Can the GOP Win?
How it may turn out.


George Will recently argued that it will be hard for Republicans to win in the general election. Frank Rich reiterated the point Sunday morning. Looking at the (relatively low) turnout on Saturday and other factors… is that so? In the wake of the South Carolina primary this weekend, National Review Online asked a group of pollsters and others.

David Freddoso

Democrats are overconfident about the presidential election of 2008. As we saw in 1988, high turnout in the Democratic nominating process does not necessarily presage anything.

If the Democratic candidate is Hillary Clinton, then Republicans can certainly win the presidency. Her negatives are just too high. If she is the presumptive nominee on Feb. 6, then Republicans will have nine months to exploit her. (Incidentally, this is one way a long, bloody fight for the GOP nomination could be a plus, since the Democrats’ target will emerge late in the game.)

I expect Republicans to lose seats in both the House and Senate, but she will help limit those losses. And she is herself beatable — certainly by McCain, possibly by Romney. I am convinced that Giuliani would lose to anyone because of his personal life and a third-party challenge from a pro-life candidate. I do not share most people’s beliefs that a Huckabee win would be totally impossible, but his appeal is probably too narrow and his own ethics problems could take a lot of complaints about Hillary off the table.

Barack Obama poses a different and more difficult challenge, but not an insurmountable one. Against Obama, one must avoid completely the subtly racist rhetoric Hillary and her surrogates have employed (and awkwardly apologized for). Nor can one follow her campaign’s lead by making the contest personal with the “cocaine” business and the oppo research into his radical kindergarten past. You can’t destroy the character of someone people like without a “murder-suicide” ending. Hillary may win the nomination anyway because Democratic voters will give her a pass, but no Republican could (or should) get away with such nonsense.

The way to beat Obama is, as Reagan put it in another context, to use his youth and inexperience against him. Obama hasn’t even served one term in the U.S. Senate. He seems like a nice guy, and he’s “hopeful” and likeable and all that, fine. Maybe he’ll even be president someday. But he’s so not ready. The guy was just talking about invading Pakistan a few months ago, precisely because he doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about. He’d be in way over his head. Obama’s youth is one of his attractive qualities. But it is a double-edged sword in time of war, because it contributes to this image of inexperience. On the side, you can go after his far-left record in the Illinois state legislature.

Of course, to run on experience requires an obviously experienced candidate, and that would probably have to be McCain. Like Obama, he has an appeal to independent voters, and he enjoys a relative distance from George W. Bush — a must for the Republican nominee. Frankly, I would not like any other Republican’s chances against Obama.

– David Freddoso is an NRO staff reporter.

Michael Graham
In 2000, with just two major candidates in the field, 573,000 voters participated in the SC GOP primary. This year, with McCain, Huckabee, Thompson, and Mitt’s money all showing up (if not Mitt himself), turnout was down to 431,000 people. Where did they go?

Could it be that the high-profile fight among the Democrats is drawing a bigger crowd? A good friend of mine who votes Republican 99 percent of the time told me that he made his mind up the morning of the S.C. primary to vote Republican instead of waiting for the chance to vote for Obama. (He REALLY dislikes Hillary Clinton).

If the lengthening primary season is helping hype voter interest in Democratic candidates at the expense of Republicans, that’s more bad news for a GOP brand that is already in trouble.

Some Republicans aren’t worried, pointing out that GOP turnout in Iowa was up (88,000 to 114,000) and New Hampshire turnout was steady (around 237,000).

But Democratic turnout in both those states was way up, and Democrats managed to get 600,000 people to turn out in Michigan without Obama or Edwards being on the ballot. Meanwhile, turnout for Republicans in Michigan plunged from 1.16 million in 2000 to about 870,000 this year.

Part of this is show business. The Clinton Show is, by itself, the greatest political show on earth. Put Barack Obama on the bill, and you’ve got some of the most fascinating political theater in my lifetime.

Here’s another question to concern Republicans: What happens when it becomes a two man race? Will “Romney vs. McCain” increase the interest in the race, or weaken it? The turnout trend could actually get worse.

Where will Republicans make up the difference in November? The GOP has only one hope, and her name is Hillary Clinton.

In Iowa, more Democrats participated than Republicans, but turnout was up from about 89,000 to 114,000 for the GOP. The next week, GOP turnout was almost identical to the year 2000.

Michael Graham is a talk-radio host in Boston.

John Hood

The conservative movement constitutes an alliance of those who accept unchangeable facts rather than trying to wish fantasy into reality, remake human nature, or avoid economic tradeoffs. Traditionalists embrace timeless morals, even when they deny one immediate gratification. Libertarians embrace the sovereignty of consumer demand and the sometimes-disorienting effects of technological change, even when the result isn’t to one’s personal liking. And hawks embrace the reality that America lives in a dangerous neighborhood, one full of bullies, pirates, and fanatics who respond to gestures of good will with contempt, larceny, and brutality.

So, conservatives, embrace the political reality of 2008: Either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama is likely to be your next president. It’s not impossible for Mitt Romney or John McCain to win the general election — international events could jar the race onto a new course, for example — but political history, Bush’s unpopularity, and economic wobbliness all stack the odds against the Republicans.