This is the week when three years of a national Republican resurgence limped to an end, as the damage wrought by a frayed party and a bitter primary to their hopes of retaking the Senate and the White House became painfully clear.
After three years of riding popular concern over the economy, detestation of Washington, and dislike of the national health care plan, the party finds itself unable to coast on the momentum of the hot summer of 2009. From Maine to Nebraska to a long presidential primary whose damage is now unmissable in public polls, Republicans picked up their heads this week to a depressing landscape and the fear of a broad Democratic recovery. Now they’re debating whether the bleak outlook from the first day of March represents the final pivot away from Republican victory, or whether the party has hit bottom.
Republican strategist Curt Anderson, an optimist, called the current moment a ”low ebb” for the GOP.
“Obama looked unbeatable in Jan of 2009. Obama looked easy to beat in Jan of 2011,” he said. “Now we are at a low ebb. This too shall pass.”
Others have less faith. A Republican operative involved in the presidential campaign Tuesday and Wednesday “the 24 hours that the GOP officially lost everything at stake in November.“
“Snowe’s retirement revitalizes Democrats’ U.S. Senate hopes, and the war path burn everything route that winning this nomination has forced Romney to wage lost Michigan for the fall,” he said said. “At a macro multi-state level, there is zero hope and optimism.”
What’s clear from polling is that the Republican primary has come at an exceptional cost to Mitt Romney, with his unfavorability rating topping 50 percent nationally in some polls, and among independents, he’s 15-ponts underwater.
One the other hand, President Barack Obama’s job approval rating crossed into positive territory for the first time since July last month in the RealClearPolitics poll of polls, and remains in the black.
And Romney's victory in Michigan only widened that gap. His campaign there required a hardening of his position on the auto-bailout, and Santorum’s pressure precipitated gaffes like “a couple of Cadillacs” that will come back to haunt him as the nominee.
Then came Romney’s gaffe on a contraception measure, which temporarily enraged the right, and proved once again that off-script Romney has a penchant for getting himself in trouble.
Sen. Olympia Snowe’s decision to quit the Senate, citing political dysfunction and barely veiling her contempt for the Tea Party takeover, erased Republican confidence about their chances of taking back the Senate. Then Senator Bob Kerrey’s decision to re-enter politics in Nebraska took another save win off the table.
Democrats, meanwhile, are celebrating as they haven’t since they seemed to lose their political grip this time three years ago.
“When Republicans are telling us they're sick of Republicans, it's easy to know where swing voters are going to come down,” gloated Jim Jordan. “They run an institution, Congress, with a nice percent approval rating, they're wallowing in every nutty, unpopular social issue they can find, and they've absolutely disconnected themselves from the real needs and anxieties of the voters that matter. It's pretty amazing to behold.”