Some Republicans Predict Upheaval Within the Party
Some Republicans Predict Upheaval Within the Party
Concerns Include Changing Electorate, Lack of Heir
By Dan Balz and John F. Harris
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, September 4, 2004; Page A08
NEW YORK, Sept. 3 -- Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), a man
known for frank talk, offered a blunt description of
the state of his party, which broke camp here Friday
after nominating President Bush for a second term.
"The Republican Party," he said, "has come loose of
Hagel was not referring to Bush's leadership or his
prospects for reelection but instead to the impact of
a presidency that has seen the party embrace the
largest deficits in U.S. history and a foreign policy
that has put the United States at odds with many of
its closest allies and heightened suspicion of
institutions such as the United Nations.
Hagel expects recrimination and worse if Bush loses to
John F. Kerry, but he predicts that, win or lose, the
GOP faces a period of introspection and debate over
its future. "I think you've got a party that is in a
state of uncertainty," he said.
While many Republicans attending the convention
dismissed Hagel's prediction as unduly pessimistic,
there is likely to be a series of intraparty debates,
starting after the election, over the size and role of
government, the U.S. role in the world, and how
Republicans can expand their coalition.
Some Republicans believe that, if Bush is reelected, a
second term will put a fresh face on the party and
resolve some festering disputes. "I just don't feel
that . . . a lot of these disputes between deficit
hawks and supply-siders or between social and economic
conservatives are going to create nearly the level of
fissures or the number of fissures that they might
have in the past," said Ralph Reed, former chairman of
the Georgia GOP. "I think it's very hard to go back as
a party once you've had a transformational figure."
Yet Reed's conclusion is the opposite of the argument
Republican speakers advanced throughout their
convention, as they portrayed Kerry as a Democrat who
would take the country back to a pre-Clinton liberal
mind-set. Whether that is true or not, Democrats
learned after the Clinton presidency and Republicans
learned after eight years of Ronald Reagan that
seemingly settled arguments suddenly reappear and that
parties regularly face internal warfare over their
The future of the GOP will be shaped by party
intellectuals, think-tank fellows and constituencies
seeking to alter the balance of power within the
party, as well as by battles in Congress over spending
and taxes. But added to that is the battle for the
party's 2008 presidential nomination. With Vice
President Cheney already ruling out a run for the
presidency, there is no heir apparent.
Throughout the convention week, prospective candidates
diligently made the rounds of delegation caucuses,
with the Iowa and New Hampshire delegations particular
favorites, and several of the party's brightest stars
who might be candidates -- particularly Sen. John
McCain (Ariz.) and former New York mayor Rudolph W.
Giuliani -- lit up Madison Square Garden with their
Change will also come from outside forces, most
notably two powerful demographic trends that will have
an impact on both parties -- the coming retirement of
the baby-boom generation and the rapid growth of the
The boomers' retirement will strain the government's
ability to fund Social Security and Medicare and will
heighten the debate within the party about the federal
deficit. "The day of reckoning is getting closer,"
said John J. Pitney of Claremont McKenna College in
The growth of the Latino population threatens to
reshape the presidential electoral map in the
Democrats' favor unless Bush and others in the GOP
begin to increase their share of the vote in a
constituency that remains strongly Democratic. That
task is complicated by the traditional Republican
instinct -- heightened in this security-conscious era
-- to be tough on immigration. Still, Republicans say
Hispanics should be attracted to the party's
While Republicans have rallied around Bush's
leadership, a defeat in November will probably trigger
a major reassessment of where the party went wrong. On
both fiscal policy and foreign policy, Bush has defied
the instincts of a significant segment of the party.
Deficit hawks have been in retreat, as have those who
favor realism, not moralism, in foreign policy.
"The interventionists in the party will be in
trouble," Pitney said. "If Bush goes down, so will
Wilsonian rhetoric. A lot of Republican thinkers are
going to be dusting off their Henry Kissinger books."
Hagel, who has differed with Bush on Iraq and foreign
policy, sounded ready to start the debate. "The
Republican Party after . . . World War II was an
internationalist party," he said. "We reached out. . .
. We developed consensus in the world. That was done
through many avenues, associations, coalitions and
Today, Hagel said, many Republicans question the value
of working so closely with those institutions,
including the United Nations and NATO. Hagel also said
that he fears the protectionist instinct within the
party and that it could threaten the Republican
commitment to free trade.
Vin Weber, a former House member from Minnesota,
dismissed Hagel's concerns about trade. Although the
GOP has gone through a series of debates about trade
since conservative commentator Patrick J. Buchanan
first ran for president in 1992, Weber said, it "has
been the party of free trade, it will remain the party
of free trade, and I don't think there is a big debate
But on the question of the United States' relationship
with the rest of the world -- on when, if ever, the
United States should go it alone, on whether
international institutions inhibit or enhance U.S.
interests abroad -- Weber predicted a coming debate.
"I think there is a division between the parties and
maybe within the Republican Party," he said.
Even more likely is a debate over fiscal policy and
the role of government. Bush has presided over a
significant expansion in the size and power of the
federal government as he has built up the Defense
Department and the new Department of Homeland Security
to wage two wars abroad and protect the homeland. But
coupled with his tax cuts, the deficit has exploded,
and the long-standing tensions between deficit hawks
and the tax-cut wing of the party have intensified.
The tax-cut wing occupies a dominant position within
the party, a shift over the past two decades from a
time when what was known as the "green eyeshade" wing
held sway. Republicans have accepted the growth of
government under Bush as a necessary cost of dealing
with the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, but
party members predict a big fight over spending and
deficits, either in a second Bush term or in Bush's
The party's problems attracting support from minority
voters present another challenge that could spark
debate. Bush strategists long ago identified the
demographic time bomb of the Latinos' surging growth
numbers and have said Republicans must improve the
party's performance among Hispanics or suffer
significant political consequences.
Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) describes the party's
racial gap in moral terms. Graham said the book "A
National Party No More," written by Sen. Zell Miller
(D-Ga.), whose biting critique of his party and Kerry
produced one of the most riveting moments in New York,
could just as easily be about the Republicans, given
the GOP's limited support among Latinos and paucity of
support among African Americans.
"We're at the height of the Roman Empire for the
Republican Party," Graham said, predicting a Bush
reelection and expanded majorities in the House and
the Senate. "But the tide slowly but surely goes out."
A decade from now, Graham said, the party could be in
terrible shape: "If we continue to lose 90 percent of
the African American vote -- and I got 7 percent -- if
we continue to lose 65 percent of the Hispanic vote,
we're toast," he said. "Just look at the electoral
Social issues present another concern for the party.
Some of the most enthusiastically received speeches in
New York were delivered by Republicans at odds with
the party on abortion and gay rights, particularly
Giuliani and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Some Republicans see this convention as evidence that
there may no longer be a social-issue litmus test that
prospective presidential and vice presidential
nominees must pass. Others, such as Weber, note that
conservatives have won the social-issue battles
decisively and that, in 2008, the party "is going to
nominate a social conservative."
McCain has differed with his party often and opposed
Bush's call for a constitutional amendment to bar
same-sex marriages, but on abortion and guns, he has a
voting record in line with the current Republican
Giuliani has no such record to point to, but Whit
Ayres, a GOP pollster, said Giuliani has the kind of
political personality that transcends ideology. "He's
got an image that's larger than life almost, which
makes him a fascinating potential candidate," he said.
Few dispute that a Bush loss will result in intraparty
warfare, but with an open fight for the party's
presidential nomination looming in 2008 and no obvious
successor, it appears inevitable that the divisions
Bush's leadership has bridged or overshadowed will
reappear as his presidency reaches its final years.