Tuesday, May 07, 2002
And if you want to understand why Bush makes decisions like the one on the farm bill (or, for that matter, on steel), it's because he gets political advice like this.
Bush raises record amounts of money in California, and Bill Whalen uses this as the hook to argue that Bush should write off California entirely in 2004, focusing instead on states like Iowa and Pennsylvania. Based on Bush's recent economic calls, I'd say he's listening. And the advice is going to prove fatal, if not in 2004 then in 2008.
California has 1/5 of the electoral votes needed to win the Presidency and a comparable percentage of the Congressional delegation. If the GOP cedes the state, they can kiss Congress and the White House goodbye for a generation. Sure, they can win when overwhelming national trends favor them, as they likely will in 2004 if the war is going well. But in a "normal" year they will start way behind the eight-ball. Moreover, Texas and Florida are moving into the toss-up category at minimum because of demographic change. If Republicans routinely have to fight for Texas and Florida, but the Democrats get a pass on California and New York, the GOP is finished.
It's worse than that, actually. Because Bush is so focused on trying to pick off states in the heartland, he has been willing to sell his broader economic ideology down the river in a bidding war for sectional loyalty. But this is a mugs game that the Democrats will always win. They win two ways: first, the Democrats can always outbid the Republicans, since they are always willing to spend. Second, they can electorally out-bid the Republicans by becoming the party identified with the more rapidly growing sections of the country - like California and Florida - while the GOP is identified with declining rural states like Kansas and Iowa.
There's an undertone in Whalen's analysis: that Bush should focus on white states - even if they tilt leftward, like Minnesota and Oregon - rather than states with a more racially mixed population like California. But this also puts the numbers on the Democrats' side. The GOP is not going to win the majority of the Hispanic vote or a significant slice of the African-American vote any time soon. Nor can they out-bid the Democrats in a racial-spoils game. But neither can they win that game by comparable bidding for whites. Again, the Democrats will be bidding for the growing demographic group while the GOP bids for the losing group, and the Democrats can always outbid the GOP in pandering like this, and if the GOP engages in this kind of politics it implicitly endorses the Democrats' engaging in the same. The GOP has to ignore places like Berkeley and San Francisco and make a real play to win Hispanic votes in places like Fresno and Santa Ana. And they can only do that with a double-barrelled message: we're principled conservatives and we care about people like you. We're principled conservatives: we favor strong families, a common culture, and equal opportunity. And we care about people like you: we'll put real money and political capital behind English immersion, pro-family social welfare programs, educational choice, etc. Similarly, to win white urban voters who are increasingly voting Republican in local elections, the national GOP needs to have an urban agenda that is principled but has real resources behind it.
Contrary to Whalen's analysis, the future of the GOP depends not on an alliance between the GOP base and white welfare recipients like agribusiness and the steel industry, but on moving Giuliani and Riordan Democrats into the GOP column for Congress and the Presidency. The GOP cannot cement a long-term majority without an urban agenda that actually wins votes from urban voters. The GOP has done this on the local and state level, but the national party has largely failed to follow suit. Bush had some of the right ingredients; his education plan, focused on standards and accountability, was one. But he's squandering the capital he earned with the war effort by trying to buy votes in the Midwest.
And if he spent that capital fighting for policies with broad resonance across the country, he'd benefit himself not only in California but in the states Whalen wants him to fight for.