We've already seen plenty of claims suggesting that Bush's involvement in the Virginia gubernatorial race killed Jerry Kilgore's chances there:
Analysts say Kilgore's loss doesn't reflect well on Bush.And now we're seeing the same claims in New Jersey:
"Bush gambled and lost. Now many will say that this is further evidence of the political weakness of the president," said George Mason University professor Mark Rozell. "Sometimes life is all about timing, and unfortunately for Kilgore this election coincided with the low point of the Bush presidency. He could not control that, of course. But aligning himself closely to Bush at the last minute probably helped to mobilize anti-Bush voters, who are much more numerous today than pro-Bush voters. For the short term, the GOP can rightly worry about the meaning of this result."
It's all George W. Bush's fault.Personally, I think the argument is overblown. Forrester got his clock cleaned in the Senate race last time around, and didn't seem to be winning over New Jersey's Democratic-leaning voters this time. Kaine, meanwhile, got to ride the coattails of the popular Democratic incumbent in Virginia. Bush certainly didn't help the Republican candidates in those races, but I think it's just the last throes of these campaigns that are suggesting that Bush was the only reason they failed.
Doug Forrester, in his first postelection interview, laid the blame for his loss in the governor's race last week directly at the feet of President Bush. He said the public's growing disaffection with Bush, especially after Hurricane Katrina, made it impossible for his campaign to overcome the built-in advantage Democrats have in a blue state like New Jersey.
Of course, reality doesn't matter in politics, only perceptions. For years, Bush has been given a free pass in the press and an easy road in Congress because everyone has assumed he was a King Midas whose touch turned everything to gold. Well, now the script has been flipped and we're seeing the new theme out there that everything Bush touches turns to shit. (Personally, I find this one more convincing, but that's just me. And reality.)
In terms of the political consequences, this perception means that Republicans are going to be running away from Bush faster than he ran from the draft in Vietnam. What's more, with both the House and Senate leadership in disarray, we're going to see more and more of an every-man-for-himself attitude in the GOP. (We're already seeing it, in fact, with the House leadership unable to pass a budget due to the moderates' revolt and the Senate flailing on the torture issue.)
As the midterms approach, this is only going to get worse for the GOP. Republican incumbents will be faced by independent-minded challengers in their primaries, and then credible Democratic opposition in the main election. Democrats, meanwhile, should be able to nationalize the election into a referendum on the current crop of Republicans in Washington and turn this into a campaign to clean house.
The only real question left is: When Bush sees the Democrats take back one or both houses of Congress, and the impeachment rumors start flying for real, which of his father's friends will buy the White House to bail him out?