(Ed. Note: The following is just some political thinking. It’s what I hope the Republicans won’t do.)
What I am about to describe displays the would-be thought process of a smart Republican party…a Republican party that observes history and looks at past campaigns under a magnifying glass. What I’m about to describe is the thought-process of a Republican party which understands that external politics should ultimately affect internal policies. I am relieved, however, that the Republican party in the form I am about to describe doesn’t currently exist.
Imagine a Republican party that looks back upon the 2008 campaign with scrutiny. Its leaders understand that the Democrats waded in precarious waters and got dangerously close to throwing away what could have been the easiest election to win in generations. The 2008 campaign could have been so effortless for the Democrats: the Republican incumbent was the most unpopular president in more than thirty years, the country’s economy and housing market were crumbling at his feet, he was waging two unresolved wars, and he was ostensibly poised to hand it all over to the next guy and get it all off of his plate. But the Democrats were unequivocally divided. Instead of the presidential campaign being between two candidates– and each party fully backing one candidate– there were three. So, the Democrats, instead of being stalwartly united behind a nominee, were broken up and estranged from one another while the Republican candidate soaked up three or four months of free campaigning.
Obviously, this past election was an anomaly on several fronts and sundry factors led the Democrats to victory, anyway. But instead of meditating on how the Democrats won the election in 2008, they should think about what the Democrats did that almost lost them the race: they were divided from the get-go. If they want to win back the White House (which, again, hopefully they won’t know how to do), they need to find President Obama’s constituent weaknesses and provide a candidate who is strong where Obama is weak (in terms of demography and issues).
Fortunately, there is a more-than-bifurcated scope of potential candidates; the Tea Party sector of the Republican Party has begun to alienate the less conservative part of the base, and the moderates turn off the Tea Partiers. There is a remarkable sense of polarization within the Republican party. What they don’t understand is that they’ll ultimately need to uniformly back someone who’s relatively moderate.
As his term carries out and the crises (in and out of the president’s control) mount, more and more of Obama’s supporters are distancing themselves from him. To win in 2012, the Republican nominee is going to have to be someone who can appeal to the once-liberal voters who want something in between and are dissatisfied. Ultimately, however, a moderate nominee won’t get Michelle Bachmann or Rush Limbaugh’s endorsement, and therefore won’t be able to stimulate the other side of the Republican base.
The Republicans are in a pickle, and unless they change something quickly, they’re not going to be able to get out.