Democrats Up GOP Down Election '90

October 26, 1990

According to the latest intelligence from the budget battle front, George Bush and Newt Gingrich have not as yet defected to the Democrats. Even if they tried, the Democrats wouldn't have them. To reverse the old saying: With enemies like Republicans Bush and Gingrich, the Democrats hardly need friends.

The political catastrophe that has overtaken the Grand Old Party just before the Nov. 6 election is being compared to the Watergate disaster. Words like "free fall" and "earthquake" fly up in the political firmament. The president himself has succeeded in painting the GOP with a Hooverian brush as the party of the super-rich and, by implication, the adversary of all those blue-collar working folks who once rallied to Ronald Reagan.

Much Republican bloodletting is ahead if pollsters are right in predicting Democratic gains of as many as a dozen seats in the House and maybe one or two in the Senate. Only a few months ago, with President Bush riding high in the opinion polls, Republicans were counting on a rare off-year breeze for the party holding the White House. After all, the Democratic leadership in Congress was a laugh. Right? And if public disgust with Washington remained focused on all rascally incumbents, Democrats had more to lose because they controlled more legislative seats. Right?

These observations are now in the trash heap of discarded miscalculation. Mr. Bush's retreat from his irresponsible "no new taxes" pledge has turned into a rout, his shellacking due only in part to Democratic tactics. Representative Gingrich used his position as GOP whip in the House to whip right-wing Republicans into opposition rather than support of the initial summit agreement produced by the president and the bipartisan congressional leadership.

The result: One setback after another for an administration divided within. It may be true that HouseSpeaker Tom Foley and Senate majority leader George Mitchell could not control their Democrats, either. But they converted their weakness to strength by exploiting the home truth that the president is ultimately held responsible for running the government.

Edward J. Rollins, co-chairman of the National Republican Central Committee, has told worried GOP campaigners not to hesitate to oppose the president or his budget compromises. The White House suggests that Mr. Rollins be fired.

Were this strictly a domestic squabble, it might have its uses in forcing the nation to face fiscal realities. But with a Persian Gulf war threatening, this is hardly the moment to have a president covered with wounds, self-inflicted or otherwise.

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