Monday, July 2, 2007

Weekly Podium: "Don't Warm Up Yet, Fat Lady"

(Cross-posted at The New Dominion)

With the various tension-filled primaries in the state of Virginia, the GOP split over the immigration bill, and the growing discontent among conservatives with President Bush, one could see truth in the predictions from many pro-Democrat bloggers and columnists that the death of the Republican Party is all but assured at this point.

However, is it time to cue the fat lady on the GOP opera? I wouldn’t believe that just yet.

Wasn’t the same optimism about the Democratic Party’s future felt after the narrow election of Jimmy Carter in 1976? Wasn’t the same also felt when Bill Clinton was elected in 1992? Wasn’t conservatism on its way out after the Watergate scandal and the early ’90s recession?

Indeed, it was. Liberals had a bright and sunny optimism about their major party’s chances to implement a more liberal/socialist agenda (depending on how leftist they were). Both times, the White House and Capitol Hill were under Democrat control. However, both times, the GOP rallied to regain power within four years.

This is not to say that the immediate future of the GOP is entirely hopeful. The party certainly has many discontent members to answer to.

However, as I opined in the past, the Republican Party has shown that they operate best when in certain situations. The GOP functions well when they control either the legislative or executive branch of federal government - but during the six years of controlling both, they ended up dropping the ball. Some of that came from a departure from the basis of conservatism (smaller government, focus on national security and the economy), some of that came from a bit of overzealousness on the part of many party leaders.

A small revolution within the party could be a good thing for the GOP. In fact, it’s already begun. The most recent Rasmussen Reports polls show that the number of people that identify themselves as Republicans has increased notably within the past month, to 32 percent (which is a full percentage point higher). Conservatives are already beginning to look forward to find a leader that more closely represents their interests for 2008 - instead of simply going along with the current figurehead of the party, President Bush.

Another notable statistic from that poll is the fact that Republicans polled higher than Democrats when those polled were asked “Who do you trust more on immigration?” among unaffiliated voters. The GOP was, not too long ago, trusted less than the Dems on every issue asked. Now, they’ve gained more trust than their major party counterparts on the issues of national security and immigration among unaffiliated voters.

Throw in the fact that the Democrat-controlled Congress has lost 15 to 20 points of support, according to Real Clear Politics, and it seems that most of the gains the Democrats have made amongst the American public has begun to fritter away.

While the Republicans crowed about a “permanent majority” in the early part of the decade, I don’t think many of them really believed that this would lead to the eventual demise of the Democratic Party. Most conservatives understand the need for a competing party, and (sometimes grudgingly) accept their existence and their positive contributions to our society as a whole.

However, the solid-liberal and socialist wings of the Democratic Party would love nothing more than to see the demise of the opposing major party, and growing numbers of these parts of the party are making these feelings known. Socialism, in most cases, requires a one-party system to function within the halls of power. What the Democrats may not realize is that, while the momentum swung away from the GOP on a national level in 2006, the global movement in the western world has been mostly swinging towards a more Republican-friendly climate.

Proof of this can be found in the recent elections in Europe, among other locations across the globe. In Germany, the election of Angela Merkel as chancellor and the plurality won by Merkel’s moderate-right CDU in 2005 was a change from the socialist SPD, headed by former chancellor (and American critic) Gerhard Schroeder. More recently, the election of Nicolas Sarkozy to the French presidency and his own UMP party’s ascent to control in the French parliament has also led to the initiation of anti-socialist reforms in government and society in France.

The consecutive elections of Vincente Fox and Felipe Calderon in Mexico, the deradicalization of the Worker‘s Party and election (and re-election) of the centrist Lula in Brazil, and the backlash against Hugo Chavez in Venezuela also show a movement away from hard-left politics in Central and South America.

What could possibly become the biggest threat to the aspirations of the Democratic Party could be their current frontrunner for the presidential nomination. Hillary Clinton probably has more global name recognition than any of the candidates from either party. Her last name evokes memories of “happy times” for many Democrats (despite the numerous scandals that are also associated with the name). She currently holds an average lead of 14 points over Barack Obama in the major polls, according to Real Clear Politics. With the Republican Party going through some turmoil, and her solid-frontrunner status, one would think that Clinton should have this in the bag.

However, Clinton also holds some of the highest “unfavorable” ratings amongst all major party candidates, as well. In his June 21st column the director of the UVa. Center of Politics, Dr. Larry Sabato, spoke about what Clinton’s possible election as the 44th U.S. president could mean.

In reference to the partisanship that would ensue if Clinton won, Sabato stated, “Democrats would have to live with the consequences. There is simply no question that Senator Clinton would be the third deeply polarizing President in a row, following her husband’s divisive and partially wasted tenure and George W. Bush’s deeply disappointing turn at bat. We bet that she would have a short honeymoon and would be unable to convince her millions of critics and detractors that she had changed - or was different than they long ago concluded she was. At a time when the nation could use a unifier and a healer - to the extent that any President can perform those roles - partisan warfare would be at fever pitch from Day One.”

Sabato later goes on to speculate about the repercussions of a Clinton win when he predicted: “The inevitable controversies of the Presidency would erode her shaky support among swing voters faster than is usually the case. The midterm election of 2010 may not be the fiasco for Democrats that 1994 was - there were few historical parallels for Bill Clinton’s electoral disaster in his first term-yet the GOP would almost certainly make a good start on the comeback trail for control of Congress, governorships, and the state legislatures (in the all-important redistricting election that will determine much of the legislative line-drawing for a full decade). Granted, it is virtually impossible to get partisans to think about their long-term interests, but in this respect, Democrats would probably pay a sizeable price throughout the 2010s for a Clinton victory in 2008.”

I will be honest when I say that I doubt that the GOP can regain full control of Congress in 2008. There aren’t enough favorable Senate races in the Republican Party’s favor at this time. The House of Representatives would require a reversal of 2006 to swing back into GOP hands. However, there are many factors that show that the Republican Party still has plenty of life left in it.

It would be wise to tell the fat lady to sit down, because the GOP opera is not about to end just yet. In fact, I think the appropriate music for the Republican Party would be Daughtry’s recent chart-topper, “It’s Not Over.”

No comments: