Rich Lowry, the normally astute political observer for National Review, has written that it’s a myth to claim that the conservative base didn’t turn out for Republicans in the 2006 elections, and that the real problem was that Republicans lost independents by a margin of 57-39. He says that, in 2004, conservatives were 34 percent of the electorate and liberals 21 percent, and the 2006 numbers were almost indistinguishable: conservatives 32 percent, liberals 20 percent. The flaw is his logic is assuming that the conservatives voted Republican in equal numbers both years.
The exit polls show that 84 percent of the conservatives in 2004 voted for Bush but only 78 percent voted Republican in 2006. That means that millions of conservatives in 2006 didn’t vote Republican. That was the margin of difference.
But there’s another important statistic: in 2004 Bush got 78 percent of the white evangelical born-again Christian vote. But only 70 percent of those voters in 2006 went for the Republicans.
Despite the best efforts of Republican apologists in talk radio, who were stroked by the White House on that famous “Radio Day” of October 24, millions did not vote Republican in 2006. That’s why the Republicans lost. They were abandoned by a part of their base.
Before the vote, the White House was insisting that the Republicans would retain control of the House and Senate. Karl Rove had told National Public Radio that he didn’t believe the polls claiming the Republicans were going to lose the House of Representatives and possibly even the Senate.
After the vote, White House officials claimed that the losses were typical of a party holding the White House in the sixth year of a presidency. Here, Lowry is correct in calling this a myth. He says that Clinton lost only five seats in his sixth year, and Reagan lost only five in his sixth year. In fact, Clinton and the Democrats picked up five seats in 1998 in the House. But the point remains that the Bush White House reaction to the dramatic losses is just spin.
So the White House reaction to the dramatic losses is just spin. The Republican election losses, Lowry notes, were indeed a “big deal.” And it’s because the Republicans lost millions of conservatives.
The New York Times reports that White House strategist Karl Rove thinks the administration “needs to shore up its standing with conservatives, whose support will be crucial to rebuild Mr. Bush’s popularity and ultimately give him some leverage.” However, the paper also reports the administration will then “tack to the middle to strike deals with Democrats” on issues like immigration.
So the conservatives will be cultivated and then abandoned-again.