A unifier, not a divider, in 2008

William Rusher predicts that a major battle lies ahead within the Republican party whether or not President Bush is re-elected. Rusher’s piece appears in today’s Washington Times, but is not posted on the Times’ website.
Rusher agrees with the New Republic that the upcoming battle will mostly be over how much influence neo-conservatives should wield. The central issue supposedly will concern the extent to which American troops should be used to “improve the world.” Rusher observes, correctly, that when it comes to winning the support of ordinary Republican voters, the neo-conservatives are not operating from a position of strength. Thus, he expects them to get behind a popular figure such as John McCain.
I agree that there may well be a huge battle within the party in 2008, but I don’t think that it will have very much to do with neo-conservatives or even foreign policy. I don’t foresee a major split among Republicans over the issue of when and for what purpose our troops should be sent into battle. The consensus among Republicans is, and will likely remain, that troops should be sent only in response to a serious, though not necessarily imminent, threat to our security. That was the theory under which troops were sent into Iraq. Our experience there will not give rise to a more expansive view. Nor do I understand the neo-conservative position to be significantly more expansive. But to the extent that it is, that position will not have enough support to create a serious split in the party.
The split I foresee is between traditional conservatives and pragmatists. In my scenario, conservatives would balk at the “big government conservatism” of President Bush and demand a more traditionally conservative candidate. Pragmatists would balk at aspects of Bush’s social policy and demand a more socially moderate candidate. Neo-conservatives would take sides (and perhaps not monolithically) depending on their sense of how the champions of the two factions would handle foreign policy. But any foreign policy differences would be a side-show for most everyone else.
A wise and well-connected Republican has suggested that the Republicans might avoid a major battle if Dick Cheney runs for president in 2008. It is likely that Cheney could, indeed, bridge the gap between conservatives and pragmatists. But this scenario requires (a) that Bush be re-elected, (b) that he be popular in 2008, and (c) that Cheney agree to run. Cheney always insists that he will not run, and he again stressed in Tuesday’s debate that he does not aspire to the presidency. Remember, however, that Cheney was the “above the fray” guy who was supposed to help pick Bush’s running mate in 2000. One cannot rule out the possibility that Cheney will run for president in 2008, especially if he is asked to do so to head off a debilitating struggle within the party.


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