It was all so much less complicated when there was an heir apparent. But this time around, it's not even clear what such an heir would inherit. The elephant in the room, the one the candidates prefer to ignore, is the failed presidency of George W. Bush. His legacy will be a burden to whichever Republican stumbles to the finish line. Yet in the same poll where nearly 60 percent of the Republicans expressed dissatisfaction with the presidential field, 39 percent of the respondents wanted a nominee who would continue Bush's policies, and another 39 percent want a nominee more conservative than Bush. That puts the GOP base a little at odds with the general electorate, given that Bush's approval is in the mid-20s nationally, falling into the teens in some states. The stubborn yet dissatisfied base of the party presents a dilemma for candidates who hold any hope of winning the general election. How can a potential nominee win the favor of a Bush-loving GOP base without poisoning his prospects in November 2008?
Perhaps, then, it is a small blessing to the current crop of candidates that none of them is Bush's chosen successor. The field is, at least, wide open. But without an obvious heir apparent, the Reagan rule -- the tradition during primary season of "doing no harm" to fellow Republicans -- no longer applies. Thus the war of attrition starts, and the second-tier candidates begin searching for ways to separate themselves from the other long shots and gain on the vulnerable front-runners. Lately, while Romney aims his attacks at possible Democratic opponents, posturing as the nominee-in-waiting, he finds himself a target of fellow Republicans. Sam Brownback, the Kansas senator and self-styled "true conservative" in the field, has found a particularly inflammatory way to crack the top tier. He has decided to gay-bash Romney, challenging his position on gay rights, specifically the former governor's past statements about homosexual leaders serving in Boy Scout troops. The Brownback campaign issued a statement which, in part, read: "Romney's openness to gay scout leaders conflicts with the Scout Oath, which requires Scouts to be 'morally straight.'" David Brody, senior national correspondent at the Brownback-friendly Christian Broadcast Network, writes that "once the Brownback campaign brought [these issues] up, it's fair game."
The remainder of the Republican primary season promises to be a soul-searching experience for the party that has long treated the White House as an entitlement. More comfortable taunting Democrats for lacking core principles than questioning their own, the GOP's presidential aspirants seem a bit unsure of themselves, of their president, and of their party's moral authority and political standing. One of these candidates will emerge as the GOP standard bearer for 2008, of course. But in a party with no natural heirs, it's the value of the inheritance that's in doubt. Although 15 months still remain until the election, the Republican nomination looks less and less like a golden ticket to the Oval Office than an invitation to become their party's Walter Mondale or Michael Dukakis -- a punch-line proxy for an era when the GOP lost its moorings.
Sunday, July 29, 2007
Salon makes me happy
Reading stories like this almost (almost) makes up for the depression I felt back in November of 2004: