|The US Republican Party's 'Elephant' logo The United States and New Zealand both have general elections this year- but why is the US Republican Party in a tangle about its frontrunner presidential candidates?
For almost thirty years, the US Republican Party has been an unholy mixture of militant fundamentalist Protestants and fiscal conservatives who want to slash central government spending (except on defence). I don't intend to call the latter libertarians, as they don't deserve the title- as they roll over and play dead when it comes to banning same-sex marriage or abortion, and working to pass legislation allowing physician assisted suicide as a palliative care option.
That is, until this particular electoral cycle. The Republicans face a nightmare at the November 2008 presidential elections, given the massive unpopularity of the hapless and incompetent George W. Bush, mercifully limited to two consecutive presidential terms due to constitutional limits on that period. Bush has already delivered the federal US Senate and House of Representatives to the Democrats, while they squabble over three prospective choices.
Here's the problem. While all three Republican frontrunners will pander to the Christian Right and pass a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, former Republican New York Mayor Rudi Guiliani is a fiscal conservative- and pro-choice on abortion. However, Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee is a social conservative, but decidedly not committed to decreased central government spending, given his Arkansas track record- which makes this social conservative anathema to fiscal conservatives. And then there's Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, acceptable as a fiscal conservative, and a social conservative- but also a member of the Church of the Latter Day Saints, which alienates some of the more sectarian fundamentalists from supporting him. Not all- the US National Right to Life Committee probably will, given that it tends to practice anti-abortion religious co-belligerency as a rule.
So, what could happen if either of the three end up as Republican presidential nomination? If Guiliani or Huckabee are victors, then the "other" Republican constituency could end up bolting. Social conservatives would goosestep off toward the far right Constitution or Taxpayers Parties, while fiscal conservatives would probably swell the numbers of the Libertarian Party. As with the Reform Party and Ross Perot in 1992, this could worsen an already precipitous Republican decline, leading to victory for either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama.
And for that matter, don't count on the evangelical and fundamentalist community for wholesale support. Younger evangelicals are more inclined to question global poverty and are opposed to hard-right climate change denial, turning away from elderly fundamentalist obsessions with banning abortion and LGBT rights. Nauseated at ongoing Republican sex scandals and televangelist antics of similar ilk, younger evangelical ideological purity and conservative loyalty may not be solidly to the right this time.
Like Australia's Howard regime last year, the US Republicans may be about to find that their two core constituencies are going to end up at loggerheads, leading to an apparently insoluble dilemma. New Zealand's National Party should watch and learn from this.
Are the Exclusive Brethren, Maxim Institute and Family First getting too close for comfort, and might their strident presence start to erode mainstream electoral support for the Opposition? One can only hope... Craig Young - 8th January 2008