With the first of the 2008 caucuses and primaries only months away, the
endless presidential campaign is about to be clarified as the long list
of candidates without a prayer are winnowed down to the few viable
In recent decades, the conventional political wisdom has been that the
process by which our two major political parties choose a presidential
standard-bearer has reinforced the latent extremism on both the left
and the right. But, interestingly, in this run for the White House is
that, in contrast to the past, it is the centrists or what passes for
centrists these days who are beating out the ideologues.
Among the Democrats, there is little doubt that Sen. Hillary Clinton
(D-N.Y.) has become the odds-on favorite.
Predictably, the boomlet for her main competition, Sen. Barack Obama
(D-Ill.), has faded as his inexperience on the national stage became
more noticeable and his celebrity overwhelmed his only real asset
the fact that he was a new face among so many familiar ones.
Clinton backed the war in Iraq when it was backed by most voters, but
she has followed the political wind by opposing it now that is deeply
unpopular. Despite this, she still indulges in the occasional stray
move to the center such as her recent support for a nonbinding Senate
measure that called for the designation of Iran's Revolutionary Guard
as a terrorist group, which was opposed by other Democrats who saw it
as an escalation of the growing conflict with that Islamic Republic.
While she remains on the same side of many issues as the Moveon.org
crowd, there's little doubt that she is the most centrist of the viable
Democratic candidates. That will allow her to tack even farther to the
center once the nomination is assured.
On the other side of the aisle, the outcome Republican race isn't
nearly as easy to predict.
The early favorite, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), flopped once he stopped
playing the party rebel. But going back to being incorrigible isn't
working either. His statement that he believed America was a "Christian
nation" in response to a question in an online interview about whether
he could support a Muslim president should also reduce his chances of
rallying Jewish support to his waning campaign.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has raised a lot of money but
still lags in the polls. He may be a victim of religious prejudice as
many Americans still look askance at his Mormon faith but sympathy on
that point won't win many votes.
The long-awaited debut of film and TV star, and former Tennessee
senator, Fred Thompson, isn't generating much excitement either.
Which leaves us with one other formidable Republican candidate: former
New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who, despite his checkered personal
history and eccentric personality, as well as his liberal stand on
abortion, has led the polls for most of the past year.
Since most Republican voters are more afraid of terrorism than they are
of global warming, Giuliani's image as the 9/11 mayor has served him
well. Rudy is also the darling of most Republican Jews for his strong
stands on the war on Islamist terror, which is linked to his similarly
passionate backing of Israel.
Though most Jews will back the Democrats no matter what and care more
about domestic issues than Israel, Giuliani does give the GOP a chance
to win over more of the minority of Jews (in key strategic states)
whose votes will be influenced by the Middle East.
After all, Giuliani can claim to be the man who used the New York City
Police Department to bounce Yasser Arafat out of a diplomatic party,
while Hillary Clinton still gets the image of the former first lady
planting a wet one on Suha Arafat after the terrorist chief's wife
claimed that Israel was poisoning Arab children thrown at her.
Seven years of serving New York in the Senate has given Clinton ample
opportunity to pander to the pro-Israel community and establish her
bona fides with the AIPAC crowd. Nevertheless, there's little doubt
that the nomination of Giuliani would energize the most Jewish support
for the Republicans since Ronald Reagan ran against Jimmy Carter.
That prospect, as well as the probability that Rudy would give Hillary
a run for her money in swing states, ought to excite a Republican base
that knows that the Democrats are heavily favored to win back not only
the presidency in 2008, but to strengthen their majorities in the House
and the Senate.
But the possible triumph of Republican centrism and the hope of victory
in 2008 isn't being greeted with acclamation among the GOP faithful.
Though he may be their best and perhaps, only chance to win next
year, the truth is that some Republicans would rather see Hillary
triumph than allow a pro-choice Republican to sit in the White House.
RUMBLINGS ON THE RIGHT
The rumblings on the right have already begun as the possibility that a
splintered and leaderless hard right will allow Giuliani to win a
plurality in enough primaries to assure his nomination has become
According to an Oct. 1 report in The New York Times, key leaders of the
Christian right, such as James Dobson, are already indicating that
they'll never acquiesce to a Giuliani victory. While some have talked
about a third-party challenge, the more obvious consequence is that
many evangelicals and others who regard abortion as their No. 1
priority will just stay home in November 2008 if the choice is between
Giuliani and Clinton.
Though Giuliani has changed his positions on immigration rights to
pander to nativists on the right and flipped from being a backer of New
York's punitive gun-ownership laws to a fervent Second Amendment
backer, he hasn't done the same on abortion.
That's okay with the libertarian and security wings of the party. But
anyone who expects conservative Christians will be pragmatic and vote
for a candidate who isn't pro-life doesn't understand them at all.
As super-strategist Karl Rove proved in 2000 and 2004, Republicans can
only win if their base turns out. An increase in independents and
Democrats voting Republican let alone, Jewish voters would not
offset the loss of the Christian right.
All this is even more good news for Hillary, who knows that even the
most rabid Moveon.org extremists will accept her straying on some
issues dear to them because they value victory in November over
As Democrats proved last year in Pennsylvania, when even the most
liberal Jewish feminists held their noses and voted for Bob Casey, a
pro-life Democrat, so as to defeat conservative Republican Rick
Santorum, party discipline on the left isn't a thing of the past.
The GOP may claim that extremists particularly, anti-Israel
extremists such as Jimmy Carter are more influential among Dems than
any anti-Zionist Republican. But it appears that ideological
hard-liners may prove next year that the triumph of the Republican
center will ensure a party crackup of historic dimensions.