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Publication: Conservative Review
Is McCain Sailing Into a Storm?

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               THE CONSERVATIVE REVIEW   
                   May 13, 2008
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Is McCain Sailing Into a Storm?
By Steve Chapman

The last couple of months have been springtime in 
paradise for Republicans: the loveliest of all possible 
seasons. They have been watching two Democratic pre-
sidential candidates in an endless battle to destroy 
each other -- a process that does not appear to enhance 
the chance that the eventual nominee will win in 
November.

A recent Gallup poll shows John McCain leading both 
Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in a head-to-head 
matchup. All this before Republicans even begin pub-
licizing the worst that can be said about either of 
two candidates whose alleged defects provide a supremely 
target-rich environment.

But it's easy to let the individuals involved obscure 
larger factors that may prove more important. In a 
hurricane, even handsome, well-built boats can end up 
underwater. And right now, the GOP looks as though it 
may be sailing into a perfect storm. 

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Currently, 69 percent of Americans disapprove of the way 
President Bush is doing his job. That is the highest 
disapproval rating since Gallup began polling 70 years 
ago -- higher than Lyndon Johnson during the Vietnam War, 
Richard Nixon during Watergate, or Jimmy Carter during 
the Iran hostage crisis.

Today, notes polling expert Karlyn Bowman of the American 
Enterprise Institute, more Americans think the country is 
on the wrong track than at any time since the late 1970s 
-- which set the stage for the Republican resurgence of 
1980, led by Ronald Reagan. The sentiment is even more 
negative now than it was in 1992, when the GOP lost the 
White House. Some 63 percent see the Iraq war as a mistake.

Bush's troubles have sent voters fleeing from his party. 
In 2004, 47 percent of Americans leaned toward the Demo-
cratic Party, with 44 percent leaning Republican -- a 3-
point difference. Today, it's 51 to 38 in favor of the 
Democrats -- a gap of 13 percentage points.

To win, McCain will have to pry away a lot of voters who 
currently find the GOP unappealing. Obama (or Clinton), 
by contrast, will have only to avoid alienating those 
who are already favorably inclined to a change. 

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Issue after issue also promises to hurt Republicans. Among 
the topics creating the most anxiety are the economy, 
domestic matters like health care and immigration, and 
Iraq. Of those, immigration is the only one that might 
not favor the Democrats.

Richard Norton Smith, a historian who has run the pre-
sidential libraries of Republicans Herbert Hoover, Dwight 
Eisenhower, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan, is pessimistic 
about the party's prospects. He thinks the correct analogy 
is not 1988 but 1920 or 1952 -- when an unpopular war and 
an equally unpopular president spelled doom for the party 
in the White House. He thinks 2008 is shaping up not only 
as a narrow defeat for the GOP but a decisive "repudiation."

Many Republicans see Barack Obama as the natural heir of 
George McGovern -- an antiwar liberal with an avid but 
narrow base who is perfectly positioned to lose. They are 
also reminded of Michael Dukakis and his difficulty 
connecting with white males and working-class voters. 

But Smith sees a big difference: In 1988, when Dukakis 
lost, the outgoing Republican president was popular, 
with an approval rating above 50 percent. Not so today.

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Against trends like this, he strongly doubts that voters 
will put much weight on factors like Obama's associations 
with radical preachers or his flag-free lapel. Thanks to 
the Democratic contest, those matters have been fully 
aired, without fatal effect, and they are likely to sound 
stale and irrelevant by November.

In his view, the portents are all ominous for the Republ-
ican Party and its nominee. "Why do you think the race 
started so early? Why do you think turnout has been so 
high?" he asks. "A desire to put this chapter behind us."

The fallout is already apparent. In recent months, Repub-
licans have lost two special elections to fill seats that 
had been GOP strongholds. Those shocks prompted former 
House Speaker Newt Gingrich to warn that come November, 
his party faces the prospect of "a real disaster."

The bad news for Republicans is that objective factors 
are conspiring to produce a Democratic victory. The good 
news? If the Democrats can't win this year, they may 
never. 

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