Clift: Some Republicans Worry About Party’s Chances

"It's hard being a member of the mean party," says Bob Borochoff, a lifelong Republican who was on Capitol Hill this week asking legislators to support bills that will benefit disabled people like his son, Bradley, and returning veterans suffering from mental illness. There's no shortage of horror stories when it comes to health insurance, but Borochoff's tale on behalf of his son took him on a political journey, as well, and his disillusionment is emblematic of the uphill climb the Republicans face in November.

Borochoff's tidy life as a restauranteur and happily married father of three, including newborn twins, was shattered in 1988 when his 3-year-old son Bradley was bitten by a mosquito, which triggered encephalitis, a swelling of the brain and then uncontrollable seizures, leaving him disabled. The family's insurance premiums jumped from $300 a month to $2,500 a month. Borochoff hired a lawyer to fight the increase but was told he had no choice, so he paid the premiums. A year later, a notice arrived in the mail that the insurance company was canceling his policy along with coverage for his 100 employees. 

Well known in the restaurant business in Houston, Borochoff had political connections, and he worked every one of them, even securing an audience, along with other small-business owners, in the White House with President George H.W. Bush, all to no avail. In desperation, he contacted Sen. Ted Kennedy, telling a Houston Post reporter at the time, "I can't stand Ted Kennedy," but he hoped he would help. Kennedy intervened and the next day Borochoff got a call saying the insurance for him and his employees would be reinstated. It would be nice if the story ended there, but Bradley's care became more expensive. Medicine not covered by insurance was $2,800 a month. Borochoff's wife divorced him and in 2003, a single father with three teenagers, he filed for personal bankruptcy and received food stamps for six months.

Kennedy's office contacted him several times over the years asking him to testify, which he did only rarely because he didn't always agree with Kennedy's approach. He was once a strong backer of Tom DeLay, and he counts himself a personal friend of DeLay's successor and the two other Republican congressmen representing the Houston area. But he's angry with them and his party over health care and immigration, and that's what brings him to Washington. He's rebuilt his life and now manages four Tex-Mex restaurants in Houston. He serves on the board of a local agency that provides mental-health services to the poor, and the tug he feels is reflected in his political donations; once almost exclusively to Republicans, now he estimates 40 percent goes to Democrats.

This is one man's story but in a sense he is everyman. Disillusionment with the Republican Party is profound. Retiring GOP Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia recently advised party leaders that the Republican brand was so damaged by war, corruption and incompetence, if it were a dog food it would be taken off the shelves. Republicans in Congress are bracing for major losses with Democrats expected to gain some 15 seats in the House and five in the Senate, bringing the Dems within striking distance of the 60-vote filibuster threshold. Whichever party captures the White House, Democrats will have a much stronger hand on Capitol Hill. 

Republican hopes that John McCain could salvage the White House got a jolt this week with the latest Quinnipiac Swing State polls showing Barack Obama ahead by double digits in Pennsylvania, comfortably leading in Ohio and edging out McCain in Florida. All three are key states for November that Obama lost to Clinton in the primaries, suggesting there could be some tectonic forces at play, and any Democrat (even Obama, or especially Obama) is positioned to bring home a substantial victory. If these numbers persist, McCain may have already peaked. His behavior this week suggests a certain amount of desperation. Why would he choose Houston, ground zero of the oil industry, to announce his support for offshore drilling, which he had previously opposed? A roomful of cheering oil executives is not the best advertisement. What's next, a photo-op on Wall Street next to Exxon's second-quarter earnings?

The only reason McCain is competitive is his straight-talk brand, and he's squandering that with concessions that align him with business-as-usual in Washington. A moderate Republican and former Senate aide who asked to remain anonymous thinks the only way McCain gets back in the game is to come up with an eye-popping vice presidential pick. Her choice is New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. She doesn't think her party will do it, but she ticks off the reasons why it makes sense. He would make up for McCain's weakness on domestic policy, principally the economy, and he would help with the Jewish vote. A self-made billionaire with a social conscience, he could win over disaffected Republicans and independents. McCain made his name confronting partisan orthodoxy. Still, a lot more polls will have to show Obama a lot further ahead for McCain to venture that far outside of his party's comfort zone.