Coattails? Bush and the Republican Debacle

As the de facto head of his party, a U.S. president is said to have coattails upon which his (not yet her) fellow party members ride into office. For political aspirants, the support of a popular president opens doors and wallets. When things go right, a president gains political allies in Congress and in state capitols across the country. When things go wrong, you end up with today’s Republican Party under the failed leadership of George W. Bush.

President Bush took office with the 107th Congress in place. He had the benefit of a firm Republican House majority (221 to 211) and a majority in the Senate, albeit tenuous courtesy of Dick Cheney’s tie-breaking role as President of the Senate. The Republicans briefly lost Senate control when Jim Jeffords (R-VT) went Independent and chose to caucus with the Dems.

With the 108th Congress, the Senate swayed back to the Republicans (51 to 48 and one Independent) and they fielded a commanding majority in the House (229 to 205) which, despite some shuffling of seats, they extended in the 109th Congress. At the start of the 109th Congress, Republicans controlled the Senate (55 to 44, and one Independent) and the House (232 to 201). It was at this point that the trajectory toward Karl Rove’s “permanent Republican majority” reached its apex. It was all downhill from there.

The U.S. was mired in Iraq. The Taliban were resurgent in Afghanistan. The DeLay and Abramoff scandals had revealed staggering corruption. The President and his administration displayed callous incompetence in the response to Hurricane Katrina, and an undercurrent of public disapproval became a groundswell. By January of 2007, a CBS/NY Times Poll showed that only 27 percent of the public held a favorable opinion of the President, down from a peak of 64 percent in 2002.

As a result of George W. Bush’s failed leadership, Democrats took control of the Executive Branch and the Congress. From their peak in the 107th Congress to the current 111th Congress, Republicans have lost 14 Senate seats and 54 House seats. (And they could still lose the disputed Minnesota Senate seat in the legal battle between Democrat Al Franken and Republican Norm Coleman).

At the same time, the Republicans also lost the majority of state governorships. When George W. Bush first went to Washington, Republican governors outnumbered Democrats 29 to 20. As Mr. Bush leaves office today, the numbers are 28 to 22 in favor of the Democrats.

By these simple measures, George W. Bush lead his party to an epic defeat.

Bush Assumes Office (1/20/2001)

107th Congress
50 R and 50 D (w/Cheney as tie-breaker)
House: 221 R and 211 D
Governorships: 29 R and 20 D (one Reform party)

Bush Leaves Office (1/20/2009)

111th Congress
Senate: 55 D and 41 R (plus two Independents who caucus with Democrats, and MN still disputed)
House: 256 D and 178 R
Governorships: 28 D and 22 R


The 50 United States of America

NationMaster Encyclopedia

Afghanistan: The Taliban Resurgent and NATO, The Brookings Institution

George W. Bush Favorability Ratings, CBS/NY Times Poll via