Can Hill GOP Get Its Groove Back In '08?

GOP strategist Glen Bolger, republican republicans,
Political Players is a weekly conversation with the leaders, consultants, and activists who are shaping American politics. This week, CBS News' Brian Goldsmith talked with veteran GOP strategist Glen Bolger about what really happened to Republicans in 2006, and what they need to do to prepare for 2008. The following is an edited version of that conversation. Columnist Bob Novak recently reported that no president in his 50 years in Washington has been as isolated from his party in Congress than George W. Bush. As the pollster of choice for Congressional Republicans, what's your reaction to that? Is that an accurate statement?

Glen Bolger: Well, it's hard to say when you hear such sweeping generalizations as that. I mean, every president has their ups and downs. Certainly there is a lot of concern on the Hill about the impact on the Republican Party. I mean, we've gone from a majority in both the House and the Senate to, not only being in the minority, but not yet showing any kind of rebound. Republicans lost 31 House seats and six Senate seats last year and obviously lost control of both chambers. Is the common Republican explanation that they weren't conservative enough really accurate given that the base turned out, but independents and moderates were the groups that deserted you?

Glen Bolger: I think that the idea that Republicans weren't conservative enough, or that the base didn't turn out, or that the base wasn't supportive enough, has been knocked down among most political analysts and people who understand elections. I think, what our problem was last time was a perfect storm of Iraq, concern about the ethics problems, no reaction to Katrina, that just undermined confidence in the Republican Party. What do you think the House and Senate Republicans should do now to regain the initiative from the Democrats? Do they propose new policy ideas of their own, or do they try to keep the majority on the defensive like they did with the mini-scandal over Nancy Pelosi's plane?

Glen Bolger: I think it's both. If you look at how the Democrats' strategy was when they were in the minority the last two years, it was to oppose anything and everything that Republicans wanted to do. And they said no to everything. The Democrats voted against anything they could.

They tried to stop anything from occurring, any kind of progress. I don't know that that's the right strategy for Republicans. And one of the big challenges the Republican Party faces is that we are seen as lacking any kind of new ideas even on traditional Republican strength issues. So, I think, A, we need to get back and do a better job of coming up with new ideas that are relevant to American voters and B, we need to expose the Democrats' hypocrisy, failures, and problems of which there are already plenty. How is Iraq playing for Republican members of Congress?

Glen Bolger: When you look at the national polls, it's hard to say that Iraq is not a problem for Republicans. Public opinion is not clear cut on Iraq, but this is not the war that the people signed up for. And they don't see things getting better and that's causing a drain on support for the Republican Party. Do you think House and Senate Republicans should come up with their own Iraq plan to separate themselves from the White House as well as the Democrats?

Glen Bolger: I think politically that would be very difficult to do. I'm not sure what they ought to do. But I also know that there's not enough unanimity among Republicans to put forward a successful plan. I'm not even sure the Democrats have the unanimity regardless of what they barely passed last week. Do you think it's dangerous for Congressional Republicans to seem to support the unpopular surge as much as they do?

Glen Bolger: It depends. I mean, it really depends on where things are in terms of how the surge is perceived. It's too early to kind of project what the impact of the surge is going to be. There's clearly mixed opinion at best on the issue with some opposition, but it's not strongly opposed. It's not something that is overwhelmingly opposed.

Republican voters, for instance, still back it. The challenge is going to be independents have lost confidence in the Iraq policies and they don't see the surge as necessarily something that's going to make anything better. But it's too soon to say that a year and a half from now the surge vote, for instance, is going to be a major issue. It all depends on how it plays out.