A friend called me the other day. He asked, “Can you explain why I hate John McCain so much. Because I really hate that [redacted]. I hate this whole election cycle. I feel like I’ve got to choose between the evils of four lessers.”
That does not apply for everyone, but for a lot of Republicans this year, they feel the same way. If you are one of them, it’s important to keep a few things in mind.
First, this is an election cycle that plays to the Democrats’ strengths. As a result, a lot of the dream candidates were smart to sit out. The odds are against a third consecutive Republican victory. The one guy who could have united the party would not run and was smart to sit on the sidelines. After all, the country probably wants a break from electing guys with the last name Bush, even if he was a very popular governor in Florida.
Second, we play with the players we have, not the players we want. This year, we are left with Mitt Romney, John McCain, Mike Huckabee, and … cough … Ron Paul. Take your pick. Not happy? Blame Bush. He could have set us up with a preferred candidate through the Vice Presidential process. He did not. Now, actually, because of my first point, that’s actually not a bad thing. The GOP would probably flock to such a candidate and the voters as a whole will assuredly want to distance themselves from the Bush legacy. They are tired.
Third and most importantly, this election cycle is unlike any other in recent memory for Republicans. Think about this. In 1952, we had Ike. That was a no brainer. Same for his re-election in 1956. In 1960, we had Nixon — again a no brainer because he was the Vice President. In 1968, it went to Nixon again and then his re-election in 1972. In 1976, we had an incumbent Republican candidate. In 1980, though the establishment went elsewhere, Ronald Reagan was the presumed heir. In 1984, it was Reagan’s re-election. In 1988, it was the continuation of Reagan-Bush by putting Bush on top. In 1992, it was Bush’s re-election with a few wayward souls going for Buchanan. In 1996, though there was a plethora of candidates, most of the establishment and base were rallying around Bob Dole. In 2000, by and large the party was a Bush party again, with only McCain as the credible alternative. In 2004, it was Bush again.
To be sure, in 1980, 1988, 1996, and 2000 there were other candidates garnering support, but there was also, the entire time a candidate best described as the party’s heir — that candidate objectively presumed to be the nominee based on healthy support from both the establishment and grassroots.
This year is completely different. McCain should be the heir, but his habit of stiffing the GOP has hindered his coronation. Romney has a lot of the establishment conservative movement, but not a majority of the base. Huckabee has a large, but still minority, portion of the social conservatives, but not much else. Giuliani and Thompson arguably had the best shot at uniting the establishment and base, but they failed to do so.
Thus we enter 2008 without an heir to the party. It’s like 1964 all over again. In that cycle, there was a battle for the party between Goldwater and Rockefeller with Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. playing the role of Rudy Giuliani, with a better shot of winning. 1964 saw no heir apparent to the party and there was a fight between the moderate wing and the conservative wing. The conservatives won. This year, with no heir apparent, that fight has come back, but it is arguably between versions of conservatives than between the left and right within the party.
Of course, all of this is to say take heart. This is a mostly unique year that we hopefully won’t repeat again. It’ll probably be resolved on Tuesday. Those of you too disgusted to stick with the guy who wins can sit this one out. It’ll be over in ten months. Just remember, if you don’t show up to vote, you’re also going to be hurting the GOP in congressional, state, and local races.
In the meantime, you should be putting pressure on the candidates to make sure they find a real conservative to be their running mate: a Sanford, a Nickels, a Bush, or someone close.