal enemy du jour. (A perfect example of that enemy today would be Chris Dodd and Countrywide.) Make the Democrats own what's "bad" that's happening in our nation today.
The Democrats are going to try to do the same to the GOP with President Bush - use him in attack ads. That's why it's imperative for everyone in the GOP to immediately point out ad nauseum that it's the Democratic Congress that controls the country, legislation, and the purse-strings - and that by bringing up President Bush, who is not up for re-election, Democrats are ignoring the present and still fighting the past ("stuck on stupid"). Candidates should contrast that with the GOP, which is dedicated to fighting for us in the present for the future.
The GOP's job would be made manifestly easier if they'd come together on something like an immediate earmark moratorium, but that die appears to be cast already. There are issues that can be coalesced around, however. Polls show that Newt's "Drill Here, Drill Now, Pay Less" is one such winner. The Republican Study Committee and Rep. Paul Ryan have moreideas that I think would resonate, especially in Ryan's "A Roadmap for America's Future".
Do the Republicans have time to organize and really offer something concrete and different from the Democrats? I think that they do. People I talk to on a daily basis are sick and tired of politics already (especially Presidential politics). The public's ready to tune out for the summer. The next time anyone (other than political groupies, the media, and masochists) will pay a lot of attention to politics, including their local politics, is immediately after the conventions in September. That would be a great time to roll out a unified message against the Democrats.
That does mean that someone is going to have to corral the McCain campaign. He can't continue to claim that he is a conservative, and then actively throw business and conservatives under the bus with his populist rhetoric. Again, he's living in the past (like the Democrats) if he thinks that doing such things will create amore with the press. They're behind Obama now, and nothing that John McCain can do will change that. Together, we have to go over the press directly to the people to be successful. Furthermore, voters got rid of the GOP in 2006 because they felt that the Republicans were acting like Democrats, rather than acting like the Republicans they promised to be. And if a voter is given a choice between a Republican who acts like a Democrat, versus a real Democrat - they'll usually go with the Democrat.
Remember, the GOP was successful after the disaster that was Jimmy Carter and that Democratic Congress. The Democrats are offering, at the top of the ticket, another Jimmy Carter. While Barack Obama is as close as the Democrats have ever come to an orator like Ronald Reagan, after the teleprompter goes off, there's no substance. Obama has proven to be a terrible extemporaneous speaker - his campaign always has to go out and correct something contradictory that he's said. That should be pointed out by everyone in the GOP loudly and often.
Down ticket, the Democrats aren't much better. They ran on change in 2006, and it can be successfully argued that the country has gone downhill since they took over Congress. The greatest national success that we've had since the elections of 2006 is on the issue that the Republicans and the President defeated the Dems on - the Democrats' attempted surrender in the Iraq war. The Dems are fond of saying that the Republicans are embracing the "failed policies of the past". It's time for the GOP to reach out and steal that phrase - it's the Democrats who want to take us back to the "failed policies of the past". They tried to cause a Vietnam with the Iraq War, and were stopped by the Republicans. Voters like winners, not losers. Their proposals for fighting the War on Terror go back to the September 10th mindset - even Obama's just named advisers are a throwback to the Clinton Administration, which brought us 9/11. And their tax proposals are straight out of the Carter years.
This election will all depend on creating a number of simple, repeatable messages - and hammering them home over and over again. That takes coordination and teamwork. Look for no help from the press. And the Democrats will vastly outspend the Republicans from top to bottom, so it's important that the GOP spending be targeted and effective. There will be no room for mistakes.