Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Biggest Loser in the World

Mark Halperin, NYT, 10/01/06. It's hard to excerpt the best bits because it's all 100% wrong.

Yet two years of controversy over the Iraq war and Hurricane Katrina, and the perils of high gas prices and low poll numbers, have led many to believe that the Republicans' strategy of fighting from the base has worn out its welcome. Therefore, this view holds, a campaign that appeals to moderates, one waged from the center, is the only way for the party to maintain control of the House and Senate.

Interesting theory, but it probably won't work. If the Republicans want to keep their majorities in the midterm elections, their best chance is to stick with the old, base-driven Bush-Rove electoral strategy.

Why? In the eyes of the Bush team, America is a polarized country, one where there are fundamental divisions worth fighting over. A president -- and a party -- should not worry about slender margins of victory or legislative control. The goal is to accumulate just enough power to use the energies and passions of the base to effect ideological change in the nation's laws and institutions, even if -- sometimes especially if -- those changes might be at odds with majority public opinion.

For the Republicans, this brand of politics works because the United States in many ways remains a fundamentally conservative nation. Polls consistently indicate that there are more staunchly conservative Americans than liberal ones. Republican politicians, therefore, have the advantage of being able to proudly announce what they really think. They can go on offense.


This is exactly what happened in the last two elections: Mr. Bush and Mr. Rove fired up the base on national security, taxes and social issues and found a way to win a majority of the electorate, even as they lost the allegiance of a majority of the country over all. The national security debate, the visibility of the Clintons and the momentum the Republicans gain from Mr. Bush's rising poll numbers -- all of these echo previous election cycles.

Critics of the Bush administration assert that the politics of the base has run its course, and that the Iraq war, the partisan zealousness and the conservative social policies of the administration have made voters yearn for a more centrist, bipartisan government. But Mr. Bush's opponents may be imprudently lulled by the current storyline and broad national polls, both of which miss the power and consequence of a Republican base that may have one more victory to give.

(tip from reader p)