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Is the Party Over?
Round Three: Concluding Remarks


To summarize: My friend Chris Caldwell asks whether the southern base of the Republican Party has pushed the party so far right on what he calls "values" issues that it has doomed the party to "obsolescence." Citing one poll in The Washington Post, and adopting a faulty analysis of the 1996 elections, he answers his own question with a yes.

I say no. To believe Caldwell's analysis you have to believe that Bob Dole lost the presidential election in 1996 because he moved too far to the right on social issues (in order to appease the South) to be able also to win the swing states of the industrial Midwest that are necessary for a Republican presidential victory. That is ludicrous. Dole didn't embrace the southern Christian view on social issues -- he ran from it.

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In his response, Caldwell counters my assertion that he should have used "actual election results" to back up his claim that the Republican Party is becoming "obsolescent" by saying that "any article that focuses, as mine did, on the collapse of the national Republican Party since they retook Congress has only one set of 'actual election results' to work with: those of 1996, in which the Republicans got clocked, in both presidential and congressional races." Again, this is a fallacy: in 1996, the Republicans did not "get clocked" in both presidential and congressional races. They got clocked in the presidential race. They won the congressional race. Any analysis of Republican failure in 1996 must focus on Dole's losing campaign, not on the more than four hundred individual House and Senate campaigns that took place that year. In 1996, for the first time in many decades, the Republicans retained a majority in Congress. They won twenty-one of the thirty-four seats that were up for grabs in the Senate, expanding their majority by two. That is not just a victory -- it is a remarkable triumph, considering that Republican efforts were weighed down all across the country by Dole's leaden national campaign.

Caldwell defends the so-called Finkelstein Box against my assertion that it is bogus by claiming that the box "is a device to illustrate geographic voting patterns in the most recent elections." But that is not how Caldwell presented it in his Atlantic Monthly piece, where he called it "a simple graphic device to show how differentiated the country is." Even on that level it doesn't hold up as anything more than a Rorschach image of the "cultural biases of a New York-based political consultant."

A demographic division of the country like Finkelstein's Box which lumps states with pro-life governors like Terry Branstad of Iowa and Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin into the same cultural landscape with Paul Cellucci's Massachusetts and Christine Todd Whitman's New Jersey is an artificial construct that ignores the real cultural and political divides in the country.

The states most pivotal to a Republican presidential victory in 2000 are in the northern midwest, not the northeast. In the northern midwest Catholic pro-life Republican governors predominate. Dole lost these states. Why? Because he didn't appeal at all to Catholic pro-life voters. How do you appeal to those voters? Exactly the same way you appeal to southern Christian voters.

If the Republicans nominate another candidate, like George Bush or Bob Dole, who is not only an internationalist but also is embarrassed by the unapologetic social conservatism of southern Christians and Roman Catholics, the Republicans may indeed be headed for failure -- but for the exact opposite reasons that Caldwell states.

Just after the 1992 Democratic Convention, Stanley Greenberg himself wrote a memo to Bill Clinton. The memo was drafted as if it had been composed by an aide to President Bush advising Bush on his best chances for winning reelection. Greenberg's memo was later leaked to E. J. Dionne at The Washington Post, who wrote about it in a November 7, 1992, story headlined, "A Strategy for Winning That Bush Never Saw; Mock Memo From Clinton Aide: Attack the Democrats on 'Values' and Untrustworthiness."

Dionne reported that the purpose of Greenberg's memo "was to warn the Clinton campaign -- at a time when it was flying high after the Democratic convention -- that there were ways in which Clinton's large lead might be undermined." Dionne continued, "Greenberg based his memo on polling and focus groups in which he tested voter response to a variety of attacks against the Arkansas governor." So what attacks would have worked for Bush and could have defeated Clinton? Clinton, Greenberg said, "must be seen as culturally permissive, promising the world to gays, lesbians, and extreme feminists and out-of-touch with southern voters in particular." Greenberg said Bush could beat Clinton if he succeeded in "making clear how far Clinton is from the mainstream on family values." That was Greenberg's biggest fear in 1992: that George Bush would run as a social conservative, defining Clinton as an extremist on southern "values" issues.

But Bush didn't do it, and he lost. If you take Greenberg at his word -- in his own memo to his own candidate -- it is no wonder he now encourages Caldwell's analysis of Republican failure. Greenberg knows this analysis, if put into action, would recapitulate the mistakes of the Bush and Dole campaigns and guarantee rather than avert future Republican failures.

What do you think?

See what other readers have to say about the future of the Republican Party in the Body Politic forum -- and share your views.

Roundtable Overview

Introduction and opening questions by Jack Beatty

Round One: Opening Remarks -- posted on June 18, 1998

Round Two: Responses -- posted on June 25, 1998

Round Three: Concluding Remarks -- posted on July 2, 1998

Terence P. Jeffrey is the editor of Human Events and was the presidential-campaign manager for Patrick J. Buchanan in 1996.

Copyright © 1998 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
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