Friday, August 19, 2005

The Republican 2008 Quandary...

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I've already elaborated upon the huge undertaking ahead for the Democratic Party leading up to the 2008 election. And yet I believe it will be the Republican's who face the most challenging task in sustaining their centrist, mainstream pretensions to the American people... in the shadow of President Bush's pending departure.

While many Democratic activists, scorned by Kerry's nomination, and failed Presidential campaign, are currently entertaining some staunchly partisan, potential candidates, as evidenced by Senator Feingold's rising popularity in a poll on the Daily Kos, I remain hopeful that the lessons of 2000, and 2004 will be learned, and a candidate of substance, sincerity, and moderation will emerge as the Democratic nominee. As I've stated, thus far, my favorite is Senator Evan Bayh.

But in this Primary battle... in this battle against partisanship, a battle against the likes of Howard Dean slurring all Republican's as racists, a battle against the kind of protectionist insanity that would see us re-negotiating vital trade agreements, a battle against the extreme and FOR a relevant, moderate, electorally viable platform and the political initiative... Democrats will not be alone.

Bill Frist, a man whose political ambitions were highlighted a couple of days ago by Trent Lott, has had an interesting few weeks to say the least. To be clear, in my opinion, Bill Frist will not be the Republican nominee. Governator Schwarzenegger has about as much chance as Bill Frist (i.e. none). But it's interesting to study Frist's recent political maneuverings as a general reference for the challenges that lie ahead for the Republican Party.

Firstly, on July 29th, Frist gave a speech highlighting his support for Stem Cell Research, in what was perceived by many to be a courageous move in opposition to the President's stated policy. Frist declared aspirationally ;), "A Cure today may be just a theory, a hope, a dream. But the promise is powerful enough that I believe this research deserves our increased energy and focus. Embryonic stem cell research must be supported. It’s time for a modified policy -- the right policy for this moment in time."

The more cynical amongst us recognize the application of political triangulation when we see it. Frist was asserting his own moderate credentials to set out his stall as a viable Presidential candidate, capable of appealing to both Democrats and Republicans. But, in demonstrating this tactic of moderation, Frist was clobbered with an instantaneous response from the Evangelical right, the cornerstone of the Republican Party base:

EVANGELICAL CLOBBERING!

So, after this very public dressing down, it came as no surprise yesterday, when Frist passionately came out in favor of "Intelligent Design," and its teaching in the classroom alongside the theory of Evolution. A policy that is wildly popular with the religious right. The transparency of Frist's contrived positioning may been poor electioneering on his part, but, to be fair, that doesn't necessarily reflect, exclusively, upon the Senate Majority Leader. There is a basic expectation in the Party, quite understandably, that there is no need to drift towards the center when Bush has won two successive elections on a socially conservative platform.

But there in lies the rub for Democrats... the success of this Administration has not been, regardless of what many would like to think, the result its socially conservative policies. The success of this Administration has been the responsibility of one man... a supreme political heavyweight, whether you like it or not...George W.

Successive election victories clearly underline Dubya's qualities. His greatest strength is his ability to transcend policy discussion, the nuance of debate, the rationale, and logic, and simply appeal, in a very human way, to people's gut. He represents a right wing platform but appeals to the nation as a moderate, sincere and trustworthy Commander in Chief. There is a vacuum of electability that his departure creates. This will be exacerbated, of course, if John McCain... a man with more crossover appeal than any other politician currently in office... chooses to run again... because he will inevitably lose, and further entrench the notion that the Republican's have abdicated the center ground. The only man that I can see who can possibly bridge the divide between Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and electoral success as well as George W. Bush is Rudy Giuliani, ironically a social liberal... and that is purely down to his unquestionable reputation earned in the aftermath of September 11th. And yet, it is highly unlikely that Giuliani will run.

Many names have been put forward already... Bob Woodward is convinced that five heart attacks a day won't stop Dick Cheney from running... there's Mitt Romney from Massachusetts... but, its early days yet, and an unknown face could soon emerge. Irrespective I contend the battle against the respective extremes in either party during the primary campaign will be where the next election is won. And even though Republican's might not care to recognize it, it’s a lot easier to earn the respect of the Democratic base from the center than it is to codify the Religious right and win their support.

Interesting times ahead leading up to 2008 on both sides of the political spectrum... and plenty of reason to believe this election will be just as close as in 2000 and 2004.

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