Speaking of Republicans and polls, I guess it’s time to comment on the early raft of opinion surveys about the identity of George W. Bush’s successor as GOP presidential nominee in 2008.As the latest Gallup Poll illustrates, every poll of Republican voters and leaners shows Rudy Guiliani and John McCain stomping the field (Gallup has Rudy at 33% and McCain at 30%, with Jeb Bush being the only other name that attracts double-digit support at 12%).Let me be among the first to say: it ain’t going to happen. The Republican Party is not going to nominate a pro-choice, pro-gay rights candidate like Rudy, and it’s not going to nominate a Scourge of the Conservative Movement like McCain, a man who has so consistently defied the Norquistian gospel that tax cuts trump every other national priority. If either of these gents runs for president and gains steam, the Right will unite behind someone else, either a safe ideological bet like Frist or Allen or Brownback (I don’t think Santorum is going to be in the Senate after 2006), or someone a bit less conventional like Hagel or Pawlenty or even Condi Rice, if she’s willing to take all sorts of oaths on cultural issues and taxes. Why? Because candidates like Guiliani and McCain would unravel the whole coalition of the cultural Right and the Mammon-worshippers on which today’s GOP has been so painstakingly constructed. And that coalition certainly has enough power to take down anyone it chooses in a Republican nominating contest.There’s another poll out there (reported via Jerome at Mydd) that’s a bit closer to the underlying reality of where the GOP will go in 2008: a “straw poll” taken at the recent Conservative Political Action Committee conference, which asked respondents who they thought would become the eventual nominee (NOT which candidate they personally favored). In this one Guiliani is basically tied with Rice in the high teens, and McCain’s down there tied with Frist and Allen at 11%.And that’s nearly four years out, before the Right has had the chance to mull over its options and road-test a new champion.Sure, GOPers are more than happy to let Guiliani and McCain get a lot of early attention, using them to give the party a more moderate image. But when the deal goes down, these guys will be discarded like an old Lincoln Day speech, and we’ll find out for real where the Right wants to take its wholly-owned subsidiary, the Republican Party.
TDS Strategy Memos
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By Ed Kilgore
Waiting for Joe Biden’s speech to a joint session of Congress to begin this week, I observed at New York that Republicans were struggling to define him consistently, which felt like a familiar problem for them:
When Bill Clinton was at the pre-Lewinsky peak of his powers, he drove Republicans nuts. They alternated between accusing him of “stealing our issues” with his triangulating pitches on welfare reform and crime and the size of government, and of being “liberal, liberal, liberal!” — a sort of boomer love child of George McGovern and Janis Joplin in a deceptive deep-fried southern packaging. Eventually the opportunity to depict him as a lying sexual predator solved the conservative dilemma, though you could argue he never stopped throwing them off-balance.
Republicans are similarly having problems getting a clear focus on Joe Biden, as the Los Angeles Times’ Noah Bierman observes:
“Alex Conant, a Republican consultant who has advised Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, [says] that his party’s two main messages about Biden are at odds with each other, blunting their impact. ‘The thing you hear Republicans say most is that he’s too old for the job, which isn’t consistent with saying he’s doing too much,’ Conant said. ‘You can’t effectively argue that he’s incompetent and that he’s too effective.'”
This dual framing of Biden was evident during the 2020 campaign, when Trump called him “Sleepy Joe” and with his usual lack of subtlety suggested his opponent was senile, even as he assailed Biden’s party of radical socialist aims. The 45th president and his surrogates squared the circle by treating Biden as the half-there puppet of the real powers, particularly the “communist” Kamala Harris.
But now, 100 days into the Biden-Harris administration, even though the new president has kept an unusually low profile, there are no signs of Harris or anyone else manipulating him. Indeed, so far his White House has been remarkably free of the factionalism that often undermines clear presidential leadership. With Clinton as president you had a White House staff famously divided (ironically, given the later reputations of the First Lady and the veep) into progressive “Rodhams” and centrist “Gores” who jockeyed for position and placed their varying stamps on administration policies. George W. Bush’s presidency was also marked by competing power centers (e.g., his terrifying vice-president and the “Boy Genius” Karl Rove); to a lesser extent, so was Obama’s. As for Donald Trump, hardly a week passed without someone — particularly his rotating cast of chiefs-of-staff — being described by “insiders” as the real power behind the throne or perhaps as the wild man’s lion-tamer.
Trump, of course, created some of the same problems for Democrats that Clinton — and now Biden — posed for Republicans. Was he the “toddler president” who ran a hollowed-out administration with no real core of convictions or goals? Or was he a putative Il Duce craftily planning an authoritarian takeover of the country? Up until the day he left office there was evidence for both descriptions. Indeed, the coda of his presidency, the January 6 Capitol riot, was variously regarded as a fascist coup attempt and a clown show.
Trump’s successor will have an opportunity in his first address to a joint session of Congress to add to the impression that he is quietly but firmly in charge of the executive branch, and has imposed order on his fractious party as he unveils yet another massive proposal. Kamala Harris will be sitting (and often standing and applauding) behind him, likely looking more like an adoring protégée than any sort of puppet-master. But if he stumbles at all, or looks tired, or says things that supposedly centrist Democrats like him don’t believe, the knees of many elephants will jerk and out will come the mockery of the old man who is a reassuring front for the Marxists actually running the country.
Such confusion if it continues will be of great service to Biden, much like the current Republican tendency to focus on irrelevant culture-war themes while a mostly united Democratic Party enacts legislative initiatives of a magnitude we haven’t seen since Ronald Reagan’s first year in office. For all their political gifts, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama — who, lest we forget, both had a much more firmly Democratic Senate and House the first two years of their presidencies — couldn’t come close to the mastery of Congress Biden has exhibited up until now. As Republicans watch Biden’s speech, they should soberly realize that before long it may not matter that much if they bust up the Democratic trifecta in 2022. The damage to GOP policies and priorities wrought by “Uncle Joe” and his “senile socialist regime” could be too large to reverse by then. While Republicans fret about Trump and rage about “cancel culture,” Biden is eating their lunch.