Saturday, June 03, 2006

Although it's old news, we now have both McCain and Giuliani (appearing with Ralph Reed) sucking up to the religious right with each doing what's apparently necessary to secure the GOP slot for president. Although many (including myself) were initially puzzled with McCain's odd overtures and his willingness to forgive and forget with ease, it appears as if he's simply trying to navigate through a near-impossible obstacle course.

Given this modern-day version of the Republican Party, McCain (and Giuliani) likely deduced that one must first shift hard to the right to lock-up the strident, zombie sect of the party. Once accomplishing that feat, and after securing the party nomination, one must then abruptly shift back hard to the middle. For McCain, he must then reestablish his reputation as a maverick, the daring outside-the-box pragmatist who desires change. (Whether any of that's true or not is not the point; it's this crafted image that made him popular on a national level). However, he'll then have to contend with the moderates who have come to seriously question his positions given the courting of Falwell et al, and as he lurches back to the middle, he'll then alienate many of the religious folks he tried to win over from the start.

Good luck with all of that! You can see why it's a near-impossible assignment for anyone. This is the GOP created by Rove and it will be one of many BushCo legacy items that those in the party will have to undo and fix.

Yet, despite all of the above, I believe both McCain and Giuliani are making a big mistake. It may be evidence of blindly following the advice of their handlers (recall what that did for Gore and Kerry), after learning some hard lessons in the 2000 and 2004 elections about voter participation rates within the party.

As most everybody knows, today's GOP has become a hostage to the religious faction of the party. Yes, hardcore Bible thumpers make for wonderfully motivated and compliant voters (with Rove operating the hand-held controls). However, in certain key respects, the situation is a bit different this time around.

For one, when GW ran in 2000, he was already a born-again convert who had a record when it came to issues the religious right regarded as high-importance. McCain and Giuliani do not have this pedigree, with neither a born-again or known for any kind of religious zealotry. In fact, both have held fairly liberal social positions in the past. It will be difficult sledding for either of these two men when it comes to convincing these church-going folks that they're one of them.

The other obstacle in this effort to persuade has been made that much more difficult by BushCo. Over the last six years, the religious right has grown increasingly disgruntled and pissed off, feeling betrayed by this administration. As part of the agreement, they diligently voted for Bush in exchange for promises of hard-fought action for their causes (abortion, gay marriage, etc.). Every now and again Bush has tossed them a symbolic bone, but the bottom line is Rove has used them like a tool. Keep them in line, stoke their passions when convenient (around election time), play on their fears -- do all that's necessary to make sure they get out and vote, but in the end ultimately do very little of substance for them. There's growing evidence that the religious right has picked up on this scheme and they're not likely to let it happen again. So, the litmus test will be that much greater in '06 and '08 when it comes to judging a GOP candidate as someone who will truly try to stir it up and get things done, for real, as opposed to the past six years of smoke-and-mirrors manipulation.

To that end, McCain and Giuliani may be making a futile and big mistake. By spending time courting a segment of voters they have much lower odds of seducing (vs. '00 and '04), they will effectively alienate a larger group of voters (moderates plus anti-GW party converts), making for a lose-lose strategy.

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