Christine Todd Whitman’s book, It’s My Party, Too, was published January 27, 2005. Given publishing schedules, that means it was written when the conventional wisdom was that President Bush was going to lose the presidential election.
The November election marked the 10th consecutive presidential election that Democrats have not been able to get a majority of Americans to vote for them. Without a freak event like Watergate or Ross Perot, the Democrats would not have elected a single President since 1964.
In four decades, the Republican Party has gone from a party that was nearly outlawed by Democrats in the seventies to a Party that holds the White House, the Senate, the House, and a majority of state governorships. As the extra little strawberry on top, the opposition party is in complete disarray desperately trying to fake a belief in moral values and to come up with a new stance on abortion that will stop scaring voters. Solely to avoid disappearing as a Party, the Democrats will probably modify their position on abortion before Whitman does.
Whitman’s book surveys the situation and concludes that Republicans would have done even better by appealing to pro-abortion Republicans like herself.
This is a little like writing a book to be published immediately after the 2003 World Series, arguing that the Yankees should not let Aaron Boone play. (In Game seven of the American League Championship Series, Boone hit a home run in the bottom of the 11th inning, delivering American League pennant to the Yankees.) This may be the worst timed book since James Glassman and Kevin Hassett’s DOW 36,000: The New Strategy for Profiting from the Coming Rise in the Stock Market, predicting in September, 1999 that the stock market was about to shoot sky high — 6 months before it collapsed.
Leaving aside the substantive point of whether Republicans should join Whitman in placing more value on Bambi’s life than the life of an unborn human baby, Whitman raises an empirical question. As it happens, she raises it at the precise moment that all the evidence is in and we already have the answer. Like the premise of the book — Bush is going to lose by appealing to a bunch of crazy Christians! — Whitman’s argument is based on conventional wisdom that is now known to be false.
Her book is a pastiche of superficially appealing factoids that are supposed to demonstrate the vast, untapped demand for “moderate Republicans.” The only problem with her arguments is that they immediately fall apart if you know any facts.
Thus for example, Whitman tries to downplay Bush’s recent victory by saying: “Yes it’s true that President Bush won more votes in 2004 than any other President, and that evangelical voters contributed to that victory,” but she says, a “less publicized fact is that the President’s 3-percentage-point popular vote margin was the smallest margin of any incumbent President ever to win reelection.” She names Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon and Harry Truman as re-election champions.
Let’s review her own examples to see how social conservatives might have affected those elections.
Democrats Clinton and Truman both ran against precisely the sort of Republicans Whitman insists would sweep the nation. In fact, Clinton almost ran against Whitman herself!
Bob Dole (“Tax Collector For The Welfare State”) tried to woo “moderate Republicans” by announcing in July, 1996 on both the “Today” show and “Live with Regis and Kathie Lee” that he might choose a running mate who supported abortion rights — including Christie Todd Whitman. “That may distress some people,” Dole said, but we “need to win the election.”
Dole spent the next few months flirting with another pro-choice Republican, Gov. Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania, and calling for weakening the Republican platform on abortion. Whitman was widely quoted at the time praising Dole for his proposal to put a “declaration of tolerance” in the platform.
Now she cites Dole’s crushing loss as proof that moderate Republicans could help the Republican Party.
Truman also ran against just the sort of “moderate Republican” ticket Whitman says we need more of. At the top of the ticket was Thomas Dewey, a Wall Street lawyer, internationalist and governor of New York. He defeated the more conservative “Mr. Republican” Robert Taft in the primary. Dewey’s running mate was the liberal Republican governor of California, Earl Warren, who later achieved fame as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court on billboards across America that proclaimed: “Impeach Earl Warren.” The Dewey-Warren ticket was the high water mark of the “moderate Republican” theory.
As for the Republicans who won re-election with larger margins than Bush, Richard Nixon ran as a strong cultural conservative in 1972 appealing to “you, the great, silent majority of my fellow Americans” against a Democratic Party that stood for “Acid, amnesty and abortion.”
I assume it’s jejune to discuss whether Ronald Reagan was a “moderate Republican.” In addition to being portrayed as a religious-right kook throughout his presidency, Reagan galvanized evangelical Christians to become involved in politics in a major way, transforming American politics. (Liberals no longer describe Reagan that way because he’s no longer President and he’s dead.)
Reagan was the first president to speak at the very un-“moderate Republican” Conservative Political Action Conference. (Trivia question: Does anyone remember the Ripon society? It’s completely vanished, except for occasional appearances as “the Log Cabin Republicans.”)
Reagan was also the first president to write a book in office. That book was a passionate defense of the life of the unborn called Abortion and the Conscience of the Nation. Not having the benefit of Whitman’s book, Reagan’s book was published only seven months before the 1984 election. Reagan went on to win the largest electoral landslide in history in the very election Whitman cites in order to argue that Bush could have won a larger percentage of the vote if only he had reached out to “moderate Republicans.”
Whitman’s book is useful only as a sort of “Scared Straight” program for Republicans. If you believe these sophistries, you could end up locked on the wrong side of history. Thanks for the advice, but we Republicans like ideas that work, not ideas we’ve been told for 25 years will work, but never have.