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The Clintonian center of gravity is where Americans are most comfortable today. Related Gully Coverage

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U.S. Election 2000
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Election 2000

Why Republicans Need To Lose

by Toby Eglund

OCTOBER 30, 2000. Winning the presidential election next week could turn out to be a pyrrhic victory for George W. Bush and the Republican Party. It may earn them a four-year lease to the White House, but lose the party its best chance in a generation to become once again the dominant party in American presidential politics.

The determining factors will be whether George W. Bush actually governs closer to the Clintonian center, bucking his Party's powerful right wing. And whether the dot.com era economy cooperates. Both are dicey propositions.

Clinton's Center of Gravity
Even if we believe that Bush's presidential heart is in the right and compassionate place—something no one, including the incurious Bush, may truly know until he gets to the Oval Office—there is the matter of willpower, political skills, and, even more importantly, whether he has maneuvering room left to pull his presidency, and his party, to the center.

president bill clintonRonald Reagan shifted the mainstream American political discourse to the right twenty years ago. Bill Clinton pulled it back to a new center that assimilated and reinterpreted most of the good, and some of the bad, aspects of the new conservative critique.

The Clintonian center of gravity is where Americans are most comfortable today. While tinkering around the edges will be tolerated, they don't want that center of gravity to shift in any significant way. George W. Bush knows this. He has run a brilliant campaign, with a reassuring wink and nod to voters subliminally worried by his party's maximalist platform, and another to a Republican right too power-hungry to quibble about the means.

What is less clear is whether Bush, and his array of handlers and advisors, realize that by running a neo-Clintonian campaign they have committed themselves to preserve Clinton's legacy (minus Monica, perhaps). That will be the mandate of whoever gets elected next week—Bush or Gore. A Republican White House saddled with the Clinton mantle would be left with precious little wiggle room for stealthy right-wing policies at no cost to themselves—i.e. without paying a terrible price in 2004 and well beyond.

Smoke and mirrors, which are giving Bush an excellent shot at the White House, may not work once he gets there. Bush lacks Reagan's reputed mesmerizing qualities. He will also have to contend with the continued existence, in the flesh, of the increasingly larger-than-life (mark my words) master politician named Bill Clinton, and with the predictable Clinton nostalgia that will waft potently over the land the moment the big guy steps down.

Caught between the Clintonian mandate given him by voters, and the Republican right-wing, and perhaps his own, less compassionate inclinations, a President Bush Jr. would have to pick and choose very cleverly and carefully which bone to throw to each side, to keep both happy, himself re-electable, and the Republican Party in good health for years to come. Even Bill Clinton, the Houdini of contemporary American politics, would have trouble with this one.

Hold The Minstrel Show, Please!
Although both candidates have been campaigning on the ridiculous assumption that the good times will roll forever, even a non-catastrophic economic slowdown would be far more damaging to a Bush than to a Gore presidency. Bush would be blamed, fairly or unfairly, for wrecking Bill's excellent prosperity, particularly if the slowdown coincides with his promised $1.2 trillion tax cut or any other change in Clinton's economic policies.

hooverIf there is a serious economic mishap, however, George W. Bush and the Republican Party will go down in flames, much as Bush Sr. and Herbert Hoover did in their times. So will Gore and the Democrats if they are in office.

Given all this, the long-term health of the Republican Party would seem better served by a presidential loss next week, followed by a true, substantive, as opposed to cosmetic, shift to the center. This should be based not on electoral expediency—hold the minstrel show, please—but on a recasting of conservative goals for the world as it is today, not as it was a generation or two or three ago. Defeat now may open Republican eyes to the real world, as much as premature victory could keep them shut, which is bad for Republicans and bad for the country.

In this scenario of productive defeat, a more seasoned, better traveled, if not read, George W. Bush, hopefully rid of some of his dad's cold warrior advisors, would snatch the White House from Gore in 2004, win reelection in 2008, and return the Republican Party to its early twentieth century glory.

By then, America's romance with Bill Clinton may have even cooled.

Related links:

For the Republican National Committee.

For History Central's quick bio of Herbert Hoover.

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