Tuesday, February 05, 2008

The Future of Both Parties Rides on This Election

Anyone else excited about watching the election returns tonight? This has been the best primary season in a generation, offering some very interesting candidates and two parties in complete flux. The Republicans thought they knew who they were but after the very curious presidency of George W. Bush, their coalition has shattered. The Democrats, meanwhile, have been in the weeds since Bill Clinton left office. Their recent takeover of Congress was as much due to Republican forfeiture as Democratic strength, so they too are struggling to define themselves.

On both sides we have candidates who are desperately trying to cling onto the old coalitions, hoping they can scotch tape their parties together just long enough for another spin in the Oval Office. Both sides also have transcendent candidates who are explicitly (McCain) or implicitly (Obama) rejecting their party’s status quo. In appropriate fashion, the conservative is trying to pull his party back to the traditional values of pre movement conservativism – it’s the restoration of the Eisenhower/Nixon wing. The liberal is trying to catapult his party forward into a new era, attempting to give modern liberalism the champion it’s never had.

How this election turns out will dramatically affect each party. Here’s how I see how these four potential presidencies would impact their respective parties.

If Hillary Clinton wins, the Democrats will stay on their current course, not a movement of ideas but a force of institutional might. The diverse special interests which make up the Democratic party will each continue to get their piece of the federal pie and voters will continue to see Democrats as a party that talks big but acts small, more concerned with appeasement than action.

If Barack Obama wins, the Democrats will evolve into a movement party with the tenants of contemporary liberalism eagerly pursued much in the way Reagan pursued his vision of conservativism. This is actually the worst-case-scenario for movement conservatives as Obama will not just win votes but will change minds. It’s not that he’s a centrist, it’s that he could pull the entire center of American politics leftward. That is the potential power of his personality.

If Mitt Romney wins, the Republicans would stagger on as is, gasping out the last breaths of movement conservativism. Unfortunately for Republicans, a Romney presidency would give the party a false sense of security much like the Democrats had under Bill Clinton. They will not reinvigorate, will not reclaim Congress and they will not be in the majority again for quite awhile. Romney may say all the right things, but he is not a child of the conservative movement. He’s just one of its last followers. His presidency would delay the necessary reckoning.

If John McCain wins, the Republican party is done as we know it. The old guard will have a small resurgence but traditional conservativism was never a majority belief system and the Republicans will not want to become the permanent and loyal opposition once again. Instead, I see them reaching either towards a revived small government libertarianism (the Ron Paul direction) or a big government social conservativism (the Mike Huckabee direction). President McCain would be like Senator McCain, a maverick unattached to a movement, leaving his party to figure out for itself which direction it wants to go next.

Interestingly, I think if the Republicans lose this election (no matter who is the nominee), they will have their much-needed reckoning and come out stronger for it, perhaps even shedding the baggage that has ruined movement conservativism as exemplified by Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich. If the Democrats lose, it really matters who the nominee is. If it’s Clinton, her loss would just guarantee Obama as the nominee in 2012. If Obama loses, the Democrats are screwed. They have no one even close to Obama in likability or ability to articulate the liberal agenda.

Today is big. Super big. The futures of two parties are riding on the outcomes.

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Blogger Dyre42 said...

If this election season were any more interesting I'd be on the primary coverage page of CNN pressing F5 over and over again while muttering "c'mon" like a mantra.

8:39 PM  

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