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Empty Space: The State of the GOP

by Ryan Young

There is some conspicuous empty space in the 2008 campaign, and this time not all of it is between the candidatesí ears. This radical departure happened last Thursday during CNNís Iowa caucus coverage.

Pie charts showed each candidateís share as the votes were tallied. On the Democratic side, the top four of Obama, Edwards, Clinton, and Richardson filled up 99% of the chart. On the GOP side, there was a large empty space covering almost a sixth of the pie. Huckabee, Romney, Thompson and McCain and McCain combined for only 85%.

Where, I wondered, were Ron Paulís 10%, and Rudy Giulianiís 4%? Their names were missing. Bill Richardsonís name was there, despite his paltry 2%. Given Ron Paulís undeserved exclusion from a recent Fox News debate, I was tempted to cry foul on Paul and Giulianiís behalf. Given CNNís known center-left bias, such a slight did seem plausible. The real explanation is actually pretty benign: the pie graphic only showed the top four candidates, no matter their vote share.

So my conspiracy theory is debunked. But this makes the missing 14% even more interesting. Going by each partyís top three, the gap rises to 25%. 97% of Democrats could unite behind their top three, while the Republican triumvirate could only muster 72%. This speaks volumes about the state of the GOP. What it says is not good news for the party.

It says that Republican voters do not think their current crop of candidates represent their views. They just canít unite behind the frontrunners, and with good reason. Republicans in this decade have brought us government growth that would make LBJ blush. They were elected to do the opposite, remember.

Reagan wanted to abolish the federal Department of Education; No Child Left Behind has more than doubled its budget. President Bush ran on a non-interventionist foreign policy in 2000, as a reaction against Clintonian excesses. We have now been in Iraq longer than we were in World War II. This yearís frontrunners promise more of the same. They arenít listening.

Now voters are returning the favor.

Conservative disaffection for their partyís direction has been well documented. One telling bellwether is the GOPís share of the libertarian-leaning vote. According to one study, it went from 72% in 2000 down to 59% in 2004.

None of the top GOP candidates are making much effort to distance themselves from presidential policies that are unpopular, even among conservatives. Partisan loyalty is strong, but it has limits. When the leading candidates from a limited-government party have little in their platforms to actually limit government, something has to give. Hence Ron Paulís impressive 10%.

The candidates may not be listening, but CNNís empty space shows us how to make them. If Republicans run on a big-government platform, they will lose; Democrats have already captured that voting bloc. But if they pledge to cut spending and curb governmental excesses, they can win. This is a lesson that will take years for the partyís politicians to learn. Their coming time in the political wilderness will help.

A flaw in some graphic on CNN wonít change their behavior. But it does make an effective bit of foreshadowing. All indications are that the eventual GOP nominee will be hit where it hurts Ė the voting booth. This is the real agent of change, and the only language that politicians truly understand. When Republican candidates realize that a big-government platform costs them votes, theyíll drop it like a hot potato.

Until then, Republican voters are left with a choice between Mitt Romney and his health care debacle, Mike Huckabee and his obesity crusade, and John McCainís unsettling brand of national greatness conservatism. Democrats are not exactly quaking in their boots this year.

I havenít said anything new here, but that doesnít make it any less true. Until GOP candidates vow to limit government instead of grow it, political irrelevance is the price they will pay.

They will deserve it.

Ryan Young is a writer in the Washington, DC area.