Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Republican Conundrum

Michigan has spoken. It has voted for its Native Son, Mitt Romney, for President in the Republican primary. Thus, Huckabee won Iowa, McCain New Hampshire and South Carolina, and Romney Wyoming, Nevada and Michigan. The general assumption is that the Republicans will lose in November, but Republicans do not want to nominate a candidate who will lead to a landslide defeat.

The problem is not that the Republicans have failed to coalesce on a candidate unlike recent elections in which an anointed candidate usually won the nomination. The problem is that none of the current candidates offer a broad appeal to the Republican base.

All have claimed the conservative mantra of Reagan. The more one claims to be Reagan’s successor, the less likely that is the reality. Reagan’s unique Presidency ended a generation ago.

I lived in Massachusetts for 18 years. A conservative Republican, adhering to the core Republican tenets, cannot get elected to statewide office. Thus, Mitt Romney ran for Governor of Massachusetts as a pro-choice, pro-immigration, pro-gun control, gay rights Republican. He then had an epiphany, not to be confused with a flip-flop, when he decided to run for President.

He also comes across as a preppie. It’s ok to be a preppie in Massachusetts, but the style does not necessarily connect with the voters of America. The secret of both Reagan and Clinton is that they touched the average American.

Senator John McCain is a war hero steadfast in his support of the Iraq War. He is genuine; his views do not shift with the wind, although he has been doing a lot of tacking recently. Unfortunately, with the exception of Iraq, his core values are mainly out of the mainstream of the Republican Party. His name is on the reviled McCain-Feingold abridgment of free speech. He supports amnesty for illegal immigrants, opposed the Bush tax cuts, and sold out the party with the Gang of 14 on judicial appointments. His views may appeal to independent and Democratic voters, as in New Hampshire and South Carolina, but not the Republican stalwarts. If he receives the nomination, then many Republicans will stay home on Election Day.

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, a former Democrat, was elected Mayor of New York as a moderate, law and order Republican. He also has a checkered personal history, and is irregular with Church attendance, but he clearly is the leader in a time of crisis. Giuliani understands that leadership consists of keeping your cool when everyone else is losing theirs. Unlike Romney, he has not wholeheartedly changed his positions. He also cleaned up New York and made it safe to take the subway again. Such a feat exhibits true leadership.

His strategy though is interesting, defying conventional wisdom. He wrote off Iowa and New Hampshire, hoping to gain momentum from Florida and the tri-state primaries. No one can remember the last time a candidate was elected President of the United States by ignoring the early caucuses and primaries.

Senator Fred Thompson was the media’s favorite candidate until he formally entered the race. His candidacy shifted into reverse at precisely that nanosecond, and was abandoned on January 22.

Governor Mike Huckebee is an evangelical Christian, thereby appealing to the Christian base of the GOP. He is very articulate and intelligent and can be a compelling campaigner. He is though on most issues a populist more in tune with the left in America, and was endorsed by the Teachers Union. The GOP may offer a big tent, but it does not cover teacher unions. Huckabee’s populism is as popular with Republicans as Edwards with the Democrats.

It’s doubtful that America wants another ethically charged, huckster Governor from Hope, Arkansas. He has the potential to revive the Goldwater debacle of 1964, especially with his national sales tax proposal of 25%. He can explain it anyway he wishes, but it’s still a regressive 25% sales tax, which disproportionately falls on lower income Americans. He also wants creationism taught in schools alongside evolution. Did anyone say “Scopes Monkey Trial?”

Ron Paul expresses the courage of his convictions, a rarity among politicians, but has the same popular resonance as Barry Goldwater 44 years ago.

Candidates such as Sam Brownback, Tom Tancredo, and Duncan Hunter never had a chance.

The problem for the Republican Party is that it has several base constituencies: economic and Main Street conservatives, Wall Street, Christian conservatives, blue collar workers, law and order/national security Americans, and libertarians. Only a masterful politician, like Reagan, can hold them together.

Wall Street, as much of the professional class, has been defecting to Democrats in recent years. Wall Street was also the core constituency of the first President Bush. His betrayal of his “No New Taxes” covenant with the American public may have played well on Wall Street, but gave us Clinton as President. Bush’s conversion from pro-choice to pro-life to secure his Presidency was not trusted by the party regulars. Neither are Romney’s nor McCain’s.

President Nixon pursued the Southern strategy, which moved the geographic base of the GOP from the Northeast to the Sun Belt. President Reagan reached out to the working class. The current candidates are doing their best to shrink the base.

President Reagan and the current President Bush were able to balance the bases of the Republican Party.

No current candidate has similar appeal for the Republican voters.

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