THE PLANK OCTOBER 8, 2008
Kevin Drum's smart post on the factional warfare that is sure to break out if McCain loses got me thinking about another problem that will face the GOP in the event of an Obama victory. Since, let's say, 2001, the Republican Party has been blessed with a number of extremely popular figures who appear every four years at the GOP convention, dominate the Sunday talk shows, and often run for president. I would include in this category John McCain, who has been America's most popular senator for most of the decade; Rudy Giuliani, "America's mayor" and the country's most visible human symbol of 9/11; Colin Powell, still the country's most popular public figure; Condi Rice; Arnold Schwarzenegger; and even Jeb Bush, who spent two terms as the respected and well-liked governor of the country's most "important" state.
It is hard to think of a comparable list of Democratic politicians who have attained such stature in the public mind. Al Gore, over the past five years, is perhaps the closest comparison, but his approval ratings were never (and are not currently) particularly lotfy. Bill Clinton is (was?) an admired ex-president, but that title--by definition--put him at a certain remove from the current political scene. Teddy Kennedy and Hillary Clinton both have universal name recogntion, but neither one has ever been tremendously popular with a broad swath of the electorate.
But back to the GOP. Look at that list--and then consider what the state of affairs will be if Obama takes the oath of office on January 20. McCain will be a losing presidential candidate, and one who is rapidly advancing in age. Rudy Giuliani has become somewhat of a punchline (if for no other reason than that he ran one of the worst primary campaigns of the modern era). Colin Powell retains a certain cachet, but is hardly identified as a Republican anymore; it even seems worth asking whether he presently identifies himself as one. Condi Rice remains inexplicably popular, but the stain of Bush will not wear off easily. Regardless, it is hard to envision much of a political future for her. Arnold has enraged much of the California GOP, and probably will not run for the senate; it is more likely that he would serve in an Obama administration. And then there is Jeb, who remains a compelling figure but is (probably) permanently stigmatized because of his last name (although it would be interesting to see him try and capture the GOP nomination in four years).
So where does that leave the party? Well, there is Mike Huckabee, there is Mitt Romney, there is Sarah Palin, and there is an ever-dwindling supply of senators and governors. It goes without saying that a political party is defined by more than its five or ten brightest stars, but all these figures were tremendously helpful to the Republican Party throughout this decade, and for various reasons they will all be sidelined. Should McCain lose, this is simply another problem for the GOP.