The Republican Party After Bush

Let's Unite, Not Fight button

The GOP experienced internal battles over its future following Barry Goldwater's defeat in 1964. hide caption

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Mitch McConnell button

Both should win in Kentucky, but McConnell may have a tougher go at it. hide caption

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Margaret Chase Smith button

The first woman to win a Senate seat "in her own right." hide caption

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Mark Andrews button

Forty-five years ago today, North Dakota's Mark Andrews began a congressional career that would last more than two decades. hide caption

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Regardless of what happens to John McCain on Nov. 4 — and, with two weeks to go, it's not promising — there's going to be a new Republican Party come Nov. 5, a post-George W. Bush GOP where long-suppressed (and not so suppressed) resentments are likely to come to the surface. The unknown at this point is which way the party goes in the wake of these resentments.

Colin Powell, hardly an active, partisan Republican, but a Republican nonetheless, had his say on Sunday, on NBC's Meet the Press. In endorsing Barack Obama, the former secretary of state under Bush said he was concerned that the GOP has moved more to the right than he would have liked, that the party has become more narrow-minded, that he fears the effect of two more conservative Supreme Court justices. The move was damning for McCain, though not unexpected.

Another moderate, former Michigan Gov. William Milliken, has also spoken out against the direction of the party, but that is not surprising, either. Milliken, who was his state's longest-serving governor (1969-82) and is now 86 years old, endorsed John Kerry over Bush in 2004. Jim Leach, the liberal Republican who lost his Iowa House seat two years ago, spoke on behalf of Obama at this year's Democratic convention in Denver. There is no lack of party faithful who have expressed unease over McCain's running mate, Sarah Palin, and her views about cultural issues, or dismay at the campaign's focus on Bill Ayers — that "washed-up terrorist," in McCain's own words. Lest we forget, there was also the spectacle of Christopher (son of William F.) Buckley declaring for Obama.

At the same time, the party is likely to feel a post-election tug toward the right. Newt Gingrich is ready, willing and available, having offered himself as a sage who will bring the party back to its principles. There are some in the GOP who have privately said that Gingrich, the former House speaker, would be less than heartbroken if McCain went down to defeat, enabling the party to turn to new (read: Newt) leadership for 2012. But he has no shortage of ideas about how to bring the party back to life.

One issue sure to be contentious in a post-Bush GOP is immigration. Bush, McCain and the business community have long worked for an inclusive policy with the goal of more legal avenues of employment. Others in the party, especially in Congress, have a different perspective: They see immigration as a broken system that needs fixing (securing the border) before anything else. And then there are the issues of spending, earmarks and taxes, a consensus on which continues to elude Republicans.

Republicans are also likely to purge their leadership in Congress, certainly in the House. The party seems headed for another double-digit loss of House seats — the first time it has suffered such back-to-back losses since the 1930s. Minority Leader John Boehner and Whip Roy Blunt somehow managed to survive the loss of their majority in 2006 with their leadership posts intact; it's hard to envision a repeat performance.

Let's be honest here: The party was going to be in trouble no matter who the standard-bearer was going to be. The president is unpopular; the war is unpopular. The price of gasoline and food has skyrocketed. Add to that the undeniable fact that Obama — with a flawless campaign, unprecedented fundraising and millions of new voters signed up on his behalf — is proving to be an elusive target.

But it's the turning south of the economy that has put a huge burden on McCain's shoulders. His post-St. Paul convention bounce has been replaced by depressingly large drops in the Dow and, more important, large drops in confidence in the country's economic stability. That's really not McCain's fault. But let's face it: At 72 years of age, he was never the guy to take the party into the future.

Part of it is that McCain was never a right-wing pinup, not with a history of battling conservatives on everything from campaign finance to the Bush tax cuts to overhauling the nation's immigration system. He did move noticeably to the right this year, embracing more of the Bush administration's agenda than he had in the past. But no one outside of the DNC can say with a straight face that he is emblematic of a third Bush term (for better or worse). For all his talk about cutting spending and waste, McCain's proposal to have the government buy up troubled mortgages is anything but conservative and instead will surely add to the debt. The selection of Palin did help his cause with many on the right, but nobody will confuse him with Ronald Reagan — or even Barry Goldwater, his idol and predecessor in the Senate.

But if the McCain-Goldwater comparison is not quite apt, we might compare the state of the GOP today to what happened in 1964, in the aftermath of Goldwater's crushing defeat. Liberal and moderate Republicans who were ignored or pushed aside during that campaign, such as New York's Nelson Rockefeller and Michigan's George Romney, claimed after the LBJ landslide that the party had lost its bearings by moving so far to the right. Ray Bliss, an Ohio Republican known for his nuts-and-bolts approach to politics, was brought in to run the national party. The GOP had a major comeback in the 1966 midterms, picking up 47 House seats, and it won back the White House two years later with Richard Nixon.

To be sure, there were recriminations after Goldwater's defeat in '64, and in retrospect, the Republicans' fall from grace didn't last that long. But one gets the sense that another battle is approaching, win or lose on Nov. 4, and it could get ugly before it turns pretty.

MAPQUEST: Note these changes since our last column. Indiana, Missouri and North Carolina go from McCain to Tossup. New Hampshire goes from Tossup to Obama. Our current tally: Obama 273 electoral votes, McCain 163, Tossup 102. Needed to win: 270.

Also, one change to report on the Senate map: Minnesota goes from Republican to Tossup.

And speaking of Senate races:

Q: Is the Democratic tide going to take down Sen. Mitch McConnell [in Kentucky]? — Beth Henry, Lexington, Ky.

A: Not that long ago, McConnell was on our "not to worry" list. And while I still think he prevails, he is anything but a shoo-in. The economic uncertainties that have spun out of control over the past five weeks have put more Republicans in jeopardy than anyone could have imagined. Polls once showed McConnell with a sizable lead over his Democratic challenger, businessman Bruce Lunsford; now they are suggesting the race is within the margin of error. McConnell's sin seems to be his role in the passage of the congressional financial bailout/rescue bill — a vote that has hurt incumbents from both parties but appears to be more troubling for those in the GOP. McConnell has fought back, suggesting that Lunsford, who made two unsuccessful bids for governor, used to run a company that provided poor medical treatment to veterans. It's a tactic that was effectively used by one of Lunsford's Democratic rivals in the 2003 governor's primary race, to Lunsford's dismay.

In the presidential race, John McCain should win Kentucky handily.

If you check our Senate map, we have the Kentucky Senate race "leaning Republican." But should the unlikely happen and McConnell go down to defeat, he would be the first Republican Senate leader to lose since Indiana's James Watson was unseated in 1932.

Q: If John McCain selected Sen. Joseph Lieberman as his running mate, would Lieberman have been the first person in history to be the VP nominee of both major parties? — Tane Danger, Busan, South Korea

A: Yes. Five people did run for vice president with different presidential candidates — Charles Fairbanks (1904/1916), Adlai E. Stevenson (1892/1900), Thomas Hendricks (1876/1884), John C. Calhoun (1824/1828) and George Clinton (1804/1808) — but no one has ever run on different party ballots since the founding of the Republican Party established today's two-party system in the 1850s.

Q: A recent NPR story said that Maine's Margaret Chase Smith was the first woman elected to the Senate "in her own right." All Arkansans know that this distinction goes to Hattie Caraway of Arkansas, who was confirmed in a special election on Jan. 12, 1932, thus becoming the first woman elected to the Senate. — Gary Edwards, Jonesboro, Ark.

A: You are correct in stating that Caraway was the first woman elected to the Senate. But what we meant by Smith being the first elected "in her own right" is that she was elected on her own; she was not initially appointed to succeed a deceased husband. That was not the case with Caraway, who was appointed to the Senate following the death of her husband, Sen. Thaddeus Caraway, in 1931.

Q: When was the last time a senator became president? — Frank Martin, Portland, Ore.

A: It has only happened twice in history: Warren G. Harding (R-OH) in 1920 and John F. Kennedy (D-MA) in 1960. And I predict a senator will be elected president this year as well.

Q: Just a note to mention how happy I am that this incredibly exciting and busy campaign season will not be hampered by the need to follow the dreaded Yankees. How 'bout those Sox! — Ron Pimentel, Pepperell, Mass.

Similarly ...

Q: Look at the Yankee cap, Ken. The "NY" is obviously a twisted cross and a sign of the devil. The Red Sox and Obama in 2008! — David Wilbur, Ferndale, Wash.

A: How 'bout those Rays!

MEET THE CHALLENGERS: Back in 2006 we initiated this feature, in which we ask you to send in campaign buttons for candidates for the Senate, House and governor. Our end of the bargain — aside from satisfying Ken Rudin's button craze, which is bordering on the unhealthy — would be to feature the candidates in a "meet the challenger" section.

We're featuring four candidates this week. Two are challenging incumbents — Republican Lou Barletta is taking on Rep. Paul Kanjorski (D) in Pennsylvania's 11th CD, and Democrat Dan Seals is opposing Rep. Mark Kirk (R) in Illinois' 10th CD. And with an open seat in Maine's 1st District — Rep. Tom Allen is the Democratic nominee for the Senate — there are two non-incumbents running to succeed him, Democrat Chellie Pingree and Republican Charlie Summers.

We'll start with the race in Maine. Both parties have strong candidates. Summers, a former two-term state senator, ran against Allen in 2004 and lost 60-40 percent. Since then, he became the New England regional administrator for the Small Business Administration and served in Iraq. Pingree, also an ex-state senator, was the Democratic Senate nominee against Susan Collins in 2002, where she lost by almost as big a margin: 58-42 percent. After her defeat, she headed up Common Cause, the liberal watchdog group in Washington. The two differ on an assortment of issues. Summers supports the Bush tax cuts and drilling in Alaska; Pingree doesn't. Calling the war the "worst foreign policy mistake in our country's history," she backs an immediate withdrawal of troops; he doesn't.

If the race is decided on the voting makeup of the district, Pingree should be favored. The district has gone Republican only once in the past 22 years: Jim Longley Jr. won a single term in 1994. John Kerry carried the district with 55 percent of the vote in 2004. And Pingree has raised four times the amount of money that Summers has brought in. For his part, Summers, a moderate Republican, is hoping that independents can swing the election his way.

Lou Barletta button

Now on to Pennsylvania. Lou Barletta, the mayor of Hazleton, is one of the few Republican challengers to Democratic incumbents who are given a shot on Nov. 4. There are several factors that give Barletta hope. The incumbent, Paul Kanjorski, has been under fire for his role in obtaining millions of dollars in federal grants for a company owned by his relatives, a role that was investigated by the FBI. This issue has been around for years, and in fact, it was one of the things Barletta used when he ran against Kanjorski six years ago.

He lost by 13 points, but it was the 71-year-old incumbent's closest race since he was first elected in 1984. Another issue is Kanjorski's role as the second-ranking Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee and his vote for the unpopular $700 billion bailout/rescue bill of Wall Street. Barletta has been hitting the issue hard.

Barletta is also a nationally known crusader against illegal immigration, a position that has made him extremely popular in Hazleton. A Republican, Barletta also had the nomination of the Democratic Party when he was re-elected in 2007. Two years ago, Hazleton became the first town in the country to ban employers from hiring illegal immigrants, though that ordinance was overturned by a federal judge. An appeals court hearing is expected at the end of the month.

Dan Seals button

As for the race in Illinois' 10th CD, this is Dan Seals' second shot at Mark Kirk. Two years ago, in this district in the North Shore suburbs of Chicago, Seals lost by a 53-47 percent margin, which immediately sent signals that Kirk, a moderate four-term Republican congressman, was vulnerable. What Seals hopes will push him over the top this time is that favorite son Barack Obama is heading the ticket; Obama is expected to carry the 10th CD overwhelmingly. Seals, a business consultant, is trying to portray Kirk as a George W. Bush wannabe and has taken Kirk to task for his contributions from the pharmaceutical and oil industries.

Want to see your candidate's campaign button appear in the next column and, at the same time, make Ken Rudin happy? Send your 2008 buttons to Political Junkie, 635 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20001.

ON THE ROAD WITH TALK OF THE NATION: I sure hope you weren't lining up outside the Newseum in Washington these past two weeks to be part of the live audience for the Political Junkie segment on NPR's Talk of the Nation. Two weeks ago we took our act to Columbus, Ohio, where we did the show and a post-debate special at the COSI Center, courtesy of the wonderful folks at member station WOSU. (And special thanks as well to another member station in Columbus, WCBE, which graciously allowed me to podcast from their premises.) And last week we were in Roanoke and Blacksburg, Va., where we also did TOTN and a post-debate special before live audiences, thanks to the great people at member station WVTF.

Unfortunately for our nation's capital, TOTN returns to the Newseum on Wednesday, where once again a live audience will be treated to another episode of interesting conversation, useless trivia questions and sparkling jokes. Special guest this week (via phone): Green Party presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney.

P.S. A very special and heartfelt note of appreciation to all those who wrote in following that TOTN caller two weeks ago who brought up the Hillary Clinton/Glenn Close connection without knowing all the facts. Your notes meant more to me than you know, and I thank you for them.

IT'S ALL POLITICS: You can hear one of the most disturbing songs in rock history — and, naturally, one of my favorites — plus a rare visit from Joe the Plumber in last week's post-debate podcast, which can be found here. New podcast every Thursday.

******* Don't Forget: If you are sending in a question to be used in this column, please don't forget to include your city and state. *********

This day in campaign history: Mark Andrews (R) won a special election in North Dakota's 1st congressional district to replace the late Rep. Hjalmar Nygaard (R), who died in July. Andrews defeated English professor John Hove, a liberal Democrat who had the endorsement of President Kennedy, proving that nothing in campaign history is too insignificant or trivial for this column (Oct. 22, 1963). Andrews would go on to win seven more House races (including a defeat of now-Sen. Byron Dorgan in 1974) and one Senate term before being narrowly defeated for re-election to the Senate in 1986.

Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: politicaljunkie@npr.org

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