Do Nothing Republicans
by Jonathan Singer, Thu May 15, 2008 at 09:37:09 AM EDT
This is rather interesting. Congressional Republicans, in the wake of their embarrassing and downright depressing loss in the special election in Mississippi's first congressional district, are talking about downplaying the things that currently make the party so unpopular with the American people while trying to embrace as tightly as possible their presidential nominee, John McCain. McCain, however, will have none of it, report Adam Nagourney and Carl Hulse.
But Mr. McCain's advisers said the Mississippi race underlined his intention to distance himself as much as possible from Congressional Republicans. Mr. McCain has already been openly critical of some of President Bush's strategies.
Times are tough when a party's presidential nominee is afraid to being affected by the taint that surrounds his party's membership in Congress. But it's not the first time that we've seen this before. During the run up to the 1948 presidential election, Harry Truman ran as much against the "Do-Nothing Republican Congress" headed by the unpopular Robert Taft of Ohio as he did GOP presidential nominee Thomas Dewey. What's more, Truman drove a wedge right down the middle of the Republican Party, introducing legislation in Congress seeking the implementation of the moderate policies upon which Dewey was running his campaign -- policies, however, that were anathema to the Republican leadership on Capitol Hill (particularly Taft).
There's a possibility that the Democrats could do the same thing here -- split McCain off from his base, and from the Republican leadership in Congress. The problem, of course, is that unlike Dewey, who was genuinely a moderate and even had some progressive tendencies, McCain is a hard right conservative. Luckily, however, even as McCain finds himself well to the right of center on most issues, his party's leadership and much of its base is even more conservative than he is. On at least a few issues, there is some light of day between McCain and folks like John Boehner.
What could the Democrats do to exploit this? Bring up some of those policies upon the back of which McCain pretends to be a moderate but which he would never exert any real political capital trying to pass if president and dare the Republicans to vote for them. For instance, look at the issue of immigration. Because Republicans on Capitol Hill would never support a serious solution to the problem that attempts to stop the flow of those unlawfully crossing the border while at the same time figuring out a path to legalization for the millions already here who are so important to the American economy, if the Democrats introduced such legislation they could illustrate to the American people that while McCain might talk a good talk, when push comes to shove he (a) can't get it done when it counts, and (b) doesn't command the respect of his own party.
Americans don't want someone who won't or can't get things done to be President. Do nothing Presidents, just like do nothing Congresses, just aren't popular. So although attempting such a move carries at least some risks -- most notably the possibility that McCain comes off as more of a moderate than he actually is -- the potential upsides of such a move, including outing McCain as someone who when push comes to shove will not be able to achieve many if any of the policy proposals where he is slightly less conservative than the rest of his party, just might make it worthwhile.