Clinton Acquitted: The Opposition, Republicans lost almost everything

Click to follow
The Independent Online
BATTERED, BRUISED and bleeding, the Republican Party gives every appearance of having no idea what has hit it. Over the last year it has lost its Congressional leaders, lost seats in an election, lost the impeachment battle and increasingly it shows every sign of having lost its sense of direction.

The new Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dennis Hastert, will meet with the President next week to stress the party's intention to build bridges to the White House. It is is crucial for the party to show that it is not just about impeachment.

The attempt to impeach Bill Clinton gave every sign at every stage of being a partisan battle. Democrats voted against; Republicans voted for. Few crossed party lines. The removal of an elected President proved highly unpopular with the public, and the Republicans plunged in the opinion polls.

In the last few days, the party has started to realise that it must re- orient itself or watch control of the Congress slip out of sight at the next election.

Americans are equally divided over the Senate Democrats' handling of affairs, with 45 per cent approving and the same number disapproving, according to a recent Gallup poll. But only a third of Americans approve of the Senate Republicans, while 57 per cent disapprove.

"We're all sick of it," said Governor George W Bush of Texas a few weeks ago of impeachment, a sentiment that a Newsweek opinion poll said was the view of much of the party. According to the survey, half the party wanted Mr Clinton removed, but 26 per cent wanted him censured and 21 per cent believed he had been punished enough.

Look at the hardcore activists, and the picture is very different. Amongst the party's religious conservatives, two-thirds wanted Mr Clinton out; and the religious conservatives constitute a crucial quarter of the party, the best organised part, with plenty of money and the devotion to duty. They will be furious at the turn of events.

The party's more centrist, secular leaders, especially those at the state level, are worried that the continuing divide between the party leadership in Washington, the activist base and the electorate at large will harm them. "We're giving the impression that all we're interested in is Clinton's removal," Oklahoma's Governor Frank Keating told Newsweek. The party's Chairman, Jim Nicholson, told a meeting that the Republicans "have sustained political damage, at least in the short term".

The divisions in the party between its moderates, mainly from the north and radicals, mainly from the south, will only have been exacerbated by the dying days of impeachment.

To this can be added a split between House Republicans and those in the Senate. The trial managers, from the lower house, felt they had been shown insufficient respect by the Senate leadership as it tried to shift the issue as rapidly as possible.