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July 11, 2006
GOP Heading For Schism? How About The Democrats?

EJ Dionne looks past the midterms to the next presidential cycle, and sees trouble ahead for the GOP. In his latest column, Dionne predicts that Republicans will find themselves foundering on the future direction of the party, a debate that Dionne says the GOP has mostly avoided since 1994:

As it looks beyond the elections of 2006, a Republican Party known for ideological solidarity is on the cusp of a far more searching philosophical battle than are the Democrats, historically accustomed to bruising fights over the finer points of political theory.

The coming Republican brawl reflects the fact that President Bush will leave office with no obvious heir, and Bushism as a political philosophy has yet to establish itself in the way that Reaganism did.

Moreover, the four top candidates in most polls for the GOP's 2008 presidential nomination -- Sen. John McCain, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and former House speaker Newt Gingrich -- all promise very different styles of leadership.

I don't know if I agree with Dionne's assessment of the front-runners. This list, especially the inclusion of Newt Gingrich, appears to fill a rhetorical need rather than a prediction of the 2008 race. George Allen consistently polls higher than Gingrich or Romney, but of course it's still early enough that all of us can pick and choose our contenders.

In this case, though, Dionne seems to think that the GOP will be the only party doing soul-searching in 2008. The only conflict he sees on the horizon for the Democrats is whether they can agree that Hillary Clinton is electable to the White House. This flies in the face of the schism we see playing out in Connecticut this month, with the anti-war movement attempting to define Joe Lieberman as an extremist, despite his voting record that places him almost dead-center in his Senate caucus. Even the party leader in the Senate has a more conservative voting record than Lieberman, and yet the longtime Senator has become persona non grata to the activists in his party.

If Dionne thinks this argument will go away in an unprecedented show of unity, then he hasn't paid attention. The anti-war Left has already fractured the party, with John Kerry and John Murtha giving the Democrats repeated fits by feeding the popular image of Democrats as the Defeatist Party. Hillary herself has already been targeted by some of the same people that went after Lieberman, and they're busy pushing Russ Feingold as a dark-horse candidate for the nomination. Even if Iraq becomes a non-issue by 2008, the Left will not forgive those who supported the effort in any near-term election cycles.

In comparison, the GOP has their conflict under better control. The flashpoints for Republican schism occurred this year, with the immigration-reform effort and the lack of budget discipline raising the ire of the conservatives in the party. We will see a wide spectrum of choices in the 2008 primary, as we have the unusual situation of both parties operating with no incumbency advantage for the first time since 1928. That plays against both parties equally in terms of debate and division.

The Republicans have had to learn big-tent tactics in order to maintain legislative majorities on their agenda, and while we haven't pefected it, we at least have mostly headed in the right direction. The Democrats appear to be going through some sort of ideological purification process that will guarantee them a continuing hold on the minority position for as long as it lasts. If anyone expects the Left to suddenly lighten up when the White House is in play, they will find themselves in for a rude surprise.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at July 11, 2006 8:56 AM

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Captain Ed becomes the latest to fall for the idea that because Democrats are challenging Joe Lieberman, that Democrats are totally in disarray and about to fall apart into fractious bloodletting, where only the Kos- and/or Atrios-approved will be able... [Read More]

Tracked on July 11, 2006 11:05 AM


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