Posted on February 16, 2008
Territorial gains spread GOP thin
Political campaigns are often likened to football or chess, but the way the Republicans wage them, they're more like the game of Risk. If you grew up in a house with two or more boys in it, you're no doubt familiar with the Parker Brothers game of world domination, characterized by its minimalistic map of misshapen continents, and its hundreds of hard plastic pieces, which have had to be surgically removed from the feet of fathers everywhere.
In Risk, as you advance on your opponents, you would typically transfer as many of your pieces as allowable to the battlefronts, while leaving only a token occupying force in those territories behind the lines. That's basically the same strategy the GOP is employing as it assumes the centrist position being vacated by the Democrats.
Looking at the campaign as a purely tactical exercise, this makes a certain amount of sense. The Republicans think their opponent in November is likely to be Hillary Clinton, whose unofficial campaign slogan is, "I'm going to take things away from you!" If she and her party are going to move that far to the left, then why not take territorial advantage, by tacking to the center?
To answer that, let's look back at the last time this approach was tried. In 1972, Democrat nominee George McGovern had isolated himself on the countercultural fringe of his party. His opponent, incumbent Richard Nixon, had drifted toward the center during his first term in office, but still had the support of his conservative base, due to its fear of the alternative. Like a loser in the game of Risk, McGovern spent most of the campaign bottled up in a remote area, with little hope of advancement. The Republicans' move to the middle appeared to have paid off, as Nixon won a 49-state landslide.
Next time, however, the Democrats refused to play along. Whereas President Gerald Ford was following Nixon's footprints down the middle of the road, Democrat nominee Jimmy Carter veered away from McGovern's path to defeat. Not having yet earned his reputation as the grand poobah of the Blame America First club, Carter introduced himself as a born-again Christian, former Naval officer, hard-working peanut farmer and budget hawk. With the ability to position himself to Ford's right, Carter succeeded in punching through the Republicans' moderate front. Suddenly, every territory on the board was in play, from Madagascar to Iceland to Kamchatka.
Today's GOP has left itself vulnerable to that same sort of a counterattack. Early in this year's primaries, conservative pundits threw their support behind liberal candidates Rudolph Giuliani and John McCain, based on the idea that they could compete with the Democrats in places like New York and California. With McCain now the inevitable nominee, the Republicans have moved most of their game pieces toward those coastal blue states, while leaving the red states -- including recently converted ones like Georgia, West Virginia and Arkansas -- lightly defended.
If the Democrat nominee is Barack Obama, and not Hillary Clinton, this approach will have backfired already. Like Carter in 1976, Obama has yet to establish himself nationally, and is therefore capable of appearing more conservative than he really is. Considering McCain's poor showing in the South, Obama could sweep through what are presumably safe Republican states. To fail to see that coming is like falling for the edge-of-the-earth Alaskan sneak attack, the oldest trick in the game.
Of course, what the Republicans are doing is far worse than just a tactical misjudgment. There's also a matter of principle, though party insiders would be loathe to acknowledge it. They can't just swap Alabama for Minnesota, the way a Risk player might sacrifice New Guinea in order to take Quebec, because there's no moral component to the movement of one's pieces around the game board.
For a party to reposition itself on the political spectrum, on the other hand, requires it to pry itself loose from its principles. Hence the emergence of "green conservatism," and recent attempts to relegate Reaganism to the ash heap of history. As if that weren't enough, the voters who carried President Bush to two narrow victories are now being admonished to "grow up" and conform to the new Republican order.
The ones who need to do the growing up are those jealous promoters of post-Reaganism, who are looking to establish a legacy of their own. It's about time they rededicated themselves to doing what's best for their country, and put away their boyhood fantasies of world domination.-- Daniel Clark is a Staff Writer for the New Media Alliance. The New Media Alliance is a non-profit (501c3) national coalition of writers, journalists and grass-roots media outlets.
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