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After Bush

I've been wondering, naturally enough, about what happens to the GOP if Bush loses. At first I'd been inclined to agree with my colleague Sam Rosenfeld's remarks on this subject, but I was talking to my old roommate Jeff and he began to move me to the other side. Mark Schmitt makes some similar points and has me convinced. One of the things that's made the Bush's Republicans effective is that they've adopted a Lenin-style "democratic centralism" approach to running the show. The main flaw with this approach, which we've already seen, is that though it's effective in getting things done, it leaves you exposed to the risk of doing really, really crazy things. The other problem is that if Bush loses the White House -- and thus just about everyone who's played an important role in mapping out GOP strategy for the past few years loses his job -- it will effectively decapitate the Republican organization.

It's especially important to note that Bill Frist is not a man who has the respect of his colleagues or any knowledge or experience of how to map out a legislative strategy. He's a front man for the White House political shop, but with that shop both defunct and discredited, the Senate Republicans will now be really and truly led by an inept lightweight. Thus, even if the Democrats suffer minor losses in the Senate (big losses are another matter, but statistically unlikely) the Kerry administration should have sufficient momentum to start getting things through. Tom Delay then becomes the key leader of modern conservatism. Several House Republican moderates will have either lost in 2004 or else come much closer to losing than they care to. Simultaneously, Delay will have legal problems. He has, moreover, managed to discredit himself among the handful of principled conservatives in the House thanks to his behavior during the Medicare debate. With all that going on, can he keep his control over the caucus while simultaneously obstructing the Kerry agenda? Maybe, but my guess is that something would have to give. Either he would need to lead the House in a less heavy-handed way (thus avoiding pissing off his members, but letting Kerry pick up key votes) or else he'd find himself getting stabbed in the back by his colleagues. Soon enough, of course, the GOP will regroup, but I think it really might take a while.

October 31, 2004 | Permalink


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» Neo-Cons and the Fracture of Conservatism from Jeff the Baptist
Matthew Yglesias is asking what will happen to Republicans if Bush loses. Basically the McCain/Guiliani side will at least make a play for the limelight. I think which face the party really shows in the long run will depend on the 2008 election. [Read More]

Tracked on Nov 1, 2004 12:48:21 PM


All Kerry will need is a few months to get a modest tax increase through. If the GOP is in sufficient disarray, this could be doable, at which point the standard political infighting will take over and each party's desire to piss in the cornflakes of the other will result in a lower rate of spending. While there will be more to pay for than Clinton ever had (especially the unpleasantness in Iraq and Afghanistan), the U.S. GDP appears to be hitting a zone with growth of 3.5-ish percent, which should also do some to kick up tax revenues.
Bottom line is that Kerry will have a few months to do some serious work towards unfucking some of the Bush fiscal train wreck. Here's to hoping he uses it.

Posted by: Andrew Reeves | Oct 31, 2004 12:48:02 PM

Agreed, but where does the GOP go on policy?

Bush's almost utopian foreign policy doesn't jibe with the GOP's isolationist tradition (forget about Buchanan, et al., remember that the GOP mainstream was mostly against nation-building prior to Iraq).

I'm guessing that in the absence of the need to defend Bush's foreign policy under any and all circumstances, the GOP eventually -- and gradually -- turns more isolationist. There is already a strand of "the rest of the world can go to hell" thinking in the GOP base -- and I think it will intensify when John Kerry is the CIC and they reflexively oppose his foreign policy (and the neocons will face the brunt of recriminations in the wake of a Bush loss).

PS: Who are the GOP leaders for 08'? Rudy's too liberal for IA GOP voters, McCain too old and "not sufficiently loyal". So, who from the conservative wing of the party (important in IA) is going to make a run? Goodness help me, but one name comes to mind: Rick Santorum.

Posted by: Chris R | Oct 31, 2004 12:57:06 PM

Your comments are technical, not strategic.

First, the Republican upsurge that began with Reagan has run out of steam. Just like the Democrats, who lost credibility by repeating New Deal mantras long after the circumstances that gave rise to them (the Great Depression and WWII) had ended, the Republicans are loosing credibility because the circumstances that gave rise to them (post - oil shock stagflation and the Cold War) have ended.

However, Democrats who thing this means a Great Society Revival are just proving themselves to be as misguided in their own way as they Republicans are. We need a new Third Way that addresses Globalization and Terrorism. The party that actually does this will prevail (be it Democratic, Republican, or some new party.)

Second, the significance of a Kerry presidency is that we will finally know what went on in Cheney's energy summits and lot's of other things.

Third, because of Iraq and the tax cuts, Bush has so messed up the economy that terrible problems are almost inevitable. Globalization, transnational organizations, and networks will emerge as new forms of organization. Unless the Democrats can come up with some sort of political stem-cell cure (so to speak), the United States is much like 17th Century Spain or Great Britain between WWI and WWII - outwardly powerful for the time being but inwardly declining.

Posted by: Philosopher | Oct 31, 2004 1:06:25 PM

umm, Philo makes good points above. Summer of 2005 if we are in a major recession, who knows what will happen.

"and thus just about everyone who's played an important role in mapping out GOP strategy for the past few years loses his job"

And most go back to their respective states as in 92. Where the next important fights will be.
I am still thinking on Schmitt/Decembrist. I am not so certain about cozying up to the moderate Republicans in order to get policy done as he is.
a) It will compromise the policy, b) it feeds the perception that bipartisanship is possible. It will likely not permanently move the Republicans to the center. The right is a geographic/demographic/historical phenomenon, not a temporary political calculation.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Oct 31, 2004 1:15:07 PM

Here's a fantasy play, for House leadership:

When it comes time for the Democrats to nominate Nancy Pelosi for Speaker, in opposition to Dennis Hastert, let Nancy stand up and nominate a moderate Republican (who will, no doubt refuse the nomination). Pandemonium. Let the Democrats make clear that they will vote for a Republican for Speaker, if the moderate Republicans will show the courage to all the nomination of any sane person, not in the pocket of Tom DeLay.

It is very unlikely to get anyone but Hastert elected Speaker, but it puts Tom DeLay's leadership in the spotlight. The Democrats in the House have got to shine a light on that cockroach and keep it focused on him, till he gets squashed. Big drama will attract the kind of media attention, which DeLay cannot survive.

Posted by: Bruce Wilder | Oct 31, 2004 1:17:45 PM

One of the things that's made the Bush's Republicans effective is that they've adopted a Lenin-style "democratic centralism" approach to running the show. The main flaw with this approach, which we've already seen, is that though it's effective in getting things done, it leaves you exposed to the risk of doing really, really crazy things.

Hey, this is a very sharp observation. You're correct.

It's a very flexible approach: the guy on top sets the party line and people on all levels immediately start implementing it in ways they feel are most efficient. They problem is that field-level personnel often get overzealous and carried away, thus bending the party line and becoming 'dizzy from success'. Bending the party line makes them, objectively, enemy agents, and for being enemy agents they get purged and replaced with the new cadre.

It's a nice model, but I prefer to observe it from abroad, safer this way.

Posted by: abb1 | Oct 31, 2004 2:28:10 PM

It's possible the Reps could regroup pretty fast. Rumsfeld et al. gets the blame for sending in too few troops, everybody else gets off scott free. The party interprets Bush's loss as due to a tactical military mistake, and not a repudiation of the overall agenda. Opposition to Kerry's tax increases provide just enough glue to stave off schism.

However, this doesn't seem likely. The situation is just too unstable. Rumsfeld probably isn't the sort to go down quietly, and drags everybody down with him. The McCain/Rudy/Gubernator axis, seeing itself as the only viable future for the party, makes a bid for power. Succeeds in taking over the Senate. But they're a minority force in the party, and the social conservatives retain the House. War breaks out between the House and quisling Senate. Kerry, realizing he isn't going to get anything through the House, concentrates on foreign policy and plots for 2006. AG Spitzer launches indictment blitzkrieg against the former adminstation. Moderate NE Rep Senators see writing on wall, switch to Dem. Southern transformation of Rep party finally complete.

Posted by: Dr. No | Oct 31, 2004 5:16:28 PM

GOP disarry after a Bush defeat will happen privately among the power players in the party. Neocons (for promising a happy war) and evangelicals (for wanting too much and not giving enough, and because they are grassroots scum who make good whipping boys) will have to shut up for a while.

In front of the camera, the GOP will talk a lot about Bush being a slimmer Churchill.

But the question is: who will function better under gridlock? The GOP still seems like a pretty tough bunch.

Posted by: Jeff | Nov 1, 2004 7:58:00 AM

I wish it were true that the adults would take the Republican Party back, after a period of disarray.

My concern, though, is that the wingnuts running the GOP thrive on being the Party out of power -- it fuels their sense of fury and persecution. Look at everything they are about -- "they" are going to take away your guns, your Bible, force their homosexual agenda on you, take "your" money and give it to undeserving (black, Hispanic, luck-ducky, girley-men) ne'er do wells. They really don't have much of an agenda to DO anything (apart from being in power and enjoying all that comes with that) except gut the treasury to take their money back, beat up all of those other "them" that aren't good Christians (in their definition) or in lock-step with Amurcans being the biggest, baddest on the planet, and take care of poverty by just dismissing it as a state of mind.

I grew up in the Deep South, and I know the roots of that all too well. That rage lasted for 100 years until the Republicans developed their "Southern Strategy." These people are not Republicans in the sense that I knew the GOP - they're George Wallace Dixiecrats, and they won't just go away.

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