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									                                                                                            Wilson 1


Hannah Wilson

PSCI 1051 Section 002

Dr. Books

5 April 2009

                               The Decline of the Republican Party

       In December of 2005, the Republican and Democratic parties were rated almost equally

when Americans surveyed were asked if they viewed the parties in a favorable light. While both

were rated positively by about half of those surveyed, shortly thereafter the Republican Party

began to show a marked decrease in favorable opinion. Within January of 2006, public opinion

of the Republican Party had decreased to a 36% favorability rating, and has since remained

mostly beneath the 40% favorability range. On the other hand, as the Republican Party has

experienced a decline, the Democratic Party has experienced a meteoric rise. According to a

recent Gallup poll, while only 41% of Americans surveyed view the Republican Party in a

positive light, 56% have a favorable opinion of the Democratic Party. Even within the party lines

there is a vast difference in approval ratings. In another poll, taken shortly after Election Day,

only 78% of Republicans rated their party favorably, while 91% of Democrats viewed their own

party in a favorable light. Independents too were kinder to Democrats, giving them a 47%

approval rating while the Republicans received a rating of only 32%. This occurrence leaves

many wonder what has caused such a marked decline in the Republican Party and what do the

Democrats have that the Republicans don‟t?


       The first and most important area to examine for answers is the previous administration

of the Republican Party. According to Gallup polls gauging the favorability rating of both Bush

and the Republican Party, the public perception of the party and its head have been closely
                                                                                            Wilson 2


linked since January 2004. Thus as Bush‟s approval rating showed a steep decline starting in

December 2005, so did the party as a whole. His mistakes became the party‟s mistakes.

Therefore, in order to discover the reasons for its decline, one has to find the reasons for Bush‟s

decline.


       Bush has been highly criticized on a wide variety of issues. However, the most widely

contested decision he made was his decision to enter into war with both Iraq and Afghanistan. In

2001, the United States was the victim of a terrorist attack at the suspected hands of the terrorist

network Al-Qaida, led by Osama Bin Laden. This attack caused the death of nearly 3000

Americans. (Hirschkorn) As a result, on September 20, 2001, Bush delivered a speech before

Congress announcing the commencement of his “War on Terror.” Within this speech he declared


               We will starve terrorists of funding, turn them one against another, drive them

               from place to place until there is no refuge or no rest. And we will pursue nations

               that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism. Every nation in every region now has a

               decision to make: Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists. From this

               day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be

               regarded by the United States as a hostile regime (CNN, Transcript of President

               Bush‟s Address, 2001).


Shortly thereafter, on October 7, 2001, the war in Afghanistan began with the first air strikes

being aimed at the country. The campaign, labeled Operation Enduring Freedom, was aimed at

removing the Taliban from power in Afghanistan, based on the accusation of harboring Al-Qaida

fugitives, as well as at capturing Osama Bin Laden (Richmond Times, 2001). On March 20,

2003 the U.S. launched its second stage of the war, by launching missiles at Baghdad, Iraq. The
                                                                                           Wilson 3


purpose in this attack was to topple Saddam Hussein from power on suspicion of possessing

“weapons of mass destruction.” Bush was criticized greatly for both of these wars on a variety of

issues. Many question his motivations for entering Iraq, due to the fact that once Hussein had

been removed, it was found that there were in fact no weapons of mass destruction. This led

many to believe that the war was one merely of revenge for the attacks of September 11.

(Rutland Herald, 2005). Others suspected that it was a move for Iraq‟s natural resources, namely

oil. (Balkhi, 2005). Secondarily, Bush was criticized for not having thoroughly planned the

attack of Iraq before executing it. According to an article published F.J. Bing West in the

Military Review in 2006, one of the gravest missteps of the Iraq war was the failure to properly

analyze the culture before entering. According to West, Bush and his administrators assumed

that upon the removal of Saddam Hussein the Iraqi middle class would rise up to replace him.

However, they did not take into account the fact that after years under rule by a tyrant there

would be little leadership to be found. (West, 2006, 3) West also notes that the division of

authority of Iraq policies and budget from the security of the country in 2003 caused major

organizational problems. Thirdly, the disbanding of the Iraqi army in 2003, rather than

cooperation with it, changed the role of American soldiers from that of liberators to those of

oppressive occupiers, leading inevitably to more fighting and bloodshed for both Iraqi‟s and

Americans. (West, 2006, 4) This lack of planning has caused a delay in withdrawal from the

country, which has angered many Americans. In April of 2007, a Gallup poll revealed that 57%

of Americans were in favor of setting a timetable for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, whether

that withdrawal was to happen soon or not (Jones, 2007). Still others have criticized the effect

the Iraq war has had upon the war in Afghanistan, a war many view to be more central to the

“War on Terror” than the Iraq war. By the end of 2001, the Taliban had been effectively
                                                                                           Wilson 4


removed from Afghanistan, although Bin Laden had not yet been found. (The NYTimes, The

Remembered War) As the war in Iraq progressed, however, the attention was drawn away from

the situation in Afghanistan. Resources that had been designated for the Afghanistan front were

funneled into the Iraq war instead, in the form of money, technology, and personnel. Thus the

Taliban, which had been seeking refuge in Pakistan, was able to reenter the country and de-

stabilize the efforts that had been made there (Rohde & Sanger, 2007).


       On August 25, 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck the southern coast of the United States,

causing the loss of more than 1,800 lives and more than $81 billion in damages (U.S. Dept. of

H.H.S). Aid to survivors was slow in coming, and Bush was blamed for much of this. Television

broadcasts showed thousands of people trying to survive on the streets without food, water, or

medical attention. (Alpert, 2009) Meanwhile, Bush, instead of visiting the disaster area in person,

was filmed flying above the wreckage to survey the damage on the way to his ranch in Texas.

During the midst of the disaster Bush also infamously commended FEMA director Michael

Brown, saying "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job." Brown later resigned from his position

and received the blame for the majority of the disaster‟s mistakes. Thus, these two instances

combined had a disastrous effect on Bush‟s image. Bush was now seen to be out of touch with

the events occurring and with the American people. Weeks after the devastation of Katrina,

Bush‟s approval ratings dropped 44% to 40% while disapproval rose to 52%. In addition, by

mid-September the proportion of Americans who viewed Bush as a strong and decisive leader

had plummeted from 62% to 49% (Abramowitz & Weisman, 2006). Though the effect of

Hurricane Katrina on Bush‟s overall job rating is hard to decipher, it is clear that it did make a

contribution to the deteriorating image of Bush‟s ability to capably lead the country. (Newport,

Little Impact, 2006). Frank Luntz, a GOP pollster, claimed that for a national political shift to
                                                                                           Wilson 5


take place there are four necessary ingredients. Three of these necessities-economic anxiety,

pessimism about the future, and frustration with leaders-already existed. Luntz cites Katrina as

providing anger, the fourth component needed to propel voters to push for a change in the

Republican majority running Congress at the time. (Lawrence, 2005)


       However, President Bush was not entirely responsible for the decline of the Republican

Party. In 2005 the GOP received another hit on its image, this time in the form of the house

majority leader Tom Delay. In September of that year Delay was indicted on charges of money

laundering and redistricting congressional seats in Texas. Delay established a group called

Texans for a Republican Majority who redrew congressional seats in order to gain 5 more seats

for Republicans in the 2004 election. Two others were indicted in the case, accused of routing

$190,000 in corporate donations to Texas legislative candidates, attempting to evade a state law

prohibiting such an action. Delay had also been reprimanded three times by the House ethics

committee in 2004 for using the Federal Aviation Committee for political purposes, attempting

to bribe a colleague into supporting pieces of legislation, and for taking advantage of certain

energy firms with legislation at stake by attempting to receive their involvement in a fundraiser

(Talev, 2005). Delay was forced to step down from his position as a result of the indictments, yet

he continued to maintain a position of leadership within the party. He maintained his previous

office, continued to reside over certain committee chairmen meetings and continued to lobby

house members for floor votes. He even participated in meetings concerning budget cuts for the

following year. This refusal to completely step down was detrimental on both sides of the fence.

Delay‟s image of corruption poisoned the image of the Republican Party in the eyes of the

Democrats and the general American public, and served to confuse the chain of command and

destabilize the unity of the Republican Party. (Weisman, 2005)
                                                                                            Wilson 6


         Similarly in October of 2005, Dick Cheney‟s chief of staff, Lewis Libby was indicted.

Libbey, who was an important administrator in the Iraq war, was indicted on perjury, making

false statements to the FBI, and obstructing justice. All three counts revolved around the case

surrounding the 2003 leak of CIA agent Valerie Plame's identity. Directly after Plame‟s husband,

Joseph Wilson published an editorial piece in the New York Times criticizing the Bush

administration for intentionally misleading the American Public with regard to the Iraq War,

Libby began to inform others of Plame‟s career. Libby later told FBI agents that his information

had come from Tim Russet, a claim that was later proven to be false. Compounded with the fact

that Cheney had read the article shortly before the leak and written notes in the margins

questioning whether Wilson had been sent there by his wife, the impression made was that

Libby‟s motivations were not a benign slip of the tongue, but rather a malicious attack of

revenge upon Wilson. Additionally, Bush‟s claims that to his knowledge no one in his

administration had provided the leak made him appear either as a liar or as unknowledgeable

about the actions of his own administration. (Sandalow, 2007)


         Taken together, the indictments of Libby and Delay cast the image of the Republican

Party under an ethically questionable cloud in entering the 2006 congressional elections.

Coupled with the ever falling reputation of Bush and the Republican Party, the GOP did not fare

well. Within the Senate Republicans lost 6 seats to the Democrats, giving the Democrats a

majority with 51 seats. The Party fared no better within the House elections, losing 30 seats.

Combined with the one seat Democrats gained from a previous Independent sitter, the

Democratic Party held a clear majority with 233 seats in the House (CNN, America Votes 2006,

2006).
                                                                                         Wilson 7


       In the 2008 election Republicans had a chance to redefine their party‟s image through

their candidate for the presidency. Their choice, John McCain lost to the Democratic Party‟s

candidate, President Barack Obama. A Gallup poll taken days after the election showed the

favorability rating of the Republican party as a whole had dropped from 40% to 34%, a drop no

longer corresponding to Bush‟s own approval rating. Thus, the blame can most probably be laid

on the Republican‟s poor showing in the election, McCain‟s role in particular. (Saad, GOP Takes

Another Image Hit Post-Election, 2008) A closer inspection of election exit polls shows that

Obama beat McCain in nearly all categories surveyed. McCain held the majority within his own

party, within the category of conservative ideology and within the category of race he managed

to maintain a slight majority, as well as within a few income levels. . However, Obama pulled

the majority vote in every level of education surveyed, nearly all income levels, and every age

level under 65. Obama also won the majority vote in all races surveyed, excepting whites. In

fact, he managed to win 95% of the black vote which constituted a record breaking majority.

(CNN, Election Center 2008). Thus, McCain‟s inability to appeal to a variety of demographics

was detrimental to his campaign. Interestingly, Obama won a large majority of the Hispanic vote

(62%), a demographic that usually goes to the GOP. This is particularly interesting because of

McCain‟s stance on immigration. In 2000, he endorsed a bill, along with Senator Edward

Kennedy, to set up a system of guest-worker-visas for Hispanics and to allow undocumented and

illegal immigrants a “pathway to citizenship.” However, according to Tiffany Gabbay of CNS

News, he was harmed by the immigration stances of others on his tickets, candidates with much

harsher views. (Gabbey, 2008). Raul Reyes of USA Today, on the other hand places the blame

more heavily on McCain‟s reluctance to support a swift end to the Iraq War or for the creation of
                                                                                           Wilson 8


universal health care coverage, both of which were important Hispanic voters, as well as the vote

of the American public as a whole (Reyes, 2008).


       Obama also managed to win the majority of votes in the area of religion, with the

exception of Protestants. However, McCain only managed to pull in 54% of this vote, compared

to Obama‟s 45%, a difference that is relatively low especially when considering past elections

(CNN, Election Center 2008, 2008). In the 2004 Presidential election, Bush pulled 59% percent

of the Protestant vote compared to John Kerry‟s 40%. The previous year, although receiving a

lower percentage of the vote, at 56% Bush still managed to beat McCain‟s percentage (Election

Results, 2004). In fact, in 2004, 40% of Bush‟s votes came from White Evangelicals. Christian

Evangelicals expressed concern early on in the 2008 election that candidates were not

emphasizing their stances on abortion, gay marriage, and government sanctioned school prayer

enough. In 2006 this group‟s frustration with scandal caused many to simply not vote and was

partially responsible for the loss of seats in the House and Senate. (Slater, 2007) Also affecting

the Conservative Christian opinion in 2006 was their indignation at the fact that Republican

policy makers had placed proposed Social Security and tax changes before the issues of

abortion and gay marriage. (Kirkpatrick, 2006) Their rise in disapproval of Bush was also clear

in a Gallup poll taken between 2004 and 2007, although apparently for reasons affecting the rest

of the country as well. While in 2004 68% of Americans who attended church weekly approved

of Bush, by 2007 that number had fallen to 50% by 2007, following the same arc as irregular or

non church attending groups. (Newport, Religious Whites Still Tilt, 2007) Thus though McCain

did earn the approval of the Conservative Christian majority, partially because of his own lack of

emphasizing the social issues that concerned them most and Bush‟s failure to maintain their level
                                                                                            Wilson 9


approval throughout his second term, the majority was not large enough to give him the boost he

so desperately needed.


       The situation in Iraq was originally the most central issue of the 2008 Presidential

Election. McCain, though supportive of withdrawing troops from Iraq, did not support the notion

of setting a timetable to do so, saying “„Our goal is an Iraq that no longer needs American

troops…to promise a withdrawal of our forces from Iraq, regardless of the calamitous

consequences to the Iraqi people, our most vital interests, and the future of the Middle East, is

the height of irresponsibility.” It is a failure of leadership‟" (Newport, Exploring the Iraq

Timetable, 2008, ¶ 5). Obama on the other hand supported both the withdrawal of troops and a

timetable to do so. A statement on his official website read:


               Obama will give his Secretary of Defense and military commanders a new

               mission in Iraq: ending the war. The removal of our troops will be responsible and

               phased, directed by military commanders on the ground and done in consultation

               with the Iraqi government. Military experts believe we can safely redeploy

               combat brigades from Iraq at a pace of one to two brigades a month that would

               remove them in 16 months (Newport, Exploring the Iraq Timetable, 2008, ¶ 4).


When CNN asked Americans the question “„which comes closer to your view about U.S. troops

in Iraq? The U.S. should set a timetable for withdrawal by announcing that it will withdraw all of

its troops from Iraq by a certain date. The U.S. should keep troops in Iraq as long as necessary

without setting any timetable for withdrawal.‟” 62% of those surveyed voted to set a timetable,

while 37% voted against it. However, when the question was asked in a way that emphasized the

fact that both sides were focused on eventually withdrawing troops, the votes split almost evenly
                                                                                            Wilson 10


along the party lines. Republicans preferred a withdrawal without a timetable, while Democrats

preferred a timetable to be created. (Newport, Exploring the Iraq Timetable, 2008). Thus while

early reports may have predicted that McCain‟s stance in Iraq would have harmed his campaign,

initially it was one of his strengths, particularly after a troop increase in Iraq brought success

(Cain & Schnur, 2008).


       By the time Election Day arrived, however, the economy was the most important issue in

nearly everyone‟s mind. Years of deregulation and a bursting housing bubble after years of low

interest rates caused Wall Street to experience the largest crisis since the Great Depression. The

defaulting of homeowners on loans began to rise in 2006, while the actual lending never slowed.

Thus in June of 2007 two hedge funds owned by Bear Stearns, which were heavily invested

within this subprime market failed. As the year progressed, more and more banks found that they

were suffering from mortgages that had defaulted. Foreclosures increased, causing housing

prices to fall and defaulted mortgages continued to increase. The Federal Reserve took steps to

bolster Wall Street; however its measures could not stave off the upcoming crisis. In September

of 2008 the government took over the government-sponsored entities of the housing market,

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. As the month progressed government officials met to discuss the

prevention of the bankruptcy of the global financial services firm, Lehman Brothers.

Unfortunately, though, talks broke down and the government‟s refusal to salvage the company

resulted in its eventual collapse, which negatively affected the worldwide economy. As bailouts

began to be necessary for large companies and the stock market continued to flail, the federal

government met to devise a bailout plan to stop the crisis in its tracks. A $700 billion proposal

was made, which was then amended by congress to provide structures for oversight, limits on

executive pay and the option for government involvement. However, though Bush lobbied
                                                                                         Wilson 11


congress to pass the bailout, it was rejected in the House, 228 to 205, with the Republicans

leading the charge for its defeat. (The New York Times, Credit Crisis). It is within this financial

turmoil that McCain lost any edge he had maintained over Obama. From June throughout August

Obama and McCain had run a close campaign according to Gallup polls taken at the time.

Toward the end of August Obama had led over McCain, but at the beginning of September,

following his appointment of Governor Sarah Palin as his vice-presidential running mate,

McCain began to pull ahead in the polls, surpassing Obama in a 10 day lead. This lead however

was abruptly halted by the onset of the financial crisis. (Jones & Newport & Saad, 2008) Obama

effectively turned the market crisis into an advantage for himself, pinning the blame for its crash

on the economic policies of the previous administration, and tying these policies to McCain,

saying that his presidency would only offer more of the same (The New York Times, Credit

Crisis). McCain, on the other hand, claimed that the fundamentals of the economy were still

strong, instead laying the blame for the failing economy on governmental corruption. Most

disastrously, he suspended his campaign in the end of September in order to attend White House

meetings attempting to form legislative plans to repair the economy (Cain & Schnur, 2008).

However, he returned to his campaign before the legislation was actually created. Unfortunately

for the Republican Party he never regained his previous lead, and thus lost the election to Obama

(Jones & Newport & Saad, 2008).


       The aftermath of the 2008 election revealed more than ever how truly lacking in direction

and purpose the GOP is. The party has splintered into dozens of smaller coalitions, causing

disagreements on which policies and ideologies they should choose, and which leaders they

should look to for leadership. According to New York Times columnist David Brooks, rapid

reform has been pushed for in the Middle East for years, yet those conservatives who subscribe
                                                                                          Wilson 12


to the ideas of Edmund Burke distrust such reform. Brooks, who pinpoints Burke as the origin of

modern conservatism, asserts that “what Burke articulated was not an ideology or a creed, but a

disposition, a reverence for tradition, a suspicion of radical change.” (Brooks, 2007, ¶ 1).

Religious conservatives push for policy to be based on eternal truths, citing policies on abortion,

gay marriage, and stem cell research. However, Burkean Republicans do not necessarily believe

that policy should be formed from an abstract truth, but must instead come from

constitutionalism. (Brooks, 2007). Republicans who push for the defense of the country in areas

such as Iraq and Afghanistan clash with those who subscribe to the idea of isolationism. The

choice for a leader has also been complicated by clashing viewpoints. Some considered

Governor Sarah Palin to be an excellent choice for a leader, representing a “fresh-faced future”.

However, still others strongly contested this opinion, among them Colin Powell and Kenneth M.

Duberstein, both of which were so dismayed at the choice that they dropped the Republican

ticket and declared their choice of candidate as Obama shortly before Election Day. (Tamenhaus,

2008) African American Michael Steele was officially appointed the head of the Republican

National Committee in January of this year, presumably at least partially in an attempt to give

the Republican Party a new face, one different from an old white male (Nagourney, Michael

Steele, 2009). However, the good that has been done through this is being counteracted by other

self-appointed leaders of the Republican Party, namely Rush Limbaugh. The Democratic Party

has striven to paint Limbaugh as the leader of the GOP, the White House Chief of Staff Rahm

Emanuel even going so far as to call Limbaugh the “voice and the intellectual force and energy

behind the Republican Party” (Stein, 2009). Limbaugh has even blasted RNC chair Michael

Steele on the air of his radio show. Limbaugh says of Steele:
                                                                                          Wilson 13


               It‟s time, Mr. Steele, for you to go behind the scenes and start doing the work that

               you were elected to do instead of trying to be some talking head media star, which

               you‟re having a tough time pulling off…Mr. Steele: You are head of the R.N.C.

               You are not head of the Republican Party. Tens of millions of conservatives and

               Republicans have nothing to do with the R.N.C. and right now they want nothing

               to do with it (Nagourney, R.N.C. Chairman Apologizes, 2009, ¶ 3).


In response, Steele later spoke of Limbaugh, saying “„Rush Limbaugh, the whole thing is

entertainment. Yes, it‟s incendiary, yes, it‟s ugly.‟”(Nagourney, R.N.C. Chairman Apologizes,

2009, ¶ 7). However, Steele later called to apologize to Limbaugh effectively renouncing his

own leadership in deferring to Limbaugh‟s. The Republican reputation is also suffering post

election due to a refusal to participate in Obama‟s attempted bipartisan attempts to heal the

economy. Proposals made by Democrats have all been rejected by Republicans, while their

proposal is to initiate a federal spending freeze, a tactic which is completely inappropriate for

dealing with the crisis at hand.


       Thus the decline of the Republican Party has been a culmination of a failed presidential

administration, ongoing, unwanted and ill-planned wars, and a failing economy. The Party has

lost its support from nearly every American demographic, including race, gender, age, education,

and income. Even the party‟s stronghold, the Conservative Christian sector, was pushed away by

corruption within the party‟s leadership, and failed to show their support in the 2006 and 2008

elections. The Republican constituency feels that its leadership is out of touch with what the

everyday people want and need in their lives, and thus are unable to effectively govern them.

Therefore in the 2006 and 2008 elections the people put their foot down, sending the Party a
                                                                                      Wilson 14


message loud and clear: either adapt to the current times and make some changes or find yourself

obsolete and out of power.
                                                                                      Wilson 15


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                                                                                         Wilson 16


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                                                                                     Wilson 17


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