When I first met Marshall Wittmann, he was supporting Patrick Buchanan’s 1996 presidential campaign. (He later switched to Phil Gramm.) In 2000, he was an adviser to John McCain. Now he says he’s voting for Kerry.
He explains his evolution as a process of disillusionment. He came to see that the Republican party was merely a servant of corporate interests, and used social issues only to advance those interests. I take it that he is in some sense still a social conservative, but doesn’t believe that there is any practical difference between the parties on those issues. But he thinks that there is room in the Democratic party for a smarter hawkishness than Bush has provided, and believes the Democrats’ positions on economics to be superior to the Republicans’. If you accept Wittmann’s beliefs, assumptions, and priorities, the conclusion is certainly reasonable.
But Wittmann’s article is too laced with bitterness at Bush over the 2000 South Carolina primary, and especially at Wittmann’s former employer, Ralph Reed, to be able to determine where the political convictions end and the hurt feelings begin. (Would Wittmann view the campaign against Max Cleland so negatively if he didn’t have this prior experience with Reed and McCain? I doubt it.) Whatever dirty tricks Bush’s forces played in South Carolina–and I’ve seen considerably more in assertion than in evidence on that point–it is just a delusion of McCain’s supporters that they lost South Carolina because of dirty tricks. They lost the state largely on the tax issue, and the general (and accurate) perception that McCain wasn’t as conservative as Bush. I can see why McCainiacs would take this view. They ran a largely personality-based campaign, and they believe their guy was slimed–so of course they take it personally.
Wittmann also believes that President Bush sacrificed national unity by pushing for tax cuts. Now it may be that Bush would have built support for the war on terrorism by acquiescing in a temporary tax increase, as David Frum has argued. I doubt it. But it is pretty clear that Bush’s positions on social issues and his foreign policy have been far more divisive than the tax cuts have been. The Republican campaign to eliminate the estate tax drives liberal writers, and Wittmann, to distraction. But it has not been a major source of voter alienation from the GOP. Quite the contrary, which is why Democrats run scared on the issue.
All that said, I hope Wittmann is influential among the Democrats in his new job at the DLC. A Wittmannized Democratic party would be a better one.