Recently, Bush proposed a Supreme Court nominee intended to skirt controversy.
Recently, Bush rescinded his suspension of the Davis-Bacon act, in order to skirt controversy.
The President is doing himself a profound disservice. The American political scene has changed radically since his father was in office. With roughly a quarter of America identifying as themselves liberal/Democrat, and a third as right-libertarian or conservative/Republican, the unrepresented "moderates" hold the largest political bloc. Due to the political structure of the United States, however, no third party can credibly emerge unless one of the two major parties becomes defunct. This is particularly true because those "moderates" are themselves often ideologically neutral, and thus politically impotent.
The Republicans have a chance to make that happen, and to guarantee a majority for the conceivable future without resorting to ideology-neutral DeLay-style governance. Why is this?
Let's do the math: state structures aside, in order to obtain an abstract majority, the Democrats must pick up roughly 26% of the electorate that falls outside of the party. In other words, in absolute terms, the Democrats must a greater percentage of the electorate outside their own party than within it. A Democrat simply cannot be elected on the national scene without "running to the center." This is well-known, thus the great degree of cynicism regarding Senator Clinton's moderate-sounding remarks after a history of hardline liberalism.
The Republicans have it much easier. With roughly a third of the active electorate in their party, the Republicans have to obtain only 18% of the "moderate" votes in order to get to 51%. In other words, it is possible for the Republicans to win (again, we're dealing with abstracts here, so this will vary by office), while losing the majority of the moderate vote.
This is not exactly rocket science, and a quick trip through RealClearPolitics or any other political link farm will show a number of people writing about what has to be done for Democrats to start winning again. In this process, though, nobody seems to be addressing what the Republicans need to do in order to win in perpetuity:
Moderates base their votes upon their perception of the candidate and the candidate's plans. If Joe Moderate sees no difference between the candidates, he stays home. If he sees what looks like a credible plan, in contrast to a fuzzy set of platitudes, he tends to go for the plan. Because what Joe Moderate hates politics: all he wants is for government to do its job and then get out of his life. And the surest way to guarantee he never votes for you again is to engage in hateful or over-the-top hyperbolic political grandstanding.
"Establishment Republicans" who try to run to the center in order to avoid controversy alienate their base. That base will stay home, and is willing to lose in order to ram the message home. The Democratic bases tends to be an agglomeration of interest groups; the Republican base, occasionally in distinct contrast to its political class, is openly ideological. They're Reagan Republicans, mugged-by-reality JFK Democrats, and social conservatives who are tired of being slandered and openly misrepresented across society for the sake of others' gain. In short, they are wide-awake political animals who are on the hunt, and are actively spoiling for an ideological fight.
It is critically important for Republican politicians to recognize that, with the structure of the electorate, picking fights will guarantee their re-elective success. This is not the 1990s, when the MSM can simply harp about "mean-spirited Republicans," and thereby dash any hope of Republicans appealing to the center. There are too many media outlets -- mainstream, wacko, and pajama -- for that trick to work any more. If the Republicans go for the Democrats throat, and simply try to beat them over the head enroute to ideological victory, they will, in that process, draw a clear and distinct choice that can be understood by any moderate... and the Democrats' traditional ad-hominem response will alienate enough of the political center that the Republicans will be able to continue capturing increasing "market share."
In other words, the more that the NYT, Daily Kos, George Soros, and all the Michael-Moore Hollywood types scream bloody murder and go on full-out attack mode, the harder it will be for the Democrats to appeal to the center which they need in order to continue to exist... and the more that Republican proposals such as tax cuts, school choice, Social Security reform, and other basic structural reforms to fix situations that everybody knows are broken... will appear to be calm, mild-mannered, and appropriate... precisely the sort of thing that a political moderate can get behind... because any "running to the Center" a Democrat engages in will seem, by contrast, wishy-washy and short on details (because those details would enrage their own base). A Supreme Court fight? A red-in-tooth-and-claw budget reform fight? Hard-core, brutal pursuit of the War on Terror and the expansion of democracy in the world? What could possibly better guarantee Republican dominance than a continual media hurricane, complete with opinion-page-poision raindrops (which, in turn, further enrages the base and improves turnout!), as the Republicans actually try to deliver to their base what they've been all but begging for over the last thirty years?
Conservatives are currently livid with their leadership, because they perceive the latter to be snatching defeat from the jaws of long-sought, hard-won victory. If the Republican political leadership is serious about its own future, it will realize that the base is right.