Tuesday, June 20, 2006

He's No Hanna

The Moose mulls over the politics of realignment.

Karl Rove had a good week. Despite the fevered hopes of the lefties, there will be no Rove frog march. But, there will also not be a Rove Realignment.

Rove has fashioned himself as a modern Mark Hanna. Hanna created the McKinley candidacy by marrying big money with the Ohio Governor and manufacturing a campaign around the notion of a "different kind of Republican" who was compassionate and reached out to new immigrant groups.

Alas, it was not to be for W. While McKinley rode a Republican ascendancy and steered a centrist course, Bush has governed from the right and may be presiding over the end of GOP dominance. James Traub wrote in the New York Times Magazine,

"So why doesn't 2006 recall the G.O.P.'s glory years? First of all, McKinley was facing a particularly hapless generation of Democrats. A long period of deadlock had come to an end in the off-year election of 1894, when the failure of the incumbent Democrats to stem a financial panic led to a colossal electoral rout. In a shambles, the party took a decisive turn to the left in 1896 by choosing the populist Bryan, who ran again in 1900 and 1908. Today's Democrats are much closer to the mainstream, and the realignment has been correspondingly shallower. Over the last decade, as the political analyst Michael Barone observes, the national vote for president and for Congress has divided almost down the middle. Second, while McKinley had the good fortune to arrive at the dawn of a new era, Bush came along three decades after Republicans broke into the Democrats' solid South to establish a new majority. The historic tide may have already been ebbing."

And the internal divide within the GOP over immigration has likely dashed Rove's hopes of bringing Hispanics into the Republican coalition. The only hope for our modern Hanna is if the Democrats move in a Bryan-like direction in '08.

The fundamental problem for Rove and the Republicans is that they have never advanced an economic program that addresses the concerns of lower and middle income Reagan Democrats who were attracted to the party on social issues. Last year, in a most perceptive piece in the Weekly Standard, Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam pointed out,

"This is the Republican party of today--an increasingly working-class party, dependent for its power on supermajorities of the white working class vote, and a party whose constituents are surprisingly comfortable with bad-but-popular liberal ideas like raising the minimum wage, expanding clumsy environmental regulations, or hiking taxes on the wealthy to fund a health care entitlement. To borrow a phrase from Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, Republicans are now "the party of Sam's Club, not just the country club."

"Therein lies a great political danger for Republicans, because on domestic policy, the party isn't just out of touch with the country as a whole, it's out of touch with its own base."

One would think that the Democrats can capitalize on the Republican's weak economic hold on the Sam's Clubs types. Maybe so. However, the socially liberal, anti-war types who dominate the party's elites will have difficulty attracting these voters.

Before the impeachment troubles, Bill Clinton might actually have been moving to creating a new coalition in American politics. In 1992 and 1996, he picked the Republican lock on the White House. And in '96 and '98, Democrats began to recover from the '94 debacle. The GOP had little to compete with the Third Way ideological construct.

In an insightful piece in the New Republic, Peter Beinart writes,

"In 1992 and 1996, Clinton did something no national Democrat had done in decades: He won the white working class. And, by restoring the public's faith in government, he laid the ideological (if not the organizational) foundation for a Democratic majority. That emerging majority was derailed by two things. First, the Lewinsky scandal, which made character a dominant issue in the 2000 presidential race and sliced Al Gore's popular-vote victory so thin that the election ended in the Supreme Court. And second, September 11, which gave Bush a Republican Congress and a second term."

For the foreseeable future, it is unlikely that either party can truly precipitate a political realignment - the Democrats are too left on social and foreign policy issues and the Republicans are too plutocratic. But, there is an alternative - can a Teddy Roosevelt type emerge to break this political deadlock?

Bull Moose!
-- Posted at 8:23 AM | Link to this post | Email this post