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Back to the Bush Coalition

Where have we seen this majority before?

Nov 15, 2010, Vol. 16, No. 09 • By JAY COST
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The lesson here is that, while the Bush coalition remains a potential majority alliance, it is an unstable one. It requires a solid messenger, one whose appeal is too broad for him or her to be damaged by the Democrats’ predictable accusation of extremism. Republicans need to bear this in mind as they begin to deliberate over the party’s nominee for president in 2012. They need to ask themselves whether each contender is sufficiently conservative to be a good steward of both the government and the Republican brand, but they also must ask whether each can articulate the conservative message in a way that resonates with a broad cross-section of the American people. 

Perhaps the best metaphor is the political alignment of the decades after the Civil War. The Republicans were the majority party, but barely. Most elections were close-fought, and economic downturns easily swept the Democrats into the congressional majority. Yet the Republicans won most presidential battles during this period because they nominated politically attractive candidates—typically from Midwestern swing states—who satisfied all factions within the party without scaring off swing voters.

Republicans need to do something like this in 2012. They should expect a tough, down-to-the-wire battle with President Obama, one where Midwestern swing voters will again determine the outcome. What they will need to win is a candidate in whom the conservative base has confidence, but who does not scare off those marginal Bush voters who have been deciding elections for a decade. If they can find such a candidate, Barack Obama and his Democratic party will be in a great deal of trouble. If they can’t, then Obama might very well be reelected in 2012, just as Reid and Bennet were last week, by default.

Jay Cost is a staff writer at The Weekly Standard.

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