Trouble on Main Street


"I am on the intelligence committee and I don't understand what the hell they are talking about there," Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.) told Wednesday's breakfast meeting of the Main Street Republican Partnership at the Capitol Hill Club. Castle is the head honcho of the MSRP, a self-declared "centrist" group whose mission is "to promote thoughtful leadership in the Republican Party." Which is to say, they firmly believe that the best Republican is one who thinks and votes like a Democrat.

Intelligence isn't the only thing Castle doesn't understand. He seems to have no idea about what it takes to get George W. Bush elected president, to keep enough GOPpers in the House to maintain the majority, or even to wrap up the current legislative session without giving into the desires of our supposedly lame duck president like one of his most green interns.

So the mood was appropriately somber at the breakfast panel titled, "The Battle for Control: 60 Days and Counting," where attendees were enjoying the standard coffee, fruit and danish as a slate of speakers handicapped the GOP's odds. MSRP members could smell the stench of death in the air–the political death of their presidential candidate George W. Bush, and that of some of their House colleagues, who, if they don't get axed by voters altogether come November may return to a Congress run by Democrats. That means so long to the cherished perquisites of leadership.

I knew they were in trouble even before Castle's frank admission of dimness. I believe half of what I read in the papers, for one. And I believe everything I see. I caught Dick Cheney's act at a retirement home in Connecticut last week so I know he's in trouble. He doesn't even excite his own peers and refuses to take questions from octogenarians. He might as well have been checking into that old folks home, not stumping at it.

And expert, conventional opinion, backs the geezers up. Brookings Institution quote machine Thomas Mann all but declared Bush and Cheney toast this week, saying broad political forces will hand Gore a win. The only interesting issue, he implied, is whether Gore wins big enough to pull enough Democratic candidates with him to take back the house. Bob Carpenter, a more sympathetic pollster from American Viewpoint, declared the races a dead heat, but noted that the public was in a mood to have government solve its problems (and thus create more of them).

The well-accented Brit pundit Tony Blankley advised House members to remember that politics is a team sport. To show America that Dubya is actually capable of being captain of their squad, Blankley said Congressional Republicans need to pass Dubya's Medicare prescription drug plan. No matter that it won't work or that it'll cost a bunch of money. They can fix it after he's in office.

Republican strategist Rich Bond thinks the Rs need to get back to their anti-government roots. "We've done an excellent job of legitimizing government," he complained to the audience of big-government Republicans, ignoring that fact that Rep. Castle had declared that there is a constructive role for the federal government in K-12 education. Bond's advice: Send a search party out for those $500 toilet seats and $700 hammers that worked so well in the 1980s. "The department of Energy must have lost $3 billion someplace," he said.

Communications strategist Kim Alfono was even more heretical. Currently Republicans practice the "politics of the one night stand," she said, bringing a unique, female view to the problem of the Grand Old Man's Party. Since Republicans don't have enough money to get a paid message out month after month telling voters all the good things they want to do for them, they have to rely on free media which distorts the message. Voters lack a proper understanding about what Republicans are all about. "People will get angry at me, but we need more money in politics," she said to the group, who ironically enough recently hosted Sen. John "Let's Get Money Out of Politics" McCain. Only with even more cash, Alfono explained, can Republicans turn their "politics of the one night stand"–something they don't excel in, the mornings are so awkward—into the "politics of relationships."

Everyone's coffee was cold but there was still no consensus reached on what congressional Republicans must do to cling to the power they don't seem to know how to use. In fact, no one even had an idea how to end this Congressional session without being beat by Bill Clinton like a red-headed stepchild. Said Bond, "We've got to somehow construct an endgame where we are ending on a positive note, rather than getting in some kind of painful negotiation with Bill Clinton where we are again being dragged into a place where we don't want to be."

Quipped Castle, "Good luck."