Russ Stewart is an attorney at law in Illinois and a brilliant political strategist and analyst. He writes, and I completely concur, with his analysis of the 2008 election.
Make no mistake about it: The Republicans are on the verge of eradication, if not extinction. If they don’t want to suffer the fate of the Federalists or Whigs, who vanished in the 1800s, their solution is simple: Lose the 2008 presidential election.
Let the country repudiate, and then forget, the Bush Administration.
In fact, the 2008 contest is really about future failure, not future “change.” Given the intractable situation in Iraq, coupled with a worsening economy – especially $4-a-gallon gasoline, inflation, and the collapse of the real estate market — the next president confronts a world of woe, and likely failure. It will be Jimmy Carter, Part Two.
To be sure, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John McCain want to win in 2008. But that winner will be a loser in 2012. The 2008 outcome will either reaffirm the country’s two-party system, or precipitate a transitional non-party system and future political realignment.
Throughout American history, presidents have been categorized as transformational, transitional or transient. Among the transformational, who prompted and presided over a major national political and ideological realignment, were Thomas Jefferson (1800), Andrew Jackson (1828), Abraham Lincoln (1860), Franklin Roosevelt (1932) and Ronald Reagan (1980). In those elections, their minority party surged into the majority.
A transitional president occupies the White House at the culmination of his party’s decline, often facilitating it. That includes John Adams, elected in 1796, John Quincy Adams (1824). James Buchanan (1856), Herbert Hoover (1928), and Jimmy Carter (1976).
As for transient presidents, they simply occupy the office during a period of their party’s ascendancy, or as a temporary aberration.
If McCain wins, he’ll be a transitional figure, presiding over the eradication of the Republican party, and precipitating a generation of Democratic dominance. If Obama wins, he’ll also be transitional, destroying the existing Democratic coalition, and precipitating an anti-Obama Republican resurgence. If Clinton wins, she’ll be transient figure, governing like husband Bill, keeping the Democratic coalition intact, but enraging and motivating conservatives.
From a Republican perspective, the best scenario is that Democrat Obama gets elected president, governs as a liberal, pulls U.S. troops out of Iraq, fumbles some foreign crises, fails to cure the economy, and is a one-termer. The estrangement of Hispanics and white, working-class Democrats from Obama, coupled with the takeover of the Democratic party by blacks and white liberals, would insure a Republican win in 2012. Plus, Republicans would rebound in the 2010 congressional elections.
From a Democratic perspective, the best scenario is that Republican McCain gets elected president, keeps U.S. troops in Iraq, fails to cure the economy, and is a one-termer. Democrats would keep control of Congress in 2008, rack up huge majorities in 2010, and sweep to an overwhelming victory in 2012.
Since state legislatures elected in 2010 will redistrict congressional boundaries for 2012 and the next decade, a Democratic sweep that year would reduce Republicans to nuisance levels thereafter. The Democratic U.S. House majority could exceed 350. With a discredited McCain in the White House, a Democrat would win in 2012 – but not necessarily the 2008 Democratic loser.
But from a realistic perspective, a McCain win would prompt the collapse of the two-party system. Why should any future Democratic presidential contender raise and spend $150 million, and slog through the primaries? Why not run for president as an independent?
If Obama is nominated in 2008, but loses to McCain, his supporters will blame white “racists” in general, and the Clintons in particular. If Obama is not nominated, he will blame the “bitter” guns and God crowd. Whatever the outcome, he will definitely run again in 2012.
If Clinton is nominated, but loses to McCain, her supporters will blame blacks and white liberals for not embracing her candidacy, and Obama for not motivating them. Obama’s backers will counter that she “stole” the nomination, ran a negative primary campaign, and didn’t deserve to be elected. If Clinton loses the Democratic nomination to Obama, her presidential dreams are finished. But if she wins, but loses the election, she would certainly try again in 2012.
And that’s where it gets interesting. Why run for president as a Democrat when it is possible to get on the ballot as an independent? Since it does not require a majority to be elected president, and since both Obama and Clinton have broad support, why not run for president on a third-party ballot?
For Obama, that’s a win/win situation. If Obama loses in 2008, “black rage” will be epidemic, and directed primarily at conservative white Democrats. Given his black/liberal base, there’s no doubt that he could get the signatures to secure a ballot line in every state. In a multi-candidate race, Obama would be favored.
The Republicans’ fundamental problem is that the country is growing ever more liberal on cultural issues, while the Republican message of a strong national defense, limited government and tax cuts has grown irrelevant. The Bush Administration is seen as incompetent on economic and military matters, and Republicans are viewed in urban areas as intolerant (anti-gay rights, anti-abortion) or just plain wrong (pro-gun) on cultural matters.
In the past two presidential contests, the country was evenly divided, with 40-45 percent of the electorate embracing cultural conservatism and the Republicans, an equal number embracing cultural liberalism and the Democrats, with the unaffiliated balance, roughly 10-15 percent, categorized as “floaters,” providing the winning margin. Those floaters swung heavily against the Republicans in 2006, and should do likewise in 2008.
Throughout U.S. history, presidential incompetence and unpopularity have resulted in party withering, but not implosion. After the Great Depression caused Hoover’s demise in 1932, the Democrats kept the White House for 20 years. After the inept Carter lost in 1980, Republicans reigned for 12 years.
The difference in 2008 is twofold. First, while the Democrats are divided along economic, racial and cultural lines, they are united by one common attribute: their intense dislike of Bush. All Democrats want “change.” But for Obama supporters, that change is a utopian vision of peace, harmony, and a generous welfare state. For Clinton supporters, that change is personal, consisting of economic relief, a job, and survival.
Obama supporters would never even consider backing McCain; they just wouldn’t vote. Some Clinton supporters, especially Asians and Hispanics, would vote for McCain, but against every other Republican.
And second, there is no overriding issue (like slavery or an economic depression) to polarize the country and prompt Republicans to abandon their party. The general fatigue with Bush and Iraq has propelled the floaters to the Democrats, and that should suppress the 2008 Republican presidential vote to 45 percent or less.
But Clinton backers’ hostility toward Obama, based on his race and philosophy, is palpable. The presumption has been that McCain will lose the Rust Belt industrial states, and California, to any Democrat. If 2004 Bush states Colorado, New Mexico, Ohio, Nevada flip to the Democrats in 2008, the Democrat wins. But if Clinton backers in California, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Jersey and Michigan defect to McCain, then Obama loses one or more of those states, and the presidency.
In fact, it may be California, home state of U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, that puts McCain in the White House. California’s black population is just six percent, while the Hispanics are 32 percent, and account for 21 percent of the voters. In the 2008 Democratic primary, Clinton won 68 percent of the Hispanics, and 65 percent of the age 18-29 Hispanics. If half of those Hispanics opt for McCain, that would be a 2-3 percent diminution in the customary Democratic vote. John Kerry beat Bush by 1,235,659 votes (54 percent) in 2004, and Al Gore beat Bush by 1,293,774 votes (53 percent) in 2000. Hispanics will be a fifth (2.5 million) of a potential 2008 turnout of 12.5 million. Against Obama, McCain has a chance to win California; and if he takes the state, he’s president.
The bottom line: In any capitalist political system, there are ideological parties – one more conservative, and one more liberal. Those triumphant capture the floaters. There is also an ebb and flow; parties are not ascendant perpetually. America is moving left, but when it becomes too liberal, there will be a reaction, and conservatives will take over.
Yet a Republican collapse and disappearance would not mean a one-party system. The Democrats would then split into liberal and conservative factions. And the ebb and flow would continue. 2008 will be a transformational election.
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