Will The GOP's 2008 Nominee Attract Indie Voters?
E. J. Dionne, Jr. wrote a piece in today’s Post about the perils for Bush of turning rightward to placate his base between now and November. This assumes of course that Bush has moved leftward away from his rightwing base at all in the first place. Putting that aside, the column made me think about what six years of Bush has done to the modern GOP, a party that now kow-tows to the American Taliban and that relies on cultists for its electoral support, while abandoning Main Street to do the bidding of Wall Street.
To Bill Frist, James Dobson’s call for a constitutional ban on gay marriage, and an English-only law are the greatest needs of the country at this time. We see both John “I’ll Do Anyone To Get Elected” McCain and now Rudy Giuliani whore themselves to Jerry Falwell and Ralph “Soon-to-be-Indicted” Reed to curry favor with the American Taliban. In addition, we already have Sam Brownback, George “Rebel Yell” Allen, Ricky Santorum, and Mitt Romney running for the GOP nomination. Beyond the question raised by Dionne today about the dangers to Bush of moving too far to placate his base again, isn’t the bigger question whether or not the GOP can even field a candidate in 2008 that would be supported by independents or moderates in their own party? If your party’s potential nominees have ditched their own principles to curry favor with what in essence is a fringe group, to the point that Chuck Hagel looks moderate by comparison, why would any independent or swing voter cast a vote for you after eight years of Bush?
This is the problem that Bush and Rove have created for the GOP by overestimating the country’s support for conservative policies. Whether the problem is Bush and Rove’s ineptitude in carrying them out, or the policies themselves voters in recent polls have made it clear that they don’t want what the GOP is selling, namely what the American Taliban wants, yet the party’s 2008 nominees are stumbling over each other in a rush to kiss the ass cheeks of the party’s fringe element. In doing so, the party is hanging out to dry this year their moderates, who as Chris Shays noted, are an endangered species this November:
Bush's best shot at a quick jolt upward in his approval ratings is among conservatives in his own party, who are already more inclined to support him than anyone else and might come home in response to a presidential tilt rightward. But Rep. Chris Shays, a moderate from Connecticut, noted that many of the House Republicans most endangered in this fall's election -- himself included -- are moderates who would be hurt if his party and his president moved farther right.
"His going to the right to move up from 35 percent is not going to help us out," Shays, speaking for his fellow moderates, said in an interview. "It doesn't help me out for him to appeal to his conservative base."
Shays, who is at the top of Democratic target lists, was reelected with 52 percent of the vote in 2004 and faces the same opponent, Democrat Diane Farrell, this year. Shays is the one being judged this fall, not Bush. "Obviously, he should be true to himself and his principles," Shays said of the president, "but if he is looking for issues, he should be looking for issues that are helpful to those of us who are targets."
On the other hand, many of the House's staunchest conservatives -- such as Mike Pence of Indiana and John Shadegg of Arizona -- want Bush to emphasize conservative themes, including deep domestic spending cuts. But a frustrated Shays notes that conservatives urging the president to appeal to his base represent solidly Republican districts.
"Pence's election isn't in jeopardy," he said. "Shadegg's election isn't in jeopardy."
And yet Rove has nothing in his toolbag to help moderates like Shays.
The GOP counters that they will hold on this year by making Nancy Pelosi out to be a bogeywoman and making each race a local referendum on whether or not voters want their representative taking orders from Pelosi. Fair enough. But ask those same voters in swing districts like Shays' if they want their representative to take orders from James Dobson or Tony Perkins. The answer of course is that they wouldn't.
So why would those same voters, in more and more red-to-purple districts across the country, want their presidential candidate in 2008 to pander to those same fringe leaders?