On September 17, Values Voters hosted a debate for Republican Presidential candidates. All the candidates showed up. Well, except for the Loathsome Foursome of Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, and Fred Thompson. Each one had better things to do than try to persuade the Republican base that he is their nominee for President. The abortion flip-flopper from Taxachusetts, the thrice-married, pro-abortion cross-dressing gun grabber, the abortion lobbyist, and the "maverick" with a history of bad blood with evangelical leaders, figured they'd have nothing to gain. In a way, this was a good thing, as it gave everyone else more time to speak.
Besides, having the perception of pandering to Christian Right probably wasn't that bright an idea for social moderates who want a "Big Tent" Republican Party. Can't argue with that. The more one associates with the Christian Right, the harder it will be to reach independents, let alone persuade Democrats to cross over. They won't vote for Hillary anyway, so there's no point trying to please them. Better just to take the Religious Right for granted.
There was a much better opportunity last week, when a debate was held at Morgan State University that focused on issues important to African-Americans and Latinos. If the Republican nominee has any chance against the Democrat in 2008, siphoning off support from these traditionally Democratic constituencies will be key. So one would expect the media's front-runners to show up and politely ask for their votes. But again, Romney, Giuliani, Thomspon, and McCain wouldn't be bothered.
It makes one wonder whose vote they actually want, or if any of these fellows actually want to get elected. Then again, avoiding debates is always to the advantage of front-runners. They don't have anything to gain from debates, and everything to lose. If their goal is the nomination, they might as well take the safe route for as long as possible.
And that's really all they're doing - competing for the nomination. Not election; that's too far-fetched. To get the nomination and put up a better-than-expected fight in the general election will constitute moral victory and invite lucrative book deals and speaking tours. Also, for Romney (Mormon) and Giuliani (thrice-married, Italian) the nominations would be groundbreaking.
What of the rest of the Republican field, the ones who actually show up at the debates? Essentially, we have debates featuring one man, Ron Paul, who wants to change the direction of the country, vs. four who are running for Vice President and one, Alan Keyes, who is running to get into the spotlight and raise his speaking fees. But, flawed as Huckabee, Brownback, Hunter, and Tancredo may be, I believe they have more principles and honest convictions than any of the front-runners.
On the Democratic side, there are two who actually want to be President, and if nominated, probably will be. They are Clinton and Edwards. Then there are two, Kucinich and Gravel, who, like Paul, view the Presidency not as the end, but as the means to the end of changing the course of the country. Everyone else is running for Vice President, or to build a base for a future run.
Clinton will most likely be the Democratic nominee, but whoever it is will be the favorite to win the general election. Republicans should then ask themselves whether they want to put up a respectable fight, or if they want to win.
If they merely want to be respectable, they will give the Democrats eight years. If they want to win, they have to provide a superior alternative to what Clinton has to offer. When Clinton advocates one thing, instead of saying "me, too," support a very different policy.
If she calls for managing the war in Iraq better, call for withdrawal. If she calls for bombing Iran, call for negotiations. If she calls for intervening in Darfur, call for bringing our troops home from overseas. If she calls for higher teacher salaries, call for more parental choice and local control of schools. If she calls for greater government control in health care, call for free-market reforms instead. If she declares war on tobacco or fatty foods, loudly proclaim the ideals of personal choice and individual freedom. If she calls for a government "gatekeeper" for the Internet, adamantly defend the First Amendment. If she supports greater surveillance and a national ID card, call for repeal of the Patriot Act and Real ID Act.
Such a strategy would both distance the nominee from George W. Bush's legacy and also distance him from Clinton. It will give voters a real choice in 2008. The voters might still choose to punish the Republicans, but at least they will know there is once again a real difference between the two parties. They will then be more likely to turn away from Clinton in 2012.
From what I've seen, there is only one candidate with a clear anti-Bush, anti-Clinton message. There is, then, only one candidate who can turn the Republican Party's fortunes around. He is Ron Paul.