For 10 years, American politics has been sharply polarized, with just about equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats arrayed angrily against each other. We have come to think of this as a permanent condition. Yet by the next presidential election, that may very well change. The reason: The leading candidates for both parties' 2008 nominations are in significant tension with their parties' bases -- and, in some cases, outright opposition.
This is most clearly the case on the Republican side. The consistent leaders in 2008 polls are John McCain and Rudolph Giuliani. Of the two, Giuliani is most sharply out of line with the cultural conservatives who have been the dominant force in Republican primaries and provided a large share of the Republican majorities racked up in 2002 and 2004.
Giuliani is pro-choice on abortion, opposes the partial-birth abortion ban and opposes a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. McCain's differences with the Republican right are more subtle. He has consistently opposed abortion rights, but doesn't seem comfortable talking about the issue. He has taken the lead on campaign finance regulation and on Kyoto-like responses to climate change, in opposition to most of his Republican colleagues. At a critical point in the 2000 campaign, he made a point of denouncing evangelists Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell.
As for the Democrats, Hillary Rodham Clinton is in significant ways out of sync with the Bush-hating left. She voted for the Iraq war resolution and for all the appropriations to fight the war, and she has shown no sign of apologizing for these stands. She spoke approvingly of the moderate Democratic Leadership Council at its most recent meeting -- and got attacked in the left-wing blog Daily Kos for it. From time to time, she has issued sharp partisan attacks on the Bush administration, but she has been careful to distance herself from Michael Moore- or Cindy Sheehan-type rhetoric. You will not catch her calling George W. Bush a maniac or a war criminal.
Of course, none of these three candidates has his or her party's nomination sewed up. But Clinton has to be regarded as the clear favorite in the Democratic race, and not only because over the last 40 years Democrats have won only when they've nominated candidates whose last names begin with C.