Sunday, December 23, 2007

WaPo Picks Up the Factionalization Watch

...Sort of. Money quote from Michael Shear and David Broder's article:

For three decades, the Republican presidential nominating contest has served to unify the national party's coalition of social, economic and foreign policy conservatives in advance of a general election fight with Democrats. This year, it is ripping that coalition apart.

While this characterization oversimplifies the interest groups that have formed the GOP coalition, it is absolutely correct in pointing out that there is no unifying candidate in the current GOP crop who can appeal to all three groups. Moreover, this opening statement from the column hits the nail right on the head: the primary campaign this year is driving a massive wedge between libertarians, evangelical conservatives, and neo-conservatives.

The Moderate Voice seems to go a bit further than the Washington Post article, calling the GOP situation a "profound identity crisis." This is all something I've been droning on about for weeks, even months: the GOP coalition is unsustainable in its current form. It is increasingly unlikely that this coalition will remain intact on Election Day 2008- the three primary interest groups mentioned above are increasingly realizing how little they have in common with each other in the post-Cold War era. I suspect the Dems may face similar problems thanks to incredibly widespread disillusionment from their bases, but I don't think that is nearly as likely unless a variety of things happen.

As I've been suggesting, the GOP's splintering means one or both of the following is likely to happen:

1. Factionalization resulting in one or two credible third party runs, along with the likely beginning of one or two traditional GOP groups permanently abandoning the GOP for such a third party.

2. Realignment in which at least one of the GOP core interest groups switches overwhelmingly in favor of the Democratic candidate, becoming an important "swing" vote in the process. In this scenario, we would also expect some traditionally Democratic interest groups to switch to the GOP.

My intuition is that at least one of these scenarios will unfold as long as the nominee is Romney, Giuliani, or Huckabee. Romney and Giuliani deeply lack bona fides when it comes to social conservatives and libertarians; after the Bush administration, both groups are deeply suspicious of candidates lacking such bona fides, particularly when the candidate comes across as being quite insincere. Moreover, their campaigns are largely focused on appealing to what I am going to call "Pu-Pu Platter" Republicans: Republicans who believe whatever the majority of Republicans believe. These are also known as the last remnants of Bush-supporting Republicans. They lack any real ideological base, except maybe on foreign policy where they subscribe whole-hog to neoconservative notions of American power. If one of them is the nominee it is impossible to see libertarians remaining in the Republican coalition. In 2006, the split of the libertarian vote (historically a solid GOP vote) was a key factor in the Dems' capture of Congress; if Giuliani or Romney were to win the GOP nomination, I think you'd see the libertarian vote become solidly Democrat and/or third party (Bloomberg?).

Huckabee, on the other hand, is increasingly viewed by libertarians and neo-cons alike as the reincarnation of Jimmy Carter. Moreover, his evangelical ideology is scaring the hell out of many Pu-Pu Platter Republicans, who are suddenly seeing the results of their "Solid South" strategy. In some ways, you could conceivably see both a good number of neo-cons switching to vote for the Dem (especially if its Hillary) and a good number of union members voting for Huckabee (especially if it's Obama). If it's Hillary-Huckabee, I think you'd also have a virtual guarantee of a credible third party run by either a libertarian and/or Bloomberg.

There is, I think, one candidate who actually could unite the party enough to keep the old Reagan-era coalition together. That candidate would be McCain. McCain is certainly far from perfect for any of the core Republican interest groups; but he is also far better for each interest group than some of the alternatives. He comes across as sincere on most issues, is very much a social conservative (despite a continued false perception amongst some evangelicals that he is pro-choice), is far more genuinely free-trade than anyone else in the GOP field, has a demonstrated record of pushing for smaller government, and is a believer in both the use of American power as a force for democracy AND in the importance of using that power ethically.

Again, McCain has serious flaws when it comes to each of the core interest groups in the Republican Party. But he also has plenty of credibility on many of the most important issues to those groups; matched up against someone like Hillary or Edwards, McCain would be incredibly appealing to every GOP interest group. I don't think you could say that with respect to any of the other potential GOP candidates. On top of that, I suspect he is the one GOP candidate who would prevent or mitigate the effects of a Bloomberg run.