The news this week reminded us that Iraq is not the only news story and not the only factor in 2008 presidential politics. For Republicans dreading another drubbing at the polls as the public mood continues to sour on the Iraq war, this was a reminder that domestic issues and individual personalities count very much and to a large degree may still benefit the GOP field.
The partial birth abortion ruling made clear that all the Democratic candidates oppose a ban on a procedure a large majority of voters (and their congressional representatives) find abhorrent and that all Republicans favor a ban. Moreover, Republicans relished the opportunity to remind voters that Bush appointed judges -- ones that both preach and practice judicial restraint and offer deference to the decisions of democratically elected legislators -- were responsible for the decision. In many cases to be decided between now and Election Day, whether on the Second Amendment or affirmative action, Republicans will be on the side of popular opinion and grouchy Democrats are like to underscore the gap between liberal elite and popular opinion.
What Larry Kudlow describes as the "greatest story never told" -- the triumph of the U.S. economy -- was indeed being told again. The stock market reached another high on earnings news and confidence about continued healthy growth and restrained inflation. John Kerry's gripe about "the worst economy since Hoover" seems more comical with each passing day. The year 2010, the point at which the Bush tax cuts will expire, seems not so far off now and will be front and center in the general election with Democrats chomping at the bit to raise taxes.
In other news, the marvelously effective Mitch McConnell was able to block Democratic attempts to require federal negotiation (and potential control) of Medicare drug prices. As even the New York Times conceded: "Republicans framed the issue as a choice between government-run health care and a benefit managed by the private sector." The Times remarkably went on to acknowledge: "The vote also reflected ineffectual advocacy by Democrats, who were slow in responding to the vehement arguments of well-prepared Republican senators" who demonstrated the effectiveness of private market forces in keeping prices low.
Gallup pollsters this week showed Hillary Clinton's growing unfavorable rating -- now above 50%. Republicans can take comfort in knowing they will run against an opponent, whether the divisive Hillary or a lightly experienced Barack Obama, who will have serious flaws of their own.
However, this week also saw the cringe inducing testimony of Alberto Gonzales who seemed not so malicious as down right befuddled. If ever a stark reminder was necessary that the first requirement of voters may be minimal competence, this was it. If this is indeed to be a competence election, than seasoned executives like Giuliani, Romney, and perhaps even Bill Richardson may stand to benefit.
Of course, the horrible events at Virginia Tech obliterated much of the news. But even this served to underscore the degree to which the debate has shifted in the conservatives' favor. Democrats were surprisingly mum and even pessimistic that gun control efforts would benefit. Moreover, horrible, unpredictable events like this remind us that the strength, wisdom, and decency of our leaders are as important as the positions they take. Either of the two leading GOP candidates -- the war hero or the courageous mayor -- could, voters I think will agree, be seen as capable and strong leaders in a world sometimes seen as nothing short of mad.
This is not to say that Iraq and foreign affairs will not be high on the list of voter concerns in 2008. However, it does remind pundits and voters alike that there is a range of issues which count. Unexpected events tend to emphasize the importance of leadership and political courage. How each candidate handles the ups and downs of the campaign and the issues of this week plus immigration, stem cell research, entitlement reform, taxes and a host of other issues may be key to determining the nominee and the eventual winner in November. Looked at in this light, there may be some measure of hope for the Republican candidates.