You can’t really expect E.J. Dionne to understand Republicans, and in this piece he lives up to expectations. Dionne says,
The old conservatism is in crisis, Bush Republicanism (of the son’s variety but not the father’s) is a tainted brand, and no candidate has emerged as the Next New Thing that the party wants or needs.
Actually, Republicans are looking for the old conservatism — Reaganite conservatism. It’s nice to see Dionne sticking up for Bush I Republicanism, though. I don’t recall him being so charitable when Bush I was president.
[Senator Charles] Hagel was onto something when he spoke of the country “experiencing a political reorientation, a redefining and moving toward a new political center of gravity” and of our current problems “overtaking the ideological debates of the last three decades.”
You hear this virtually every election cycle, and there’s always a little bit of truth to it. For better or for worse, political parties are not designed to nominate presidential candidates who will satisfy the alleged national yearning for a movement toward a new center of gravity. This year, though, the Republicans may actually do something of the sort, and without resorting to Chuck Hagel. The Democrats will not.
Next Dionne says,
[Giuliani] is drawing support from Republicans who can’t bring themselves to back the previous front-runner, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, or former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who has a lot of party establishment support but hasn’t made the sale because of too much obvious flip-flopping.
There’s some truth here, but Dionne overlooks a huge factor in Giuliani’s favor — the fact that he polls so well against the Democratic contenders.
Dionne then looks at the second tier candidates:
[There] should be an opening for the conservative dark horses, former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas and Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas. But they have been unable to fill the void on the right, perhaps because even traditionalist conservatives reluctantly sense, as Hagel does, that the old formulas aren’t working.
What conservatives sense is that these candidates lack the stature needed to win in November 2008. The opening is for Fred Thompson whose stature exceeds that of Huckabee and Brownback, and who can probably pass as a traditionalist conservative.
Back to Giuliani,
Giuliani’s core weakness may not be any of those most widely discussed: the fact that he supports legal abortion and gay rights, his divorces, his strained relations with his children. His real problem is that his discourse is still rooted in the immediate post-9/11 period, even as the country has moved on. . . .a lot has happened since 9/11, notably the Bush administration’s use of our collective anger at terrorists to inveigle us in a war in Iraq that most Americans now view as a terrible mistake. The president’s tumbling approval ratings signal the electorate’s belief that tough-guy rhetoric and a go-it-alone, multiple-war approach are inadequate to the battle we’re in.
Dionne may be ahead of the curve here, but right now this sounds like wishful thinking. Giuliani’s fantastic poll numbers suggest that Americans still want a “tough-guy” president.
What about McCain?
The war. . .has weakened McCain, one of its strongest supporters.
McCain still polls pretty well head-to-head with a Democrat. What’s hurting McCain the most is that conservatives who support the war dislike him for other reasons.
To comment on this post, go here.