Sunday, December 17, 2006

outlook not so good

So says the Magic 8 Ball on whether we'll see McCain or Romney moving into the West Wing in two years. Based on my very amateur, probably completely wrong analysis, the Republicans will have a tough row to hoe in 2008, mostly due to the war in Iraq.

As Matt Yglesias and other commentators have pointed out, during the remainder of his presidency, Bush seems unlikely to (a) withdraw significant numbers of troops from Iraq or (b) find a way to stop the bloodshed and manage a political resolution to the country’s problems. This most likely means that Iraq—and the Republicans' political fortunes—will continue to bleed until Bush leaves office.

Given this, I don’t see a scenario where a Republican nominee for president has a good chance of winning in 2008. Right now, as possible candidates (in rough order of popularity), you have Giuliani, McCain, Rice, Gingrich, Romney, Brownback, Pataki, Bloomberg, Huckabee, Hagel, Hunter, Thompson, and Tancredo.

Gingrich and Pataki are not viable candidates in a general election—probably enough Republicans will realize this to stymie their nomination. Also, Giuliani, Bloomberg, and Pataki don’t have a chance of winning the primaries—they’re too liberal on too many issues. I don’t know much about Hunter and Thompson, but I’ll count them as long shots. Rice is too closely identified with Bush and the failed Iraq policy to have a chance—also, no matter how much conservative elites love her, count me unconvinced that a black woman has a chance of winning the Republican primaries in the South and Mountain West. Romney and McCain—the two candidates with perhaps the best chance of winning a general election who could also conceivably win the nomination—have been strong supporters of Bush’s Iraq policy. As Digby has pointed out, McCain’s recent calls for more troops could backfire if the president actually goes down that road and the situation does not improve. Given my assumptions that Iraq will still be screwed in two years and that U.S. troops will still be in the middle of it, McCain and Romney would have a tough time explaining their support for what is already a toxic policy—by then it will be pure poison. Also, Romney’s religion and past support for gay rights are likely to trip him up in the primaries.

McCain has publicly opposed the president on some high-profile issues—torture being foremost—which would advantage him in the general but hurt him in the primaries. (Never mind that McCain actually accomplished very little in rolling back officially-sanctioned torture--he managed to convince the press that he was really socking it to the president.) Also, he makes a lot of Republicans uneasy because of his stances on the environment and immigration, and because of some ambiguity in his position on abortion.

Hagel has the advantage of having distanced himself from the administration’s Iraq policy (helps him in the general, hurts him in the primary). He has a moderate image—probably due to his foreign policy positions—but he’s actually fairly conservative. His Achilles heels are his support for comprehensive immigration reform and his tenure in the Senate—he’s easy to tar as a Washington insider (I think McCain overcomes this problem through his high visibility and reformist credentials).

Brownback is actually similar to Hagel in many ways, but I’d say his chances are better. He’s more socially conservative, and he’s taken care lately to strike out on his own on Iraq. Also he’s not as well-known, which, given the recent history of the Republican Congress, is a benefit. However, he voted for comprehensive immigration reform, which conservative voters are unlikely to forgive unless he changes his tune.

The wild card is immigration—if the Democrats pass an immigration bill that is perceived as overreaching, it could propel a hardline anti-immigrant demagogue like Tancredo to the nomination. I don’t think the Democrats will do this, though. As long as they maintain their standing among latinos as the lesser of two evils on immigration—which seems likely given the way this issue motivates conservatives to do stupid things—they will not risk creating a new generation of Reagan Democrats by “going too far” on immigration.

Huckabee is well-positioned as an outsider who can reshape his position on Iraq as necessary. But he seems less able than Romney and McCain to withstand the sort of intense, damaging scrutiny they are receiving now.

A caveat I would add is that if Republican elites realize they are doomed in 2008 without an about face on Iraq policy, you might see heightened pressure on Bush to pull troops out quickly. But if he actually does so, I don’t see how any Republican wins the general election. (It’s a Catch 22—conservatives have invested so much in success in Iraq that they have to advocate staying and winning to salvage any credibility on national security. But the longer we stay in Iraq, the more unpopular the war becomes and the less credibility conservatives have on national security.) If Bush doesn’t pull out, you might see McCain, Romney, and others turning on the president as he descends into Nixon-land. But I don’t know how they would then neutralize everything they’d committed to on the war up to that point.

The best possible candidate for the Republicans would be Lou Dobbs. Anti-immigrant, populist, anti-government, against the war in Iraq—he would kill in the current political environment. Fortunately for Democrats and the country, I don’t see anyone with those attributes among the current crop of candidates. We’ll see how much the candidates modify their stances in the next two years to approximate Dobbs’s.

In short, I think Republican support for the war in Iraq gives a Democrat the White House in 2008.


Anonymous said...

The Iraq war issue will be incredibly hard for any Republican nominee other than Hagel to overcome.

Karla said...

Do most republicans support the war? Just in our very conservative neighborhood, lots of people are moving away from Bush and even the republican party (but not toward the democrats). What might happen is a split on the right, which would cut down on republican power in 2008. I wonder if it is happening anywhere else but the reddest state in the union?

Yave said...

I suppose I should have been more clear--when I say Republican support for the war will give a Democrat the White House, I mean elite conservative support for the war: NRO, Weekly Standard, the administration, most Republicans in Congress, Fox News, etc. They have been behind this war 100% and they will have a hard time walking that back. Lots of conservative voters no longer support the war--that is why I think many of them are likely to vote Democrat in 2008 (given the right candidate).