From NBC's Mark Murray and Andy Merten
So far this election season, we've watched and attended what has to be dozens of presidential candidate debates and public forums. But at last night's GOP debate, something happened for the very first time: A candidate -- Ron Paul -- drew boos.
What Paul said that produced those boos is nothing new for the anti-war, libertarian Texas congressman. "I think the American people, if we as a party realize this and understand it ... the people in America want the [Iraq] war over with. They're sick and tired of it, and they want our troops to come home."
While many in the audience weren't happy with Paul's comments, those Republicans represent a minority of Americans -- which highlights a looming general election problem for the GOP. According to last month's NBC/WSJ poll, 56% said removing Saddam Hussein from power wasn't worth the US casualties or financial cost of the war; 56% said victory isn't possible in Iraq; and a whopping 63% said that Bush's troop surge either isn't making a difference or is making the situation worse.
And Iraq isn't the only issue on which Republicans -- and their presidential candidates -- disagree with a majority of Americans. Last night, Giuliani, Romney, Huckabee, and McCain all talked about their support for private Social Security accounts.
Giuliani said, "I think the reality is that we have to deal with Social Security. The first thing we have to do is get a consensus behind private accounts if we're going to change it." Romney noted, "... [T]he president said let's have private accounts and take that surplus money that's being gathered now in Social Security and put that into private accounts. That works." Huckabee added, "The president had the right idea, but he used the wrong word. When he used the word 'privatization,' it scared the daylights out of a lot of people because it was right in the middle... The right word is 'personalization.'" And McCain remarked, "We need personal savings accounts, but we got to fix this system."
The problem for those Republicans is that privatizing Social Security, personalizing it -- or whatever you want to call it -- is a general election loser, pure and simple. In May 2005, when Bush's approval rating was at 47% and Democrats were demoralized after losing the presidential election, 56% still said that it was a bad idea to allow workers to invest their Social Security contributions in the stock market. Just 36% said it was a good idea.
The Republican presidential candidates are already facing a tough political environment heading into next year. But they might not be doing themselves a favor by backing a war and private accounts -- which a strong majority of Americans oppose.