Tuesday, March 27, 2007


The GOP '08 Conundrum

Ross Douthat assesses the Republican field -- with or without Fred Thompson:

The GOP has three major problems going into 2008: The war in Iraq, the exhaustion of the Reaganite "tax cuts and small government" domestic agenda, and the fact that the party's culture-war agenda, long a winner for the party, looks increasingly hard-edged and bigoted to many moderate voters. Therefore, what the party needs for the general election is a candidate who can plausibly distance himself from both the failures in Iraq abroad and Grover Norquist at home, and who can find a way to reach out to cultural moderates without abandoning the party's principles on issues like abortion. It needs a heterodox conservative, in other words, and it has a bunch of them in the primary campaign - but the leading contenders have heterodox records on precisely the wrong issues.

For instance, the party needs someone who's solidly right-wing on issues like immigration or gun control or campaign-finance reform - issues that matter more to the base than to swing voters - and who can use this credibility to be more ideologically innovative on, say, taxes or health care or even foreign policy. Instead, it has a collection of candidates who are heterodox on immigration and gun control and campaign finance reform, and who are therefore rushing to embrace the party line on taxes and the Iraq War in an effort to gain cover for their deviations elsewhere. It needs someone whose pro-life convictions are a given, and who is therefore free to distance himself from the Jerry Falwells in the party without forfeiting the support of most social conservatives. Instead, it has candidates with dubious pro-life convictions who are rushing to embrace the Falwells of the world to cover over their weaknesses on that front. And so on.
In other words, one can see how any one of the Republican front-runners could win the general election, but getting through the primary is problematic, at best.

However, one of the reasons why there is a seeming spark for Thompson is that he does seem to line up as a conventional conservative on most of the social issues that Douthat outlines above. Immigration may be a notable exception. Oh, yes, and he did vote
for McCain-Feingold.

Meanwhile, the one candidate who actually reflects Douthat's profile, including having "heterodox" views on foreign policy -- Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas -- can't get out of the
low single digits.

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