How badly damaged is the GOP?

'œBad news often comes in bunches,' said Dan Balz in The Washington Post. Just ask the Republican Party, now suffering through the worst stretch since George W. Bush became president. In recent months, the Iraq war, the Hurricane Katrina fiasco, and soaring gas prices have punched a big hole in Bush's popularity. And now, with last week's indictment of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, the GOP has lost its strongest, most disciplined leader in Congress. The indictment, by Texas prosecutor Ronnie Earle, accuses DeLay of illegally diverting nearly $200,000 in corporate donations to state legislative candidates in his home state. While he fights the charges, DeLay has been forced to relinquish his leadership role. For the GOP, the timing couldn't be worse. Federal investigators have just begun examining Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's sale of stock in his family's health-care business only a month before the stock price tanked. 'œOn almost every front, Republicans see trouble.'

As well they should, said Michael Scherer in DeLay is the embodiment of the corruption and abuse of power that has flourished in a Republican-controlled Congress. Rebuked five times by the House Ethics Committee, DeLay—aka 'œThe Hammer'—ran the House like a patronage machine for corporate interests. He demanded that Washington's K Street lobbying firms hire only Republican loyalists, and blatantly traded influence over legislation for political contributions. DeLay also set new lows for ignorance and ideological zealotry, said Jonathan Alter in Newsweek. This is a man who has likened the Environmental Protection Agency to the Gestapo, disdained the separation of church and state, and darkly hinted that certain liberal judges 'œneed to be intimidated.' Congress has always had a few extremists in its ranks. 'œBut the DeLay era is the first time the fringe has ever been in charge.'

That era may be nearing its end, said The Economist. After Bush won re-election in November, 'œconservatives were preening themselves like peacocks,' and speaking openly of holding power for another 40 years. 'œToday the conservative movement is in turmoil,' and splitting into its various factions. Small-government conservatives are furious with Bush and DeLay for their dramatic expansion of government spending. Big business conservatives are alarmed by the extremism of religious conservatives. 'œAmerica-first' isolationists are fed up with the neoconservatives' dreams of remaking the Middle East. If Republicans continue to bicker among themselves, 'œa realignment' may occur in the congressional elections of 2006.

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Don't count on it, said William Kristol in The Weekly Standard. The 1994 'œRepublican revolution' that ousted the Democrats from control of Congress was not merely a rejection of individual Democratic politicians. Nor was it only about Democratic corruption. That realignment was driven by the voters' disgust with 'œbig government liberalism,' and their embrace of economic and social conservatism. Despite the GOP's imperfect execution of its agenda, most Americans still prefer lower taxes, an aggressive foreign policy, and traditional values to anything the Democrats are offering as an alternative. In fact, said Gloria Borger in U.S. News &anp; World Report, the Democrats aren't offering any alternative. They seem to stand for nothing but abortion, gay rights, and loathing for George Bush, 'œand that's not enough for a party looking to revive itself as a governing entity.'

Ryan Lizza

The New Republic

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