Electoral triage?

Fred Barnes is now best-known as co-host with Morton Kondracke of “The Beltway Boys” on the Fox News Channel, but he’s spent more than three decades as a reporter and editor. A University of Virginia graduate, Mr. Barnes began his career at the Charleston (S.C.) News and Courier before joining the staff of the Washington Star in 1979. He was later a reporter for the Baltimore Sun, and was an editor and White House correspondent for the New Republic until 1995, when he became a founding editor of Weekly Standard magazine.

This is an excerpt from a speech Mr. Barnes gave last month at the Young America’s Foundation’s National Conservative Student Conference, held at George Washington University:

There are three ways a political recovery happens — sometimes all three at once, sometimes just one, but there are three ways. One, it’s affected by events. Second, your opponents can fail — they can do stupid, embarrassing things and get into trouble. And then there’s what you do, and in this case, what I think Republicans can do in this particular circumstance that we’re in.

Now … one event in particular is improving dramatically that will help Republicans, and that’s the situation in Iraq militarily. … There was a story by two liberal policy analysts by the Brookings Institute in Washington … and what they said in this piece in the New York Times was, they just went back to Iraq and … they went through all the stuff that was going right. The military was doing better, Sunnis who were joining in with Americans and against the insurgents and so on.

This was an astonishing event in Washington, for two liberals in Iraq to write about the improvement of the situation in Iraq. …

We’re a long ways from winning, but the two guys who wrote the piece in the New York Times said, at least, strategy — which is the surge — says in a very cautious way the same thing, the great improvements.

Now there’s a group of people in America for whom this is bad news, and they go by the name of Democrats. …

Events change. They don’t stay the same, particularly in wars. If you think in American history, particularly the Civil War, you’ll remember about this time in 1864, the North was losing the Civil War. Lincoln was extraordinarily unpopular. It was clear he was going to lose the election to General George McClellan, the Democrat. … What happened after July but before November? Atlanta. General Sherman took Atlanta. … Victories occurred, and it changed public opinion in the North, and Lincoln was re-elected. So events can have a huge impact.

Then there are your opponents. They affect whether you can pull off a political recovery or not.

The good news for Republicans and conservatives is … the elections in 2006 did not represent a rebirth of liberalism because Democrats stood for nothing, except they were critics of Iraq. What determined the election? The Iraq war — which is unpopular — the corruption among a handful of Republicans in Congress, excessive spending — which irritated a lot of people — and the fact that the experience and memory of the 9/11 attacks had begun to fade. …

What happens when somebody wins a big election and their numbers go up? It happens with politicians all the time, when they have good poll numbers, they think they can do anything, and they would have the public moving with them. We see that’s what Democrats have done. They’ve veered to the left on almost every policy. …

So let’s get around to what Republicans can do. The first question is, what do they need to do? Who do they need to appeal to in particular? Who did they lose to in the election? And the truth is, it wasn’t conservatives. Conservatives voted. … So who didn’t vote for Republican candidates who did in the past, and it was independents — that’s the vote that Republicans lost. …

So what do you do? You recognize you have to appeal to independent voters, who in some extent seem to be secular voters and in many cases younger voters who tend to be more independent voters. But the one thing you don’t do is abandon your conservatism or pretend like you’re going to be a moderate party. …

But in any case, what you don’t want to do, nobody would respect a party that gave up its soul or its fundamental beliefs in order to win an election. …

The idea here is to hold your base while appealing to other voters. So now what do you do? You emphasize issues that are conservative issues that will appeal to independent, moderate and sway voters. …

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