Fred Barnes recently summed up the view that dominates current conservative thinking on 2008:
It’s not particularly visible at the moment, but there is a road to political recovery for Republicans. Chances are they won’t get far enough down it to recapture the House or Senate or even hold the White House in 2008. But they might.
One can hardly fault Barnes or other conservatives for their pessimism. The Democratic candidates for the presidency are raising more money than the Republicans. Our troops are still in Iraq and will almost certainly be there come November of next year. On domestic issues, the ones that are salient now, like health care, play to Democratic strengths. The right looks ahead to 2008 and feels glum if not dread.
Yet, I think there are reasons for those of us on the right to be more optimistic than that. Chances are close to even (although not yet even) that the GOP will hold on to at least the White House in 2008, and maybe even grab at least one house of Congress. Let’s look at those reasons:
No Dick Cheney and Probably No John McCain: President Bush is presently very unpopular, something that would be huge handicap were his Vice President running to succeed him. But Cheney isn’t running, so it will be difficult for the Democrats to hang the Bush albatross around the GOP nominee’s neck. Not that they won’t try, but since the he won’t be Cheney, the nominee will have little trouble distancing himself from the Bush administration. As for John McCain, well, 2000 is looking like his year. Over the years he has antagonized many different parts of the GOP base, from the religious right to tax cutters to those who hate campaign finance laws. Were he the nominee, it would likely drive down turnout among the GOP base. The smart money, though, is on McCain not being the nominee.
Rudy and Mitt (and Fred?): Rudy and Mitt are both proving to be good candidates. They’ve performed well on the stump and in debates and have shown they can give as good as they get. Giuliani has managed to hang onto, if not increase, his lead among Republican candidates nationally, while Romney has shown surprising strength in Iowa and New Hampshire. Furthermore, both candidates have credibility on the issue of health care, Giuliani by putting forth a plan early, Romney by implementing reform while the governor of Massachusetts (although I think both plans leave a lot to be desired). Fred Thompson, meanwhile, is proving to be a wildcard. From April to June, his shadow candidacy ran smoothly; since June, it has been one misstep after another. Which Fred will show up when his candidacy officially begins in September, the Fred of spring or summer? If it is the one of spring, then the GOP goes into 2008 with three solid potential nominees.
Hillary Clinton: Is there another potential Democratic nominee that the GOP should more wish for? Back in 2001, the Pew Research Center reported Hillary Clinton’s favorable/unfavorable ratings at 56%-44%. The latest such Pew poll from August of this year, has the breakdown essentially unchanged, at 55%-45%. Despite all her efforts, Clinton cannot overcome that fact that she has an image of a shrewish schoolmarm who knows what is best for everyone (go here to see a recent “performance”). That image will only intensify when more voters get to know her as November 2008 approaches. The American people will not elect Nurse Ratched to the Oval Office. Of course, she might not be the Democratic nominee, but it is looking more and more certain that she will.
The Surge: Believe it or not, the Surge is working. Iraq is improving and so is American public opinion on the War. If it continues, Iraq may no longer be a drag on the GOP by November 2008. Of course, that is a big “IF.” Many things can still go wrong in Iraq. However, if you had told any conservative a year ago that Iraq would be improving in the summer of 2007, he would have thought you were a nut. For now, we can at least keep our fingers crossed.
Feckless Congress: Apparently there is something more unpopular the President Bush — the Democrat-controlled Congress. Indeed, it has one of the lowest approval ratings of any Congress ever. Democrats in Congress has given the GOP plenty to run against next year, from doing very little on earmarks, to doing nothing to extend Bush’s tax cuts, to attempting to prevent workplace votes on unionization. Republicans have a great foil for next year. Let’s hope they use it.
Granted, conservatives should not feel cheery — yet. But we can stop feeling so glum and wipe the frown off our faces. We have some good reasons to think positively.
David Hogberg is a Washington writer and host of the website Health Hog.