If present trends continue, the Republican Party is about to be struck by a "nuclear winter" on November 7th. President George Bush will have proven to be his own best weapon of mass [self-]destruction. He is likely to have completely devastated the Republican Party by the time he leaves office.
This column is not an election predictor. Heaven forefend. Rather, I am trying to look into the future, to discern where the Republican Party is headed when it begins the long journey to recovery on November 8th.
Could current events be any worse for Republicans? Every day brings new reports of chaos and failure in Iraq. At home, Washington Post columnist Sebastian Mallaby calls America’s current posture "A Nadir of American Power." (WP 10/23/06). Mark Foley’s priestly abuser comes forward to keep Foleygate alive in the media. Even the brother of friendly fire hero Pat Tillman, an NFL player who volunteered to serve and was killed by accident in Afghanistan, has gone public with criticism of the war.
Perhaps the ultimate diss to the Republican Party is that political huckster Barack Obama is seriously being considered for the White House. What’s next?
Well, the American condition is only going to get worse. There is no sign of improvement in Iraq. We keep fumbling our foreign policy in North Korea, Iran, Somalia and the Middle East. By 2008 President Bush is likely to be more unpopular than Harry Truman was in 1952. The hydraulic pressure to evict Republicans from the executive branch will be inexorable.
My solution: it’s time for the Heartland to reassert itself in the Republican Party. The Republican Party is the heartland party, born at Ripon, Wisconsin, and electing Illinois’ Abe Lincoln as its first president.
Long ago, way back in 1969, Kevin Phillips published a prophetic political treatise. "The Emerging Republican Majority" predicted how the Republican Party would come to dominate the last decades of the twentieth Century. In 2006, however, Mr. Phillips formula for perpetual Republican power is fading fast.
And, in a devastating opinion piece Sunday in the New York Times, conservative David Brooks chronicles how the right-wing "base" of the Republican Party is totally divorced from reality. Rush Limbaugh & Co. are praying for fewer Republicans, not more. As we Episcopalians say, "Be careful what you pray for…your prayers may be answered."
At the 1952 Republican National Convention Illinois’ Senator Everett Dirksen doomed the candidacy of Thomas Dewey by saying "[Y]ou led us down the road to defeat." It’s time to tell the right-wing pied pipers such as Limbaugh, Hannity and others that they have led the Republican Party and, more importantly, the American people down the road to defeat, disgrace and devastation.
Yes, it’s time for the Heartland to reassert itself in the Republican Party, and it’s time for heartland values, not "conservative" paranoia and dystopia, to regain control.
Recently, in response to a column on Foleygate, I received the following response from an Illinois Republican County Chairman: "YOU ARE WRONG!!!! Haven’t you heard yet that these emails were are prank by a bunch of pages!!!!! Leave Dennis Hastert alone. And TAKE ME OFF YOUR STUPID email list!" Yes, there really are people who think Foleygate was a mirage.
The "emerging Republican majority" came to power during an era of increasingly polarized politics. "Fortress" states, where Democrats were no longer competitive, emerged for Republicans. The dichotomy was colorized in 2000 with depiction on television as "red states" and "blue states."
How is the Republican Party going to regroup and regain the trust of the American people? It won’t come quickly and it won’t be easy.
First, Republicans should ever so politely jettison the religious right, and let some religious adherents migrate to the Democratic Party. Why not give Democrats a few headaches with "values voters?" Values should be an essential part of public life and political leadership; but values should not be and cannot be a bludgeon used by extremists to terrorize the candidate selection processes of a national political party.
Second, Republicans should recognize that the era of the Red State "fortresses" will be passing quickly. It is time to de-polarize politics; the party that depolarizes first will seize majority status in the years ahead. Places such as Arizona and Florida are being inundated by boomer retirees who want to know how they are going to receive a comfortable retirement. Try telling them the larder is bare.
Instead of competing to insult the intelligence of the American people by avoiding obvious problems, future candidates will have to candidly address an army of retirees that is concerned with its well being. Red meat rhetoric will not suffice to keep red states in line. And, there is an obvious emerging Republican weakness: Democrats are becoming competitive in red states; Republicans are becoming extinct in blue states.
Who will be the new leaders in this surprisingly competitive environment? For Democrats, the likes of Obama and Clinton will soon seem dated. For Republicans, Senator John McCain, the obvious choice in 2008, may turn out to be an unfortunate fall guy, the Jerry Ford or Jimmy Carter of his era, a sincere transitional figure who is unable to decouple from the past to seize the future.
In 1952, Republicans went outside the political universe when they nominated a popular but untested former general for president. With passage of time the "Eisenhower years" have come to look increasingly positive and productive.
I have been involved with politics and the media for forty years. And so I now take the long view of politics and government. The tide rolls in; the tide rolls out. Because of the corruptibility of human nature, no party can monopolize the common weal in perpetuity. Luckily for me, I was an early critic of Texas Governor George Bush, broadcasting a withering TV commercial attack on Bush in New Hampshire in December, 1999. Unlike the American people, I was never fooled by the Bush swagger. I can legitimately say "I told you so."
I remember that the Johnson landslide in favor of Democrats in 1964 was followed by the Johnson landslide against Johnson two years later. Johnson lost the trust of the American people in the space of two years. He lied. He paid for his sin. So will Bush. With all of their machinations and duplicity, voting for the war in Iraq before being against it being a classic example, the Democrats have still not recovered the trust they held in the 89th Congress where I served as a fly-on-the-wall. And so, the field in 2008 will be wide open to both Republicans and Democrats.
If Republicans seize the opportunity to molt from their hard core right-wing orthodoxy, and if Republicans produce a leader/candidate who is unafraid to confront the failures of the Bush years–”all of which is a very unlikely prospect given the mentality expressed in my e-mail from a county chairman–”the Republican Party will be on its long and slow road to recovery.
In the interim, Decider-in-Chief George Bush will have proven the most potent weapon of his own mass self-destruction since Saddam Hussein lead his nation of Iraq into the chaos and collapse culminating in his violent removal by the Bush Dynasty that had once embraced him.
The heartland gave birth to the Republican Party, and only common sense Midwestern values can provide rebirth for a party that has been poorly led, mesmerized by its own sense of insufferable arrogance, and that betrayed the nation just as surely and as rapidly as Lyndon Johnson did forty years earlier.
America is looking for a leader. But that leader has yet to appear in either party. Until then, we will all be victims of the "nuclear winter" created by George Bush.