Every day brings news of Republicans endorsing Barack Obama. The most recent being Colin Powell and Christopher Buckley, son of the founder of the modern conservative movement. Before that there were former Congressmember Jim Leach, Douglas Kmiec, Bruce Bartlett, Lincoln Chafee and Rita Hauser. All of them were senior members of the Party who served in various previous presidential administrations or Congress. If these Republicans are willing to publicly renounce their party’s candidate you can imagine how many other party leaders are unwilling to do so but privately will desert McCain to vote for Obama.
There has even been this extraordinary encomium from David Brooks of all people:
…It is easy to sketch out a scenario in which he could be a great president. He would be untroubled by self-destructive demons or indiscipline. With that cool manner, he would see reality unfiltered. He could gather — already has gathered — some of the smartest minds in public policy, and, untroubled by intellectual insecurity, he could give them free rein. Though he is young, it is easy to imagine him at the cabinet table, leading a subtle discussion of some long-term problem.
When a leading Republican columnist is able to write so enthusiastically about a liberal Democratic presidential candidate you know it’s not just that the Republican candidate has failed to put his point across, but that the Democrat has stolen some serious Republican thunder.
Just looking at the election map tells you that Obama is either competitive or winning states he has no right to win: Missouri, North Carolina, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Ohio, Virginia, Maine, New Hampshire, Florida, Nevada, North Dakota. The Real Clear Politics map has him already winning or leaning in states that would give him 286 electoral votes. Another 97 votes are in toss-up states. If Obama gets half of these votes it will be an absolute rout.
So the question becomes: are Republicans only renouncing their candidate and the last eight disastrous years, or has Obama really connected with moderate Republicans and independents in the same way that Ronald Reagan did with hawkish Democrats during his years in office? In addition, have events merely spiraled out of control for the Republicans and in favor of the Democrats with the economic crisis or is Obama’s political platform and strategy genuinely appealing to some Republicans? The answer is I think a little of both.
When I have written here before urging Obama to govern from the center, readers have objected saying that it is necessary to utterly eradicate all vestiges of previous harmful Republican policies. And to do so requires a wholesale housecleaning. I’m not so sure. Certainly, the damage must be undone and there will be enough of a Democratic majority in both Houses to do so. But if Democrats govern as Bush-Cheney-DeLay did using scorched earth policies, then we will only be setting ourselves up for the same fall the Republicans took in 2006 and again this year.
A lasting governing majority for Democrats requires co-opting the Republican moderates and drawing in independents. The key to Bill Clinton’s success was in doing precisely this. If we learned any lesson from the 2000 election and its aftermath it is that a “my way or the highway” approach to governing doesn’t work in the long or even medium run.