This column was written by Bruce Bartlett.
I hadn't planned on writing another column about Hillary Clinton, but the one I wrote last week has been so widely misunderstood that I feel compelled to do so.
To recap, I said that no Republican can win the presidency next year. If one accepts this premise, then if follows that it is in the interest of conservatives to support the most conservative Democrat running for that party's nomination. I went on to say why I think Hillary Clinton may be the most conservative Democrat.
To begin with, it is obviously not impossible for a Republican to win next year. But clearly 2008 is shaping up as a Democratic year. It will take a monumental Democratic screw-up to lose. I can think of only one instance in American history where a party had the kind of advantage the Democrats have and still lost. That was 1948, when Republican Thomas E. Dewey blew an election that should have been in the bag and lost to Democrat Harry Truman.
While conceding the possibility that I am wrong, I think it is foolish to ignore the strong Democratic trend that is indisputable. Republicans should remember that they just barely won the White House in 2000 and 2004 against very poor Democratic candidates and with the party strongly united behind George W. Bush. I just don't see that happening again next year.
The Republicans are not going to be as united, and it is almost a certainty that the Democrats will run a better campaign in 2008. I think all three of the Democrats within striking distance of the nomination will be better candidates than Al Gore or John Kerry. And because of the close losses in 2000 and 2004, the Democrats will really pull together this time.
Meanwhile, voter fatigue is going to wear heavily on the Republican nominee, who is not likely to have the same unity of party that the Democrat will have. It is obvious that there is no enthusiasm for any of the Republicans, which is why so many in the party are yearning for another candidate, such as former Sen. Fred Thompson, to jump in the race. The Republican nominee will be the last candidate still standing at the end of the day, which is not a prescription for party unity.
In any case, one need not accept my idea that the election next year is the Democrats' to lose to want to hedge one's bet. Many of the Republican Party's largest donors are already doing exactly that. BusinessWeek reports that John Mack, head of Morgan Stanley, a big Wall Street firm, is supporting Sen. Clinton. In 2004, Mack raised $200,000 for Bush's reelection. The New York Sun reports that a number of other big Bush contributors have also joined the Clinton camp.
These and other big-money people are just the leading edge of what I believe will be a steady move into the Democratic sphere in order to have some influence on the next president. This helps explain why, collectively, the Democratic candidates are raising much more money than the Republicans.
It is too easy to write off such people as opportunists who just want to be on the winning side. There is a deep undercurrent of hostility to the Republican Party among many who formerly supported its candidates. They are simply disgusted with the incompetence with which the Iraq war has been waged, the total disappearance of fiscal discipline, and what they view as the party's incessant pandering to ignorant and intolerant yahoos on issues such as immigration, gays, global warming, abortion, and stem-cell research, among others.
No doubt, a great many conservatives will say good riddance to such people. However, if the Republican Party loses everyone except religious zealots, gun nuts, anti-tax extremists, and pro-life absolutists, then it is not going to win any national elections. That's not a comment on the rightness or wrongness of the views of those I just listed — it's simple math. There just aren't enough of such people to put together a winning coalition. The price of purity is political powerlessness.
Consequently, I anticipate that more and more Republicans and even a few conservatives are going to start looking at supporting one of the Democratic candidates. I suggested that Sen. Clinton may be the most conservative Democrat now running. But others believe that Sen. Obama may be acceptable because of his deeply conservative temperament, and some point to New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson's excellent record of tax-cutting.
The point is that there are better and worse Democrats from a conservative point of view. Those who prefer to go down with the sinking Republican ship may come to regret that they didn't try to exercise influence on the Democratic nomination before the nomination was sewn up.
By Bruce Bartlett
Reprinted with permission from National Review Online