Mid-term elections swiftly approach in the United States. As most of America knows by now, the Republican majority in Congress is on thin ice. In many ways, this election is a referendum on post-9/11 GOP America. The Republicans have so much to lose and indeed, do not stand on solid footing: top analysts agree that this election is going down to the wire. One would think that Republicans, wary of how much is at stake, would tread carefully.
One would be wrong.
Most recently, Republican Representative Mark Foley—a shoo-in for reelection and a noted child pornography opponent—resigned amidst controversy over some questionable e-mails he sent to a young male page. In the e-mails, Foley gratuitously mentioned physicality and asked the page to send him a picture of himself. Subverting one's pet issue is hardly behavior becoming of a candidate.
Mere days before, Jeanine Pirro—the Republican candidate for New York state Attorney General—was "investigated for allegedly plotting to secretly record her husband to find out if he was having another affair". This is the latest in a series of missteps by Pirro, including a tremendously painful gaffe during her announcement of candidacy a year ago where her poor poise led to thirty-two seconds of dead air on camera. Later, Pirro mistakenly claimed that New York borders Ohio.
There's also Katherine Harris, running for U.S. Senate in Florida. The ongoing saga of her sinking campaign has drawn national attention for months now. Even Jeb Bush himself has gone on the record saying she doesn't have a shot at victory. But Harris keeps on trying to scratch her way back to viability with such rhetorical gems as "non-Christians will legislate sin."
Even established favorites are fumbling. George Allen, an incumbent Senator in Virginia whom was once seen as the break-out candidate for the presidency in 2008, has had a string of questionable incidents related to race.
It is unavoidable that a few bad eggs will pop up in an open democracy where anyone can run for office if they so choose. There is no way the Republican Party can truly forbid or prevent an eager candidate from throwing his or her hat into the ring. Still, both parties are very active in courting potential winners to run or discouraging potential disasters. With such gratuitous—at worst—Incompetence and intolerance or—at best—political misfires, you have to wonder if the GOP machinery runs like it used to.
To be fair, there certainly has been some ridiculous behavior by Democrats as well. But Republicans, as the reigning party, are especially vulnerable to media scrutiny. The only thing America likes more than the underdog winning is the seeing the untouchable favorite choke.
Republicans also have the shadow of President Bush to deal with. The majority of the American public disapproves of Bush's performance. Furthermore, the deficiencies of Bush's public image have been well documented by multiple sources. Unpolished, ignoble leadership can easily be cast as a 'Republican trait' if framed correctly. Disorganized leadership is evident from the White House down.
The missteps in language and preparation are perhaps cheap shots. But given the recent rash of GOP misbehavior—the aforementioned Mark Foley, Jack Abramoff and friends, and Ohio Representative Bob Ney's resignation due to bribery allegations—it shouldn't be hard to supplement a goofball image with some meatier moral fare.
Indeed, tying together incompetence and intolerance, corruption and confusion, can help to invalidate the GOP monopoly on "traditional values" in the national consciousness. These various incidents can be presented so as to be endemic of 'Republicanism' and not isolated cases. The campaign ad practically writes itself: "Corruption, pederasty, fanaticism, and incompetence. Are these American values? The Republican Party has gotten too big for it's britches, and America is paying the price. This November, vote Democratic—help us put America back on track."
Such a national messaging campaign might be helpful in changing public perception of the Republican Party. Political parties are like Hydra; you can try to take out individual candidates, but unless you go for the heart of the beast, another one will always replace the last. Democratic politicians have utilized this logic in their personal rhetoric, often chiding Republican leadership as a whole; but the body of evidence is compelling enough as to warrant more than just lip service.
Like many political strategies, the core concept here has great potential to be distastefully executed. I am not advocated the smearing of the Republican Party as a group of extremist pederasts; but there are tasteful ways to form a narrative out of the frequent gaffes of the Republican Party without descending into schandefreude. Democrats could highlight the importance of checks and balances, and claim institutional precedent for limiting the dominance of one party. "Power corrupts." If Democrats can tie the incidents of corruption, misbehavior, and incompetence into a broader landscape of the Republican Party, they will have a powerful message to supplement more targeted regional advocacy.
In November, voters will be voting on an America that has largely been run by a Republican cast devoted to conservative principles. To ignore the reality of this choice by reducing campaign strategies to a set of independent races is to miss an opportunity to connect the dots for voters.
Niko Karvounis is a fellow of the Roosevelt Institution and founder of New Deal Magazine. He has previously worked at The American Prospect and National Journal. He is currently pursuing a masters degree at Oxford University.