Primary will decide direction of GOP

Published 1:21 am Monday, May 21, 2007

By By Tray Smith
On Nov. 4, 2008, Americans will go to the polls to elect their next president, and for the first time in 80 years, no incumbent president or vice president will be on the ballot. That makes President Bush the first president since Calvin Coolidge to not have an apparent successor. But more important than President Bush not having an apparent successor is his not having an ideological successor.
In 2000, then Governor Bush campaigned on the offensive platform of being an "incompassionate conservative," as if to suggest that most conservatives are not compassionate. Now, with less than two years left in his administration, most Republicans have realized that compassionate conservatism was not such a good idea after all. As a result of Bush's "incompassion," we turned a record surplus into a record deficit that only now is starting to decline. The Republican Party relinquished its claim to "fiscal conservatism" as it sought to use taxpayer dollars to fund conservative-minded programs. Because of Bush, a party that was once devoted to reducing the size of government is now committed only to using government to fund ideas that they support ( ex. faith based and community initiatives, No Child Left Behind and the Medicare Prescription drug benefit.) This environment has created a comfort zone for big-government conservatives, who claim that because big-government is the only politically feasible domestic policy, we might as well make sure it has conservative elements built into it.
But outside of that comfort zone, few members of the Republican base are rallying around such spending programs such as Iowa's Indoor Rainforest or the bridge to nowhere in Alaska. No surprise, then, that few candidates for the GOP nomination are clamoring for the incompassionate" adjective to be added to their "inconservatism." Instead, they are each clamoring to make their own individual ideological mark by promoting competing visions for the future of both their country and party.
This puts the Republicans at a disadvantage heading into the primaries. Instead of rallying around a front runner who will be able to move the ball forward after President Bush leaves office in January of 2009, they are looking for someone to pick the ball up off of the ground and move it in an entirely different direction. Such a drastic deviation from the current course would be easier if the Republicans did not currently occupy the White House; doing a 180-degree turn in the middle of a Republican administration will be hard. This will put various fractions of the GOP-the moderates, the libertarians, the fiscal conservatives and the social conservatives-at odds with one another.
Just as the ideologues in both parties normally select a candidate that reflects their values and then work to gather support of that candidate from independent minded voters in the general election, differing camps of the Republican Party are now working for candidates who they hope will be able to garner support from Republicans who are not as ideologically biased as they are.
So, which line of thinking are Republican voters likely to support in 2008? While the pro-gun control, pro-gay rights, pro-abortion, yet very fiscal conservative and very hawkish Rudy Giuliani leads the crowd in national opinion polls, "common sense" John McCain is ahead in almost all of the early voting states in both internal and public polling. Each of the polls are very volatile at this point, but state by state polls are less likely to swing than nationwide surveys. Because primaries are done by states, claiming the lead in a majority of the early voting states (which will give candidates traction going into later voting states) is more viable politically than having a nationwide lead, though nationwide polls to help gather financial support. John McCain also has a very well developed campaign organization in each state which are already recruiting volunteers, supporters and donators at the grass roots level. That campaign structure will provide him with the political infrastructure needed to support his continued lead in those states.
The race could still be shaken up if former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and/or former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson enter the race, with each of them being considered more conservative and "Republican" than the current leaders. But their possible entrance into the race is not the only thing that should give Republicans hope. Even though they have yet to decide which candidate they like, the public is willing to give all of their candidates a chance. Head-to-head polls between the leading Republican candidates and their Democratic candidates point to a very close competition. And although different Republicans have different ideas, each of their candidates are very impressive, proven and experienced politicians capable of having competent and visionary administrations. And at-least the Republicans are having a primary of ideas, and asking tough questions about the future of their party, and, more importantly, our nation.
That is the bottom line.
Tray Smith is a sophomore at ECHS and former intern in the Riley administration. He can be reached for comment at

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