November 5, 2004


Whither Liberalism? Again?: Here comes the usual bad advice. (Timothy Noah, Nov. 3, 2004, Slate)

In the coming days, a heartfelt dialogue will begin in which Democrats ask themselves, in a refreshing spirit of constructive self-criticism, why they can't connect with the American middle class. I have been listening to, and occasionally contributing to, discussions on this topic for more than two decades, and they began well before I tuned in. By now, the very subject makes me want to scream. Three critiques tend to dominate this discussion:

> 1. Democrats need to move right.
> 2. Democrats need to move left.
> 3. Democrats should sit tight and await the inevitable demographic shift that will put them on top again.
> They're all wrong. Let's take them one at a time.

The advice is certainly bad, but even more obvious is the disconnection from reality of most of it. Here are just two points to consider:

(1) The 2006 Midterm is going to be horrific for Democrats:

This is a bit counterhistorical, because presidents tend to lose seats in Congress at midterms, but there are two reasons that won't be the case this time: the megatrend is handing power back to Republicans, and, they'll have a huge advantage in turnout. The first is pretty self-explanatory, but you can look at the number of seats Democrats still have to defend in Red states to see how much trouble they're in. The second is evidenced by the turnout in 2002, when the GOP had an extraordinary 6% advantage. The blowout on Tuesday was achieved with an even split--give the Republicans a six point hike and things really get ugly, even for incumbents.

(2) No one can stop Hillary in 2008:

One of the most serious ways in which his foes underestimate George W. Bush is in not comprehending what he did in 2000. In the general election he was going to be taking on a popular incumbent vice-,who had faced no challenge for his party's nomination, running in a time of unprecedented peace and prosperity, so the campaign spent several years positioning Mr. Bush as a centrist--a compassionate conservative--in order to be able to fight the election on the middle ground. The challenge from John McCain, running well to the Left, threw all that into a cocked hat. In order to put the media-darling away Mr. Bush had to annihilate him from the Right. That he was able to do so and still come back to beat Al Gore was the most remarkable electoral feat in presidential history and, in the end, required an at least mildly plausible third party candidate. It was only doable because Mr. Bush had and maintained throughout the loyalty of the large core of his own party.

Consider, on the other hand, the Democrats in 2008. Hillary Clinton is not only their best candidate, with the best staff, and the easiest access to money and media, but she represents the core of the party--Northeastern liberalism/statism. The notion that a primary challenger could beat her from the Right just does not seem remotely possible. Mind you, this is a party that chose Northeastern liberal senator John Kerry specifically for his electability this time around. The nomination is hers.

Just suppose though, as a thought experiment, that the party has another Bill Clinton waiting in the wings--a Southern conservative Christian with unmatched personal appeal. Suppose further that this charming cracker were to manage, somehow, to knock off the woman who personifies the Party by attacking everything she and it stand for. Now try to imagine that the Left just accepts this sitting down. It would not happen. There would certainly be a challenge from the Left in the general, even one from an embittered Hillary, seeking to form a third party, would be a possibility. At any rate, our imaginary candidate, having reduced his own party to rubble, would have no more chance of prevailing in the general than a Pat Buchanan.

Things are going to get much worse for the Democrats before they start to get better.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 5, 2004 11:41 AM

Didn't Al Gore have a difficult time with Bradly in the primary? I don't think he was all that popular.

Posted by: NKR at November 5, 2004 9:51 AM

Barak Obama or (to a lesser extent) Harold Ford, Jr. are the only two Democrats who could challenge Hillary and not be rolled by the Clinton political machine at this time, because of the constituancy they represent. The other Democrats' best hopes are for a Giuliani Senate race in 2006, but only if he gets into the race before Hillary would have a chance to get out, thereby avoiding any display of weakness that even the media couldn't ignore.

Posted by: John at November 5, 2004 10:16 AM


No, he wiped the floor with him.

Posted by: oj at November 5, 2004 10:20 AM

I want to say that Hillary could be defeated, but I can't think of a plausible contender. Who else has a large base, message, and is popular?

Posted by: Chris Durnell at November 5, 2004 10:28 AM

Obama is a socialist and a gun-grabber. Won't go over so well in the 34 concealed carry states.

I listened to his acceptance speech, tired old promises from a tired old party.

Posted by: Sandy P at November 5, 2004 10:28 AM

Will Harold Ford, Jr be old enough? Perhaps Mark Easley (D-NC) will get some itching to run; he is governor of the nation's ninth largest state, and re-elected handily.

On a secondary note, who will the Republicans run?

Posted by: John Thacker at November 5, 2004 10:54 AM

"On a secondary note, who will the Republicans run?"

Actually that is a more important question than who the Democrats nominate. I vote for Guiliani. Republicans need to break into Blue States in a big way and Guiliani will sell there, I think.

By the way he could also handle the job of President, which I suppose is somewhat important.

Posted by: h-man at November 5, 2004 11:10 AM


Posted by: oj at November 5, 2004 11:10 AM

Romney to sew up some blue states for
Repubs. Just because the Dem's can't win with
a Northeast lib doesn't mean the Republicans
can't win with a Northeast conservative.

Posted by: J.H. at November 5, 2004 11:24 AM

Giuliani needs to have a come-to-Jesus moment on social issues. This is a guy who opposed the partial-birth-abortion ban, who's been divorced twice and was living with his third wife while still married to his second, and who appeared in drag in a gay pride parade in New York. That may sell in Manhattan, but how do you get the evangelicals to turn out? Hillary-hatred alone won't do it.

Posted by: Random Lawyer at November 5, 2004 11:30 AM

Random Lawyer

Bush was a drunk. Maybe took drugs. His younger years were marked with failure.

But yes you are correct, he will have to meet social conservatives halfway.

Posted by: h-man at November 5, 2004 11:35 AM

First of all, there has to be a primary. Barak Obama and Harold Ford, Jr. will have to face Hillary with voters in Iowa, then New Hampshire, then South Carolina. Does anyone think those two men will win any of those races?

Posted by: AllenS at November 5, 2004 11:38 AM

Allow me to throw in Tommy Franks as a possible contender in 08 too...

Posted by: Timothy at November 5, 2004 11:45 AM

Mike Easley (D-NC) is a lightweight. He beat a very young opponent. The NC governor is probably the weakest in the nation (along with NH). Easley has high negatives on taxes (to deal with NC's budget problems in 2001/2002, he basically grabbed money from county escrow funds and used it for state spending). A stronger Republican would have beaten him, but the governor's race got lost in the shuffle with Burr beating Bowles.

I don't think the nomination is HRC's for the asking. There are a fair number of prominent Democrats who are tired of the Clintons, and would fight to beat her. Certainly the Democratic primaries in 2008 will be more spirited than what we saw in 2000 and 2004. And, though Al Sharpton proved to be an empty drum this year, any challenge from a more credible black candidate must surely terrify the Democratic leadership. Any widening split in the monolith will just kill them in '08, even more so if Rice or Watts is on the GOP ticket.

Posted by: jim hamlen at November 5, 2004 11:45 AM



Posted by: oj at November 5, 2004 11:52 AM

It'll be a different world in four years.

I love Giuliani and hoped Bush would have named him AG, instead of Ashcroft in 2000. Then I was sure he would be named head of homeland security, but again a non-entity. I hope Bush names him to an important job this time round. However, he's far too much a New Yorker to be elected president.

Hillary? Who knows what four years will bring? She may not have access to the money, staff, etc. if the dems get smart and clean out the DNC stables. Would they nominate another northeast liberal elite? Could they that stupid? Stay tuned.

Posted by: erp at November 5, 2004 12:04 PM


Bill and Terry can get her the money.

Posted by: oj at November 5, 2004 12:11 PM

The NC governor is probably the weakest in the nation.

Hey, we gave him the veto, what, 7 years ago? What more does he want, the right to appoint his own Cabinet members to head the various state departments? Ridiculous; we're going to keep electing the Council of State. The right to appoint judges? Nope, we're going to keep electing those too.

Posted by: John Thacker at November 5, 2004 12:14 PM

A smart GOPer running for President would ask Jeb Bush to run as VP with him prior to the primaries. Florida will still be very important in 2008. While I admit another Bush would be tough to run as the presidential candidate, I don't think the dynasty thing would matter as the VP.

Posted by: Bob at November 5, 2004 12:14 PM

Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) is quite popular in his state. Have to check his various credentials, but a very popular Midwestern governor could help. Wouldn't take much to give the Republicans NH, MN, WI, MI, and PA (and OR's not too far off in final tally), all with 3% margins or less. 348 EV is definitely within striking distance.

Posted by: John Thacker at November 5, 2004 12:19 PM

I am not a Christian but am a social conservative and not a New Yorker. I would love to have Rudy run. He is smart, tough and a very effective speaker. I think he did himself a world of good in the GOP with his extensive (and effective) campaigning for the President. A Rudy/Jeb ticket would be great.

Posted by: Bob at November 5, 2004 12:19 PM

Along with the first election in decades to not have a sitting Pres. or V.P running, it would be nice to have a GOP ticket that doesn't include a Nixon, Dole or Bush..(Then again, the last one didn't do so well...)

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at November 5, 2004 1:21 PM

McCain - too much of a maverick, is he reliable on conservative issues? Might be too old.
Guiliani - ditto
Frist - no executive experience
Pataki - is he reliable on conservative issues?
Romney - governor of the Bluest state in the Union
Owens - no name value
Condi - no political base
Ashcroft - couldn't take the stress

Jeb Bush for Prez, Romney for Veep.

Jeb would guarantee FL and represents a trusted brand.

Posted by: M Ali Choudhury at November 5, 2004 2:04 PM

I agree that turnout may be permanently altered to favor the Republicans. Why should the left bother anymore? They hated Bush with so much passion and couldn't get it done...

Posted by: brian at November 5, 2004 2:29 PM

Jeb Bush's name keeps coming up. Alone, the "dynasty" issue a minor one (was it considered a negative against RFK in '68?). However, couple that issue w/the issue of Gov. Bush's role in the 2000 election, and you have a potential problem.

Of the other names I've seen suggested all have issues that will need to be addressed sooner than later. Among them, name recognition (Romney, Rice, Pawlenty), age (McCain), and age/personal past (Gulliani). I also wish Lugar were younger and that Bond had more national standing.

For the other side, I'd suggest Evan Bayh.

Posted by: at November 5, 2004 2:47 PM

Depending upon what W can accomplish over the next 4 years, social conservativism may not be as important in '08. If SCOTUS overturns Roe and abortion is returned to the states, will it matter much if the president is pro-choice?

Posted by: David Cohen at November 5, 2004 3:02 PM

Verry little to most folks, I suspect.

Posted by: Dave W. at November 5, 2004 9:12 PM