March 5, 2007
One of the clearest signs that the political winds have shifted in dramatic fashion is the virtual absence of any serious conservative candidate on the Republican side thus far. What's more, the candidate who has generated the most enthusiasm recently is Rudolph Giuliani, the most moderate of all the Republican candidates. Well, Rudy does have the admirable quality -- which is often lacking in certain rivals such as the one from Arizona -- of forthrightly saying unpopular things when it's necessary. The Washington Post reports that the folks who attended the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington last week are feeling down in the dumps about being abandoned, and some are throwing their weight around by threatening to bail out. "That'll teach 'em a lesson!?"
A good example of this attitude was expressed by Rocinante's Burdens (via SWAC Girl, hosting this week's Virginia blog carnival), in an exquisitely self-contradictory mixture of policy advocacy and political prognostication."Without the 'evil' religious right, no republican [sic] is going to win. Ever. Therefore, any Republican candidate needs to do some serious pandering to them." Then, a few paragraphs later, "Winning isn't everything." Well, which is it? I heartily agree that the Republicans need to do more than just urge folks to "vote against Hillary" to win in 2008, and I agree that triangulation on policy positions is a cynical dead-end, but the purist rejection of any Republican candidate who might be a "moderate" will doom us all. At a fundamental level, anyone who insists that any given constituency within a party must be retained at all costs has in effect given up on translating political action into policy making. The whole idea of "tossing bones" to this group or that, as opposed to cajoling the various factions of the party into seeing a common long-term vision, amounts to abject surrender. As far as immigration, while I emphatically support a strong stand in defending our borders, the idea of "mass deportations" proposed by "Rocinante's Burdens" is ludicrous -- unless you're willing to risk a civil war, that is.
Here's what it comes down to: Will we let evangelical Christians dictate the Republican Party platform until the End of Time?* It is precisely their puritanical attitude that sees compromise as inherently evil that has drawn the party into a swamp from which it cannot get out. (For more on that, see my post on John Danforth's book Faith and Politics last October.) I fully agree that social conservatives are an integral part of the GOP, which is why I go along with certain policies that clash with my own beliefs. I accept the fact that it's an imperfect world and messy compromises are often necessary (like the Virginia transportation bill last week), but they don't. As a result of the inability (or lack of desire) of religiously motivated people to make political bargains, the uneasy coalition between the economic and social conservatives has become unstable of late. That, in a nutshell, is why I think it is high time that someone stand up to the bullies on the Christian Right, or else the "sensible" (i.e., economic-policy oriented) conservatives will despair of the Republican Party and begin to jump ship. (A few of them already have.) There is a vast well of untapped discontent in the middle of the political spectrum, but those with ideological blinders are not likely to see that the center is where the action is right now. If the Republicans are to go back on the offensive with a forward-looking policy agenda that appeals to new constituents, in the tradition of Reagan and Gingrich, they must face up to the possibility that their current coalition may have to be, ahem, rebuilt.
To me, the risk of losing to Hillary or Barack and veering sharply toward socialism is simply unacceptable, so conservative ideological purity can wait. Accordingly, I have revised my rankings of GOP candidates (first posted in December), moving Rudy from #5 to #1. That list will be periodically revised and displayed at the top right of the Politics blog page (and elsewhere) until the nomination is secured next year. I agree with Duncan Hunter on immigration but am wary of his nationalistic stance on trade policy. I'm impressed with Jim Huckabee's articulate, sincere delivery, but don't yet know much about him. I'm still not particularly fired up about any of the candidates, however. At this point, my main criteria are leadership style (including oratory) and hands-on executive competence. Both of those qualities are severely lacking in "W," and we are paying dearly for it.
* Yes, those were ironic allusions to the Left Behind book series.