The enthusiasm gap
Ross Douthat ponders the ramifications of Rudy Giuliani’s moderate stances:
Giuliani’s numbers are going to take a dive once his social liberalism becomes common knowledge, no doubt, which makes him a weaker candidate than you’d think from reading John Podhoretz. But how much of a dive? Only 18 percent of the respondents said that they definitely wouldn’t vote for a pro-gay pro-choicer; if we assume for the sake of argument that Rudy is getting two-thirds of their votes now, then losing all of them in a two-way race would mean that he and McCain would flip-flop, from 52-40 for Giuliani to 52-40 the other way. That’s bad news for Giuliania’s chances, obviously – but then consider that right now, Rudy is getting the bulk of his support from conservatives and McCain is getting the bulk of his from moderates. If the whole conversation starts being about how McCain is pro-life and Rudy is socially liberal, isn’t McCain likely to bleed some moderate support, which Giuliani could then pick up?
I think Ross is on to something here, although one commenter chimes in:
Well, my bet is that Giuliani’s (or McCain’s) social apostasies will translate into a significant “enthusiasm gap” in 2008 — at least unless Hillary is the Democratic candidate.
Maybe. But Giuiliani at least (I personally think the very concept of a McCain candidacy is looking a bit tired and out-of-date) has a fair amount of star power, and a sufficiently compelling story to generate a good degree of enthusiasm. And remember, social conservatives aren’t the whole Republican party. I doubt they’re even a majority (though they are perhaps a plurality). So, nominating a social conservative likewise stands the risk of damping down enthusiasm — among moderate and centrist Republicans. After all, it’s arguable that a big turnout amongst the socialcons is likely not as critical to the success of a the party’s 2008 as is making sure you take the moderate and centrist vote. Alabama ain’t going for Hillary or Obama, even if fewer socialcons turn up at the polls next year. Of this you can be sure. But a Colorado or Ohio very likely will go over to the Democrats in 2008, unless the GOP serves up someone who can capture plenty of non right-wing votes. There is the possibility that socialcons will sit on their hands and not show up to vote for a Rudy (or indeed a McCain), but I think this possibility is overdone. After all, if your biggest goals in life were ending abortion and stopping gay marriage, would you be so relaxed about the prospects of a second Clinton administration?
Nominee Rudy — especially if he can ratchet up the rhetoric a bit on his “originalist judges” meme — may be the best suited of all the Republicans to gin up excitement and build a big tent. Moreover, if the Democrats do nominate Hillary Clinton, a lot of any Republican nominee’s lack of enthusiasm issues will be taken care of.
All this said, it’s surely still the Democrats’ race to lose next year.