Republicans have become the credibility-free party

Americans reject anything the GOP touches. When will that teach Democrats to draw contrasts with, rather than capitulate to, this deeply discredited party?

Published February 4, 2008 1:32PM (EST)

(updated below)

Substantial attention has been paid to the historic unpopularity of the Bush presidency, but relatively little attention has been paid to the accompanying collapse of the Republican Party's credibility. The latest Washington Post/ABC News poll reveals that Americans trust Democrats more than Republicans to handle every issue of any significance, including -- by a now fairly wide margin -- "the U.S. campaign against terrorism":

From a purely political perspective, one would expect that Democrats would seek to highlight contrasts with such an unpopular and discredited party, not to emulate and capitulate to it. Republicans are distrusted across the board, and thus -- as the 2006 election demonstrated (in which Karl Rove made Terrorism-exploitation the campaign's centerpiece) -- the GOP's standard fear-mongering tactics and accusatory attacks are plainly impotent, even counter-productive.

Americans continue to turn against anything the Republicans touch. The most vivid example of that is public opinion on the Iraq War. Even with the press corps and Beltway elite insisting by consensus that the Glorious Surge has made everything so much better in Iraq -- we're finally winning! -- and even as we were endlessly told that the war was only unpopular because we were losing, Americans hate the Iraq War more than ever before. The poll asked:

All in all, considering the costs to the United States versus the benefits to the United States, do you think the war with Iraq was worth fighting, or not? Do you feel that way strongly or somewhat?

The results: only 34% believe it was worth fighting, a record low. A resounding 65% believe it was not worth fighting, and 53% believe that "strongly" -- both one point away from the record high. It simply doesn't matter how well things are going in Iraq: the vast (and still increasing) preponderance of Americans have concluded that the war was a stupid, wasteful thing to do and they will not change their minds, no matter how much happy news springs forth. GOP propaganda and Terrorism-exploitation now affect nothing.

Unsurprisingly, even as Congress has low approval ratings, it is Republicans in Congress who bear the brunt of that unpopularity, while Democrats in Congress remain marginally more popular:

But this is where the real lesson is to be found. The approval rating for Democrats in Congress has plummeted steadily since the American electorate gave them control of Congress in early 2007. Early on, ratings for Congressional Democrats were consistently near 50% as Americans had high hopes for their willingness to change the course of the country and place real limits on the deeply unpopular Republican policies. But as Congressional Democrats became more and more characterized by capitulation and an unwillingness to stand up to Republicans, their approval numbers steadily dropped to its current mark, just one point away from their lowest approval rating of the last 14 months.

The more willing Democrats are to stand up to Republicans and oppose their defining policies, the more popular they become. The less willing they are to do so, the more eager they are to erase distinctions and accommodate this deeply unpopular party, the more unpopular Democrats become. The empirical evidence for those propositions is close to indisputable. The profound rejection by the country of the Republican Party permits only one lesson: the country wants a party that opposes them, not resembles or fears them.

The Senate begins debate today on the various amendments to the FISA bill at 2:15 p.m. (I'll be on a plane when that happens, but FireDogLake and others will live-blog the proceedings). Impervious to these lessons, there will almost certainly be more than enough Senate Democrats eagerly lined up to ensure the failure of any amendments which Dick Cheney dislikes and which would trigger a veto. Those are Democrats who either believe in those policies or who are hopelessly stuck in 2002 and refuse to accept political reality.

But once the Senate votes for a bill containing telecom amnesty and the vast new warrantless eavesdropping powers demanded by the President, the battle will turn to the House, which ought to apply the lessons which become increasingly clear by looking at American public opinion. Merits aside, Americans want more than anything else to see someone -- anyone -- willing to chart a different course than the one we have been on for the last seven years, prominently including national security and Terrorism policies.

It's not just Bush, but the Republican Party itself, which has become politically radioactive. What rational politician would fear their discredited attacks or seek to do anything other than draw as many vivid distinctions as possible with the defining policies of the Republican Party?

UPDATE: Two unrelated notes as I prepare to leave today (I'll be in Las Vegas to give a speech and hopefully run into CNN's Virtues Czar Bill Bennett):

(1) Atrios is conducting a blog fund-raiser, his first in four years. Of all bloggers, the intensity and importance of the work he does is probably the most under-appreciated. It is incredibly time-consuming and difficult to wade through hundreds of blog posts (if not more) every day and consistently select the ones meriting attention. And he probably does more than any single person to shape and sustain the overall narrative that bloggers are able to promote. Any contribution to his blog is, in my view, one well worth making.

(2) The galleys for my next book, Great American Hypocrites: Toppling the Myths of Republican Politics, were sent out last week, and Alan Colmes, who received a copy, became the first to review the new book here. The book addresses the standard manipulative electoral techniques the GOP uses to win national elections -- with a focus on the fictitious personality-based mythologies and substance-free attacks which Republicans, in conjunction with our establishment press, perpetuate in order to dictate election outcomes. The last chapter will focus on how those myths apply to the 2008 GOP nominee. The book will be released on April 15, and I'd prefer that pre-ordering wait until the week before the release date.

By Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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