Newt: Time for GOP to think
Newt Gingrich, who recently grabbed attention by collaborating with Hillary Clinton on proposals for reforming health care, said the strong showing by Democrat Paul Hackett in the special congressional election in Ohio is a symptom of the Republican party's vulnerabilities as the 2006 elections approach. Hackett is a veteran of the war in Iraq and once called President Bush "the greatest threat to the safety and security of Americans" (see commondreams.org), but as Rush Limbaugh) pointed out, there was none of this talk on Hackett's televised campaign ads. Gingrich said of this near-defeat in a safe Republican district:
There is more energy today on the anti-Iraq, anti-gas-price, anti-changing-Social Security and I think anti-Washington [side]. ... I think the combination of those four are all redounding to weaken Republicans and help Democrats. ... I don't think this is time to panic, but I think it's time to think. If we don't think now, then next September , people will panic when it's too late. (SOURCE: Washington Post)
Having lost his former titanic position of power (in no small part because of his own shortcomings), Gingrich is obviously anxious to insert himself into national political discourse and is therefore prone to saying things just to get attention. That much is clear. What is less clear is whether Gingrich still embodies that zest for fundamental reform that propelled him and his party to the top one decade ago. (Has it been that long?) Thus, even though Gingrich is probably being melodramatic in this situation, I do think he is on to something. President Bush has only recently begun to hint at the sacrifices and hardships that lie ahead, and has said virtually nothing about the need to accept higher energy prices. From everything I have been able to discern, the White House has been so tightly focused on tactical maneuverings and political paybacks that strategic planning has been left unattended. If anything goes seriously wrong on the world scene between now and November 2006, the GOP will be at the mercy of a volatile, discontented electorate.
From a broader perspective, we can begin to outline likely future currents in American politics by identifying key electoral blocs. Given the polarization of recent years, there are only a small number of politically attentive Americans who do not identify closely with one party or another. If the Democrats can manage to keep their "unhinged" core constituency fired up while attracting a large number of unattentive "clueless" voters, it will be hard to beat. For their part, the Republicans need to retain the loyalty of the Christian Right without alienating the more traditional "sensible" faction of the political spectrum. If the GOP gets tangled up in no-win divisive social issues such as opposing stem cell research or promoting the teaching of "intelligent design" in public schools, they are toast.