Normally, politicians face a difficult tradeoff between taking positions that satisfy their party’s base and appealing to the broader public. You can see that happening right now to the Republicans: to have a chance of winning the party’s nomination, Republican presidential hopefuls have to take far-right positions on Iraq and social issues that will cost them a lot of votes in the general election.And I wrote in June:
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.One can still make the case that McCain is going for broke in trying to win over the extreme right-wingers that comprise primary voters. For example, in South Carolina, 70% of likely Republican primary voters approve of the job Bush is doing as president and nearly 60% consider themselves pro-life.
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.
However, any GOP presidential candidate must then swing back to the center if they have any chance of landing in the White House.
As I've written before, the near impossible task a Republican faces is the chasm that exists today between the extreme right and the center. The distance one needs to zig then zag from one side to the other is immense, and by having to do so all credibility goes out the window, swiftly alienating all involved. Appeasing no longer works.
When Nixon once spoke of first running to the right and then moving to the center, the gap separating the right and center was much smaller, so navigating the proverbial swing was easier, less noticeable and off-putting. But with the current version of the GOP, the right-wing faction is a Grand Canyon distance away from moderates.
In effect, no Republican politician is good enough to successfully pull off that leap-frog in allegiance and positions. Understandably, McCain and other GOP contenders have no choice but to give it a try. But the fact remains, given what they must do to curry the hard right vote in primaries, they'll have said and promised too much to undo and be credible to moderates. Since 9/11, the country has certainly trended away from the fear-driven rightward drift and back towards a more typical centrist stance. That said the GOP candidate will have no shot in the general election.
The fix? To reverse all of what Karl Rove has done. Good luck with all of that!