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"The Republican Party of 2006 is a tired, cranky shell of the aggressive, reformist movement that was swept into office in 1994 on a wave of positive change," Frank Luntz, one of the strategists of the G.O.P. takeover, wrote this week in a column for TIME.com "I worked for them. They were friends of mine. These Republicans are not those Republicans."
On policy matters, Hastert's leadership approach has been to act as though the Democrats--and sometimes the Senate--simply do not exist. He squeezes hard-edged partisan bills through the House to please the G.O.P. base, even though they have no chance of ever getting through the Senate and reaching the President's desk. "There have been numerous occasions when bipartisan approaches, which would have benefited our conference more than Democrats, have been rebuffed by the Speaker," complains a senior Republican aide, who says he likes and respects the Speaker. "His strategy seems to be, 'Well, don't worry about it. We'll blame [Democratic Leader Nancy] Pelosi.' That might work in isolated circumstances, but when your party's numbers start to tank, and people want to see that you can govern, that approach is not a solid one."
Party leaders concede the point that their revolution hasn't lived up to everything they promised. But they say voters still see the difference between where the parties stand. Former Republican chairman Ed Gillespie--one of the authors of the Contract with America, on which House Republicans ran in 1994--says, "Our party is still better when it comes to spending than the Democrats, stronger on national security than the Democrats and more likely to share concerns about the coarsening of our culture that a majority of Americans share than the Democrats are." Strategists are putting an optimistic face even on the effects of the Foley scandal, saying their internal polling shows little movement against the G.O.P.
Will the Democrats behave any differently if they retake Congress in November? Some would undoubtedly try to use their majority power to exact revenge for Republican overreach. And history has shown them to be just as capable of the type of ideological drift that is tearing at the G.O.P.
For now, though, the question on everyone's mind is, How do the Republicans find their way from here? A number of conservatives have begun to wonder aloud if it wouldn't be better for the party to lose the House or Senate in November. If the revolutionaries have become the redcoats, then perhaps it's time for another uprising. Send the Republicans back into the wilderness so they can forage for the kind of fresh ideas and guerrilla tactics that made them such a force during their previous march on Washington. They could very well be ready in time for the presidential election in 2008. And while they're out there on the campaign trail, they just might rally around their old general, who will be looking to cap his own hardscrabble journey from political pariah to rehabbed revolutionary. That general, of course, is none other than former Speaker Gingrich, who has been spotted in Iowa, New Hampshire and other battleground states for more than a year now, taking potshots at the Establishment he helped create and rearming himself to storm the next barricade. TIME POLL THE PRESIDENT
Do you approve of the way George W. Bush is handling his job as President?