Tuesday, January 22, 2008

They’re All in This Together

There’s no reason for overconfidence to break out nationwide as a direct result of Gary Kamiya’s essay today in Salon (“Dead Party Walking”), but he certainly does make some good points about the hurdles facing all of the remaining contenders for the 2008 Republican’t presidential nomination (and by remaining, I mean good-bye Fred, we hardly cared about you). Kamiya sums up the challenges rather succinctly:
As P.G. Wodehouse would say, it’s a pretty C3 collection. But what really makes this group pathetic is that instead of trying to make up for their inadequacies and appeal to voters by taking new positions, these candidates are running on the same platform as George W. Bush--the lamest of presidential ducks, whose policies have failed and whose approval ratings are abysmal.

With the exception of [Ron] Paul, all of the GOP candidates agree with Bush on about just about everything. All of them vow to stay in Iraq until “victory” is won and to continue the “war on terror” indefinitely. All of them agree with him on taxation and healthcare. And they sing from the same pious songsheet on moral values. They are essentially running as new, improved clones of Bush.

This is not a winning strategy.

The GOP’s campaign mess reveals just how big a disaster Bush’s presidency has been for the party. At a time when the electorate is urgently demanding a new direction, Republican candidates, chained to a rigid party line and a ruinous war, can only flap their arms and pretend they’re flying.
Best off among this sorry pack may be war candidate John McCain. While very unpopular with much of the GOP establishment (Tom DeLay, the disgraced former U.S. House majority leader from Texas, said last week that if McCain wins the nod, “I might have to sit this one out”), he has historically polled well among independents, who would have to figure strongly in McCain’s calculations for the general election. But it’s just at that stage where the going really gets rough for the septuagenarian Arizona senator, Kamiya explains:
If McCain wins the GOP nomination and antiwar independents and moderates across the country are as forgiving of his hard-line hawkish position on Iraq as New Hampshire and Michigan voters were, McCain could give the Democrats a real fight. But it’s unlikely voters in the general election will be so kind. McCain is tied irrevocably to the war, and barring a miracle, that is not going to be a winning position in November.

McCain and the GOP got a little lift from the downturn in violence in Iraq after the U.S. troop “surge” (and the more significant factor, the rise of anti-jihadi Sunni forces), but the public’s opposition to the war has not changed. According to a January 2008 Rasmussen Poll, 58 percent of Americans want all troops home within a year. Twenty-seven percent want the troops brought home immediately; 38 percent want them to stay until the mission is completed. These numbers have held more or less steady for a long time.

Moreover, even many GOP voters have turned against the war--bad news for McCain or any other Republican candidate. Only 63 percent of New Hampshire Republicans supported the war; 35 percent disapproved of it. In Michigan, a remarkable 39 percent of GOP voters said they wanted U.S. troops pulled out within six months. These figures are higher than national ones, but they still spell bad news for any pro-war candidate.
What could save McCain from a drubbing in a general election campaign against either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama would be some diplomatic or otherwise political progress in Iraq, some miracle that saves the civil-war-torn country from itself. Nobody expects any such development--especially not those of us who believe that Bush is deliberately prolonging his war on Iraq (no matter the cost in lives), hoping to leave it as a drag on his Democratic successor.

The Republican’t Party can’t be counted out for the more distant future, Kamiya makes clear. However, the chances of any short-term improvements in its prospects--particularly if it is blamed, as is ought to be, for the country’s worsening economic woes--seem unlikely, at best. (No one can be reassured by McCain’s admission that, like his buddy Bush, he “doesn’t really understand economics.”) The Salon columnist concludes:
If there is no political breakthrough, a clear majority of the American people will decide once and for all that the war is unwinnable and endless, and demand that we simply get out and let the Iraqis sort out their own country. And since they’ll have a real alternative, they won’t elect a president who wants to extend the war.

In fact, this outcome was predicted by William F. Buckley last spring. The father of modern intellectual conservatism wrote that if Americans come to see the enemy as “in the nature of a disease,” they will realize that fighting it head-on is useless. In a remarkably audacious passage, Buckley compared the terrorists in Iraq to the Christians who caused the Roman Empire to fall, and concluded, “There are grounds for wondering whether the Republican Party will survive this dilemma.”

It seems like just yesterday that Karl Rove dreamed of a permanent Republican majority. If Buckley is right, the Bush presidency may not only result in the Democrats’ taking power, perhaps for years, but could also force the Republican Party to fundamentally redefine itself. Judging by the candidates on offer right now, it’s high time.
You can read all of Kamiya’s essay here.

READ MORE:Market Uncertainty and the Presidential Campaign,” by Steve Benen (The Carpetbagger Report); “The Politics of an Economic Nightmare,” by Robert B. Reich (Salon).

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