Vail CO, Colorado
Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2008: To understand how the Republicans did the seemingly impossible ” win the presidency for a third straight election ” we must go back to the pivotal period: spring 2007.
That was when the GOP finally snapped out of its infatuation with George W. Bush and his “invade the world/invite the world” ideology.
On the one hand, the Bush policy was to fight open-ended foreign wars in the name of abstractions simply not applicable to Muslims in the Middle East.
On the other hand, the president seemed to think America was an abstraction, a land of universal principles, as opposed to distinct cultural traditions.
In Bush’s view, the United States was a platform for international experimentation, not a homeland to be secured.
Thus, pacifying the Sunni Triangle was more important than securing the border with Mexico.
So of course the GOP was punished at the polls in 2006. And the forecast for 2008 looked equally bleak.
But then the Republicans woke up. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich captured the Republican mood when he compared the Bush administration to that of Jimmy Carter. In that same June 4, 2007, issue of The New Yorker, Gingrich labeled the campaign strategies of White House political guru Karl Rove as “maniacally dumb.”
Meanwhile, congressional Republicans finally insisted on an Iraq rethink. In late May 2007, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama ” as instinctively pro-Bush as anyone this side of Barney the first dog ” declared on “Face the Nation” that a new course in Iraq would be needed if “the surge” fizzled. Four months later, in the fall of that year, Bush agreed to start drawing down American forces.
And here’s where the GOP caught a political break.
As Republicans strove for “peace with honor” in Iraq, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., having earlier declared the war “lost,” went even further, pursuing his partisan vendetta against the 43rd president.
Egged on by the lefty neo-McGovernite blogosphere, Reid didn’t understand that in dishonoring the commander in chief he was seen as dishonoring the troops the chief commanded.
On immigration, the GOP finally exorcised itself ” rejecting the president’s not-so-well-disguised amnesty plan.
Whereupon Sen. John McCain’s presidential prospects were blown away; the Arizonan seemed to disappear in a dust-devil of four-letter insults aimed at fellow Republicans.
Opponents of the 2007 immigration bill, led by Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., forced a series of votes on hot-button issues: Should English be the official language of the United States? Should illegal aliens be able to collect Social Security benefits? Should bilingualism be protected? Should dual citizenship with Mexico be expanded?
In each instance, The New York Times counseled the Democrats to vote in favor of “sophisticated” open-borders liberalism.
And, of course, Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., and Barack Obama, D-Ill., each hungering for The Times’ presidential endorsement, were eager to please.
But the “Reagan Democrats” ” the folks who had elected populist Democrats such as Jim Webb and Jon Tester to the Senate in 2006 ” were not so pleased. So when the Republicans finally found their voice on immigration, the Reagan Democrats were re-Reaganized.
Finally, Republicans were speaking about realism and the national interest, always a winner for them.
The Democrats tried to fight back, using the health care issue, but the GOP was ready with a response, pointing to moderate health plans enacted by Republican governors from Massachusetts to California.
Finally, late in the 2008 campaign, the Democrats attempted to energize their own small base, endorsing gay marriage and repeal of the Patriot Act. It didn’t work.
The Republicans, nominating a ticket free of any close association with the outgoing administration, won a comfortable victory.
And so, for the eighth time in 11 presidential elections, liberalism was defeated.
James P. Pinkerton is a columnist for Newsday.
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