Cross-posted on The Stonecipher Report
Things have been happening in the political zeitgeist – some major, others more subtle. Individually, these may be unrelated blips...but combined, they may also be simply the first building blocks in a trend that could eventually become quite significant.
First, of course, there was PA’s Sen. Arlen Specter – formerly one of the handful of remaining "moderate" Republicans in the US Senate – who made huge headlines with his official switch to the majority Democratic Party. This means that once – as expected (eventually, anyway) – Al Franken is seated as MN’s Junior Senator, that the Dems will have a 60-vote supermajority and will be able to prevent Republicans from delaying legislation via filibusters. It also "only" leaves ME’s Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe – who have already voted with the Democrats for some of President Obama’s desired bills – as perhaps the sole remaining "traditional" old-line center-holding national-level GOP politicians. (Some extreme right-wingers also tar AZ’s Sen. John McCain with that brush…but even his "maverick" independence does not lean him that far to the center on most issues.)
Then, this week, two important additional decisions / moves were made by an otherwise unconnected pair of rising-star semi-moderates in the Republican Party. First, FL Gov. Charlie Crist – who had notably embraced the Obama-led bailout funds coming to his state (as opposed to other Southern GOP Guvs, such as LA's Jindal and SC's Sanford) – announced that, rather than run for his (final, term-limited) possible 2nd term as the Sunshine State's chief executive, that he was going to shoot for (and likely easily win) the US Senate seat from his state (which, of course, has NO term limits) being vacated by retiring GOP Sen. Mel Martinez.
Also (and much more surprisingly), the news broke last weekend that the Republican Governor of UT, Jon Huntsman, would be appointed US Ambassador to China by President Obama. The re-elected in 2008 (but term-limited afterward) 49-year-old Huntsman said he hadn't expected "to be called into action by the person who beat us," in the 2008 Presidential election, when he was a national McCain co-chairman. "But I grew up understanding that the most basic responsibility one has is service to country." And even though Huntsman may have not yet been widely known outside of his own state, his straightforward and reasonable populism was making him a growing dark-horse-ish potential GOP Presidential candidate. (In fact, after Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee, I had him as a possible rising – if still distant – third pick in the 2012 primaries…)
However, with these recent changes, in effect, this will likely signal that neither Crist nor Huntsman – who were both considered leading GOP moderates bubbling beneath the perceived top '12 candidates of Romney, Huckabee, and Palin – will shoot for the next Republican Presidential nomination...Huntsman, since he may still be serving in the Democratic President's service...and Crist, because a statehouse is perceived as a much stronger immediate GOP launching pad for the White House than the Senate (just ask George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan...as opposed to Bob Dole and John McCain).
However, these career-broadening moves COULD also be seen as longer-range advantages for the 2016 race, when things are expected to be more open on both sides of the ticket (as Biden and Clinton will likely be seen as being too old to run for President as the "natural" successor to Obama after an assumed eight-year term).
Instead, it is starting to seem clear that these (as I've noted and as most analysts agree) more thoughtful, moderate Repubs are going to perhaps let their disintegrated party continue to fight things out in the run-up to the 2012 election, where it looks as if the bickering, faction-driven Republican Party will end up nominating (after a likely bitter contest) a Presidential candidate that will be far to the Right of the American public's current tastes and desires...and who will likely end up losing in a landslide that makes McCain '08 and Dole '96 look like comparative close calls.
In fact, as more changes like these occur (with the less "severe" and partisan Republican candidates seeming to drift to the sidelines) …AND, as he keeps flapping his "I’m right; only WE can protect you" sound bites against Obama and the Dems, it is beginning to appear that former VP Dick Cheney could even possibly emerge as the GOP standard-bearer in 2012. (Excuse me while I shudder uncontrollably at even the merest thought of THAT possibility…) Of course, at this point, Cheney would likely dismiss such possibilities, but…as the resounding beats of endorsement continue to come from Limbaugh and other vocal supporters, you can be certain that ol’ "Darth" from Wyoming would eventually "accept" a growing draft for him to lead his party (yeah, over a cliff, I’d bet)…
Of course, we still have a long way to go until things fully line up for "Election 2012" (much less the one that follows THAT) but...that is the way things are starting to look, as perhaps the clever, forward-looking pols who want to survive the expected ongoing self-immolation of the now-mostly-regionalized-GOP decide to let the most loudly focused members of that little circular firing squad take each other out (perhaps spectacularly!) over the next few years while they bide their time a little, add to their resumes and reputations, and keep folding their hands until the dealer turns up some more appealing cards...
At this point, it seems to me that Crist and (especially) Huntsman are making the smart moves that will potentially benefit them in the future and not endanger their political careers at an unnecessarily early point. But...on the other hand, 20-20 hindsight reminds us of all the leading Dems (such as Mario Cuomo) who decided in 1991 that President George H.W. Bush was going to be an easy two-termer…and who were swiftly lapped by the clever and sly Governor of Arkansas – who, of course, became the first Democratic President since FDR to get re-elected.
So, are things for the GOP seem to definitely be trending far right in the next Presidential election – or could a Republican equivalent of Bill Clinton (middle-of-the-road; breaking assumptions and making a well-timed move) yet emerge? The early bets seem to be on the former…but, of course, only time will tell. In any event, it sure looks like it will be an interesting next 3 to 7 years…