Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Fall of the House of George

House for sale. Fixer-upper, handyman's delight. Motivated seller.

In my last post I outlined the three-pillars of the GOP House that George Built – wealthy conservatives, social conservatives, and security conservatives - tracing their origins back to Nixon.

McCain has claimed, as any still-technically-viable candidate must, that reports of his campaign’s death are premature. This is not true; to the extent that the fortunes of its presidential campaign are a reflection of the fortunes of the party, reports of the demise of the GOP are if anything tardy in the extreme. The House that George Built collapsed in 2006 because one its pillars, security conservatives, collapsed.

Security conservatives have made the difference for Republicans since 1968. What is critical about these voters is that, unlike wealthy conservatives and social conservatives, they are not Republican loyalists. In fact, they take in a great many 2s and 3s – registered Democrats and independents who share the GOP’s traditional emphasis on a strong military but may vote Democrat on local matters. It is no coincidence that traditional swing states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida, as well as new battlegrounds such as Virginia and North Carolina, are in the top ten states in the nation for number of military recruits from the state or the number of active-duty personnel in residence.

In the ten presidential elections from 1968 to 2004, security voters did not deliver the popular vote for a Republican or conservative candidate only three times - 1976, 1996, and 2000 (remember that in 1992 the conservative vote was split, allowing Bill Clinton to prevail without 51% of the popular vote). These same voters gave the GOP a ringing endorsement in 2002, and delivered enough for a second Bush term in 2004. By 2006, however, they had abandoned the Republican Party almost wholesale, returning power over Congress to the Democratic Party. It is clear, based on polling in the battlegrounds described above, that security voters have not rushed to the GOP’s standard bearer in 2008 in droves, despite the fact that he is, himself, a veteran. Some of this has to do with the fact that national security is not the dominant issue of the day, squeezed out by the economy and health care, but McCain’s record on veterans’ affairs has been roundly criticized and Obama has been endorsed by a number of high-profile veterans and veterans-groups.

McCain, and other Republican candidates, will suffer next Tuesday because one of its three key pillars has simply disappeared. But, for the GOP, these days it’s always darkest just before it goes pitch black. The worst will come in 2012. More on that in my next post.

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