Tuesday, August 2, 2005

Try-Outs

This last week we’ve had a few possible 2008 Republican presidential candidates trot out on stage and try out some opening lines. First there was Sen. Bill Frist making his views known on stem cell research. Then it was New York Gov. George Pataki announcing that he won’t run for re-election. Now Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has been vetoing reproductive-rights legislation and making noises like he’s really a conservative, despite running as a moderate in 2002.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and predict that not one of these three guys will be the Republican nominee in 2008. The reason is very simple. They have all, in their own way, not done enough to please the far right of the Republican party or they have in some way betrayed them. No serious candidate will get out of the primaries without having the Good Housekeeping seal of approval from James Dobson, Tony Perkins, Gary Bauer, and the rest of the schutzstaffen. Senator Frist yielded to overwhelming scientific evidence that stem-cell research can actually save lives and cure diseases. Governor Pataki has been pro-choice for his entire term and only made a nodding concession to the right-to-lifers with his veto of OTC morning-after medication because it could be available to minors. And now Gov. Romney is trying to get into the good graces of the nutsery with his tough-acting stand on morning-after pills in Massachusetts and other feints to the right; not an easy act to pull off in a state where 14% of the voters are registered Republicans. The righties are highly suspicious of any Republican from Massachusetts — they figure he’s gotta have some liberal taint somewhere — and it was on Romney’s watch that the state became the first to allow gay marriage.

It’s hard to imagine the Republicans turning down someone as squeaky-clean as Romney, the political version of Donny Osmond, but the right wing is very hard to please — you really have to suck down the Kool-Aid to get in good with the presumptive power-brokers over there. Now that their best bet, Rick Santorum, has ruled himself out (his Ralph Kramden-like “hamana-hamana” performance on ABC this last Sunday would have been enough to kill the chances of any another man), they’re going to have to really scrounge around to find someone who will be able to make it through the primaries with his right-wing credentials intact and still come up with enough moderate positions to draw in the independent votes that will be needed to win in November

Assuming they’d want to — and that’s a big assumption — the odds that the Republicans will find an acceptable moderate candidate and position him to win are pretty long. The Republicans haven’t run a moderate candidate since Jerry Ford, and he was challenged by Reagan. Judging by recent polls, American voters are not too impressed by the brand of conservativism of George W. Bush — and there are those who say that Bush is not really a conservative. (Hey, don’t take my word for it; see what a Reaganite Republican thinks of him.) By 2008 the country may be ready for a very big change.

So if Frist, Pataki, and Romney don’t make the cut, who’s next?