Down, down, down…

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Uh, oh. Sounds like the nativists are getting restless

Almost three months into President Bush’s second term, a raft of economic and social issues — Social Security, immigration, gay marriage and the recent national debate over Terri Schiavo — is splintering the Republican base.

After winning re-election on the strength of support from nine in 10 Republican voters, the president is seeing significant chunks of that base balk at major initiatives, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows. One-third of Republicans say Democrats in Congress should prevent Mr. Bush and party leaders from “going too far in pushing their agenda,” and 41% oppose eliminating filibusters against Mr. Bush’s judicial nominees — the “nuclear option” that Senate Republican leaders are considering.

Do note, too, that the country hasn’t even begun to talk about the biggest hot-button issue of them all: immigration. Fortunately—insofar as one say “fortunately” here—the Minutemen loons patrolling the Southern border should bring this topic to the fore real soon.

That said, there’s a danger for Democrats here too. The popular consensus seems to be that the Democrats’ main function at this point is to check the considerable excesses of the Republican majority. That bodes well for obstructionism. It also bodes well for those who want to defeat the “nuclear option” and preserve the filibuster. (Although we’ve noted the case here that in the long run, stripping away the filibuster would benefit the progressive movement.) It does not, however, bode well for the minority party’s long-term electoral prospects. What are they going to say in 2006, “Please, please vote for us, we need a strengthened minority or we’ll never be able to stop the Republicans from going too far”? No, they would sound pathetic, and they would get slaughtered. Americans may love gridlock and divided government, but that’s not a compelling campaign message, and no one ever won an election by calling attention to his or her finger stuck in the dike.

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