Wednesday, February 21, 2007


Republicans and Iraq

Washington Post political blogger Chris Cillizza has quite a revealing deconstruction of a new poll on Republican attitudes about Iraq and the implications for the 2008 Republican presidential primary race.

Most notably, Cillizza says, the poll makes clear why Romney and Giuliani are joining McCain in backing the surge and not backing away from the war in general, something most Democrats are completely befuddled by, given the apparent overwhelming public opposition.

Breaking down the Republican electorate into "hard" and "soft" factions, the survey, conducted by a Republican firm called Moore Information, showed that 65 percent of hard Republicans (65 percent) said the U.S. was doing a good job in Iraq, while only 27 percent said we were doing a bad job. "Soft" Republicans were much less supportive; 48 percent said the U.S. was doing a good job in Iraq compared with 41 percent who chose the "bad" descriptor.

In addition, when you asked those "bad job" voters who deserves the blame for what's gone wrong in Iraq, one-third said Bush alone was to blame for the situation. Three-in-ten voters said Bush and "all the Members of Congress who voted for the war" were responsible, while only 24 percent said it was Bush and Republicans in Congress who should be blamed -- meaning Republicans generally, and not just Bush.

As Cillizza goes on to point out:
. . . [T]he Moore Information poll makes clear that the views of the most reliably Republican voters stand in stark contrast to those of the American public at large. These "hard" Republicans also happen to be the key constituency for each of the Republican candidates hoping to make a strong showing in early primary and caucus states like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. Given that fact, it would be political suicide for any of the Republican frontrunners to oppose the current course in Iraq or President Bush's plan to secure victory in the country. (These numbers also suggest little room in the Republican nominating contest for a candidate who is calling for a change of direction in Iraq -- a point we made in the recent case against Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel.)

Second, even among those who believe the United States has done a bad job in Iraq, President Bush -- and Bush alone -- bears considerable blame. The strong belief that the war is primarily Bush's doing (and fault) provides a glimmer of hope for Republicans hoping to hold the White House in 2008. If the American public primarily blames Bush and not the wider Republican party for the problems in Iraq, voters may not punish the eventual GOP nominee. While this may be a bit of wishful thinking, it does provide empirical evidence that Bush owns this war in the eyes of the American voter.
That's the big bet the Republican candidates are making, that they can finesse that fine line of showing resolve on the war in the primary without owning Bush's failures in the general.

It's not an impossible mission, especially if the Democrats nominate someone the Republicans can effectively tar as weak on terror, as Bush did with Kerry.

But given what an albatross the war proved to be in the mid-terms for the Republicans in Congress, and how Bush's surge policy is intensifying opposition beyond the Democratic base, I suspect the Republicans will have an easier time putting a camel through a needle's eye than using this strategy to enter into the White House.

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