Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Republican Prez in 2008 - Look into the Crystal Ball

Hat-tip to Joe Gandelman at TMV for pointing out Larry Sabato’s recent “Crystal Ball” analysis of the 2008 Republican Presidential prospects.

Some highlights first. Then I’ll set you straight…

In order to achieve the task of grasping a third consecutive presidential term, the Republicans almost certainly must fulfill several conditions:

  • President Bush must have had a successful second term, with significant policy achievements in several areas.
  • President Bush must be relatively popular--which for this polarizing president means maintenance of a job approval rating around 50 percent or better in national surveys.
  • The economy must be fair to good, and the international outlook (terrorism, Iraq , etc.) must be generally acceptable to the American people.
  • Finally, and perhaps most important of all, the GOP must nominate a moderate-conservative within the American political mainstream, taking care not to go too far right but also not too far to the left of the dominant conservative activist corps.

No disagreement here. Incidentally, as to that final point, Sabato uses the term “moderate conservative” in contrast to just plain “moderate,” so don’t get your hackles up. All it means is the candidate has to be able to win over the center without losing the base. Undeniable.

Here’s the most intriguing paragraph:

Should a moderate somehow win the GOP nod, say in a split field of conservatives, this political earthquake would likely generate a third-party, right-wing candidacy that could doom the Republican nominee in the fall by splitting the GOP vote. There can be little doubt that conservatives would mount such an effort, arguing that the loss of the White House for a term or two would be worth the lesson to the party for its apostasy. Let us quickly add that, unlike some others and contrary to the early polls, we do not expect any moderate-liberal Republican to secure the nomination in 2008. The GOP base is simply too conservative, and the risks for the GOP of a moderate-liberal nomination would be obvious to most party activists.
You can read the detail in the original article, but yes. Sabato is saying McCain, Giuliani, Schwarzeneger, Hagel, Pataki, and all the rest of the “moderate” Republicans are out. And if they’re not, the Republican Party loses.

I’m not sure I agree with him about yet another third-party fiasco. I think the more likely result of alienating the base is losing your money, volunteers, grass-roots enthusiasm, and voter turnout. But the result is the same.

Sabato also believes Cheney remains in the running, despite repeated public statements to the contrary.

Obviously, if something--God forbid--should happen to President Bush before 2008 and Cheney has succeeded to the presidency, then he might well run for a full term. (Sadly, American history is replete with examples of presidential death and assassination, so this possibility cannot be dismissed out of hand.) Moreover, we should note that astute observers such as Fred Barnes, with their excellent instincts and contacts, regard the wily Cheney as tanned, rested, and ready for 2008--simply awaiting a late nod from President Bush or Karl Rove that will take the rest of the Republican field by surprise and storm.

I’m a Cheney fan and wouldn’t mind this a bit, though he’d have some pretty serious negatives to overcome in the general election, due to repeatedly playing the “evil genius behind the throne” role in the Bush presidency in so much media commentary for what will have been nearly eight solid years by that time; plus having prior business experience as CEO of (gasp) Halliburton.

Sabato also, and appropriately, dismisses the chances of Jeb Bush.

True enough, America has had plenty of political dynasties, from the Rockefellers and the Kennedys to the Adamses and the Harrisons. However, no family has been able to secure more than two presidencies, and no family member has ever succeeded another family member. It's just too much, and Jeb Bush senses it. Had JFK lived to serve two terms, Robert Kennedy might well have tried to capture the family's third term in 1968--the Kennedys were rumored to have been making plans along these lines--but our bet is that it wouldn't have happened. Americans have a love-hate relationship with their celebrities, politicians and entertainers alike, and the public is fickle. After all, voters in a nation born of anti-monarchial revolution will naturally recoil from the establishment of a political royal line. After a few years past 2008, Jeb may be a possibility, and who would bet against another Bush serving in the Oval Office at some point in the future? (Don't forget about Jeb's dashing Latino son, George P. Bush, who possesses the perfect profile for the century of ethnic diversity to come.)
He’s not the first commentator to peg George P. Bush as the true rising star in the Bush family, rather than his dad Jeb. Jeb, through no fault of his own, is just not a viable option in 2008. Even if the Republican Party would nominate him, too much of the public will simply not give the same family that much power in that short a period of time. And because of that, I don’t think he’ll run, and if he did I don’t think he’d win the nomination. There’s not a thing he could do to change it either, other than to wait it out eight or twelve years.

Then it gets confusing. The leader of the pack as Sabato sees it is Senator Bill Frist. His analysis of why is sound, but I just don’t see it. It's about the charisma, stupid.

Other names he tosses out include Senator George Allen, Governor Mitt Romney, Senator Rick Santorum, and some long-shots including Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty.

This is the part of the analysis we call “throwing stuff against the wall to see if anything sticks.” Some interesting comments worth reading, but not much you won’t see any number of other places. Until we come to this…

Earlier, we mentioned the possibility of a Cheney candidacy as the incumbent president. What about the opposite extreme? Health problems could force Cheney out of the vice presidency, giving President Bush the opportunity to name his own successor as party nominee and, possibly, chief executive. How does this sound: vice president and GOP presidential nominee Condoleezza Rice? Stranger things have happened in American history!
That’s the one that will gain the most excitement among Republicans. Once again, I don’t see it happening. Furthermore, I don’t think it would be a good idea if it did. Condi has never run for any elective office, and unless she possesses a genius never before seen in American political history, that means she’s not prepared to run for president.

Of course, that's exactly why analysts like Sabato are intrigued by it. What a story! I just hope the party base prefers winning to great storylines when the time comes.


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