I have consistently expressed confidence that barring some unforeseen set of extraordinary circumstances, President George W. Bush would be handily re-elected in 2004. But that's a far cry from expecting an emerging Republican dominance.
Because the electorate trusts President Bush at a time that trust in leaders is paramount, I still believe that he is the hands-down favorite in 2004, no matter which candidate the Democrats select to challenge him. But while Bush is very popular and his unprecedented fundraising successes continue to dazzle, there is no guaranty he'll have sufficient coattails to usher in a substantial Republican congressional majority.
Besides, it's not enough to have a nominal majority; moderate and liberal Republicans impede conservative policy initiatives as often as not. So for those conservatives who care about policy more than party, the goal is not just a strong majority of nominal Republicans in both houses, but a predominance of voting conservatives in the House and Senate.
But I'm not setting up a scenario for massive infighting between Republican Party loyalists and conservatives over control. While their ultimate aims certainly differ, their paths to achieving them are harmonious. That is, the best chance for Republicans to pick up congressional seats is to recruit conservative candidates.
Here's the rub. Apparently, some high-placed Republican operatives believe the best way to improve on Republican majorities is to find congressional candidates with Bush's popular style. But cloning President Bush is the wrong way to go.
In the first place, no one (other than Clonaid's experimental subjects) can be cloned, and Bush is particularly unique. What works for him may not work well for other candidates. Personality traits and matters of style are not transferable.
Republican Party honchos need to quit thinking about the cult of personality thing that starts and ends with President Bush, just like it did with Ronald Reagan. They can trade on Bush's enormous popularity and credibility with the voters to be sure, but they would be better advised, I think, to nationalize the elections on substantive policy issues than to make every congressional race a mini referendum on President Bush's performance.
No, you argue, the country is still evenly divided between conservatives and liberals, and focusing on issues will work in the Democrats' favor by neutralizing the advantage Republicans have in Bush's popularity. Not at all.
Again, I'm not saying that President Bush should stay out of the picture. He should be leading the charge in nationalizing the election, saying he needs his majorities to better guaranty homeland security, a sound, coherent foreign policy, the restoration of economic growth and that the country maintain the proper direction on vital social issues.
As for the country being evenly divided between liberals and conservatives, it's not that simple. While it is in the Democrats' interest to foster the notion that the nation is deadlocked between the blue states and red states, and will remain so for the foreseeable future, I'm not so sure that's the case. Thus, Republicans shouldn't be conned into believing that a conservative policy agenda won't work, because it can and will if properly packaged.
Regardless of the current percentages of liberals and conservatives in the electorate, issues and circumstances appear to be trending in favor of conservatives. No one can deny how the war on terror has changed the dynamic in favor of Republicans on national security and foreign policy issues.
The rising investor class also benefits Republicans because it provides a built-in institutional counterforce against Democratic demagoguery aimed at pitting economic groups against one another.
Also, consider the abortion issue, which Democrats tend to exploit more than Republicans. You'll note that feminists and Democratic candidates persist in pretending their anti-life agenda is the majority view, but recent polling data reveals the opposite. Advances in science and technology are working in favor of the unborn; it's increasingly difficult for pro-choicers to say that those 4D ultrasound images are depicting mere unviable masses of tissue.
So in all three major issue categories, foreign policy/national security, economic and social, things are looking promising for Republicans. (I know demographic trends are arguably working against Republicans, but that's also not as simple as some have depicted it. That discussion, however, will have to wait for another column).
For 2004, Republicans should embrace, not sidestep the issues, adopting a top-down conservative policy approach. That's the best way to move this country in the right direction. And it happens to be the surest way to get Republicans elected on a national scale.