Two years ago it was conventional wisdom — even I bought into it — that President Bush, whatever else his successes or failures, was a party-builder. One could admire his political skill even if one disagreed with his policies. Well, how does that hold up today?
That the 2008 elections are already fully occupying the media’s attention is a sign not just of Bush’s status as a lame-duck but of his failure as a party-builder. He’s failed in the most basic party-building role of an incumbent president: picking a successor. Not only did the GOP lose control of both houses of Congress in ’06, it has no presidential heir apparent. When was the last time both parties had open fields like this? Not since LBJ dropped out of the Democratic primaries in 1968 — and even then, Nixon was in a more secure position for the GOP nomination than Hillary now is for the Democratic one. Other factors, including front-loaded primaries and campaign-finance reforms that have made fundraising a full-time task, have contributed to the accelerated 2008 campaign. But President Bush guaranteed it would be a mad scramble by keeping Dick Cheney around beyond 2004. We can thank him for the 24/7 campaign 2008 coverage.
Addendum: Maybe this really is 1968 all over again, with another Romney running behind another non-conservative Republican (Dick Nixon in ’68, Giuliani today) that conservatives nonethless adore. If only the Democrats could produce a Eugene McCarthy instead of a Hillary or Obama. Or, failing that, can we at least get Mitt Romney to say he was brainwashed into supporting the Iraq War?