Can Republicans Win California Again?
Marc Ambinder has two pieces in Hotline on Call today that strike me as interrelated. This morning, he wrote about a memo from Brent Seaborn, Rudy Giuliani’s strategy director, arguing that his candidate can win California in 2008, a feat no Republican has accomplished in the twenty years since George H.W. Bush beat Mike Dukakis. The memo is poorly written and rather fact-challenged but the thesis, that Giuliani is attracting across-the-board support and could be Clinton in California and other states not traditionally in play, is plausible.
This afternoon, Ambinder cautions Republicans not to worship too much at the alter of Ronald Reagan.
Ronald Reagan pulled the spokes together: anti-communism, traditional moral values, strong nat’l defense and lower taxes. Those ideas survived, but without Reagan to sell them, they proved incapable of producing a governing majority themselves.
By and large, the GOP has rejected “compassionate conservatism” and is looking for something new. But the GOP candidates all seem to want to channel Reagan, as if his spirit alone can save the party. Some lace their speeches with “optimism” — literally, the word. Others wonder what Reagan would do in the face is Islamic terror. Still others go so far as to compare their political journey’s to Reagan’s. None comes close to capturing Reagan’s essence.
The reason no post-Reagan Republican has managed this is rather obvious: The end of the Cold War removed anti-Communism from the equation. Further, the Reagan tax cuts, which took a confiscatory top bracket down from 70 percent to 38 percent, made further reforms less urgent.
Post 9/11, national security has resumed its prominence on the national agenda and is arguably the reason George W. Bush managed to get re-elected despite a mediocre first term. The unpopularity of the Iraq War, not to mention its mismanagement under Republican governance, makes that a harder sell in 2008.
The key, then, is finding a leader who can both energize the Republican base of fiscal and social conservatives while not alienating — or, heaven forfend, actually appealing to — moderates and the slightly-left-of-center.
This partly answers the question, “Why Fred Thompson” that Alex Knapp and Kevin Drum have posed. He’s a likable, charismatic fellow who comes across as honest and strong. He’s also a virtual unknown from a policy sense and has little real experience unless one counts move roles.
Giuliani, on the other hand, is charismatic and experienced. He’s likable on the stump. He’s sufficiently centrist, or even left-of-center, on the most divisive social issues that he doesn’t scare away the moderates and his stances on security issues seem, so far at least, to dampen the concerns of all but the most ardent members of the Jerry Falwell wing of the base. And, frankly, they’re not voting for Hillary Clinton.
Arnold Schwarzenegger has managed to twice win election as governor of California under the GOP banner. It’s not inconceivable that Giuliani could pull it off, especially against Clinton.
Twenty years ago, the Republicans were said to have a “lock” on the Electoral College, having won every presidential election but one over the previous twenty years — and the exception, 1976, was a narrow loss that took Watergate, an accidental nominee, and a Democrat who was arguably more conservative than the Republican. As Ambider notes, that suddenly changed in 1992: “Thanks to Pete Wilson, illegal immigration, migration, cultural politics or something else entirely, Democrats don’t worry about the state.”
California is no doubt a much more liberal state than it was in 1988. Still, Giuliani is arguably to the left of Clinton on illegal immigration and he’s certainly not under Pat Robertson’s thumb. He’s more popular than she is among virtually every segment of the community. Why couldn’t he win?
It’s quite conceivable, though, that Giuliani’s support — like Barack Obama’s — is as high now as it’s ever going to be. People don’t know him as well as they do Clinton and what most of them do “know” is good. There are plenty of ugly stories about heavy-handed police tactics that will get more fully aired. People will be reminded of his divorces and the unseemly circumstances surrounding them. On the other hand, it may simply be that nobody will much care what he did before 9/11. That may have wiped away all past sins.
If so, he’s got a shot.