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Steve Clemons

Steve Clemons

Posted: July 2, 2010 09:14 AM

Lindsey Graham: In Today's Republican Party, Reagan Wouldn't Make It as a Republican

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ronald reagan.jpg

The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz profiles reactions to Tea-Partyism today and notes that Senator Lindsey Graham, who once told me that his favorite film was Seven Days in May and that one of his biggest fears for the country was national security and military demagoguery, doesn't have much time for the Tea Party.

From Kurtz's good piece:

The South Carolina senator [Graham] has already ticked off the right by being willing to negotiate deals with Democrats. He doesn't see bipartisanship as a dirty word.

Now he's turned his tart tongue on the tea types.

What's more, the New York Times Magazine brands him "This Year's Maverick"--which, given the source, is unlikely to boost his standing in some GOP circles.

Since it began posting articles online in midweek, the Times Magazine has boosted its impact to newsmagazine levels -- and I expect this new piece by Robert Draper will be no exception:

" 'Everything I'm doing now in terms of talking about climate, talking about immigration, talking about Gitmo is completely opposite of where the Tea Party movement's at,' Graham said. . . . On four occasions, Graham met with Tea Party groups. The first, in his Senate office, was 'very, very contentious,' he recalled. During a later meeting, in Charleston, Graham said he challenged them: ' 'What do you want to do? You take back your country -- and do what with it?'. . . . Everybody went from being kind of hostile to just dead silent.'

"In a previous conversation, Graham told me: 'The problem with the Tea Party, I think it's just unsustainable because they can never come up with a coherent vision for governing the country. It will die out.' Now he said, in a tone of casual lament: 'We don't have a lot of Reagan-type leaders in our party. Remember Ronald Reagan Democrats? I want a Republican that can attract Democrats.' Chortling, he added, 'Ronald Reagan would have a hard time getting elected as a Republican today.' "

Yow. He's saying the tea party has no answers, and that his party has moved so far to the right that Reagan would be seen as a squishy moderate.

What Graham and Kurtz are reflecting on is really important.

Today's Republican Party is not a comfortable place for many classic Republicans -- including former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman, former G.W. Bush campaign co-chair in New York Rita Hauser, Ike granddaughter Susan Eisenhower, and former Rhode Island Senator Lincoln Chafee and Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel.

But Reagan, Eisenhower, Ford, and even the ghost of Richard Nixon would feel out of place with the course of the Republican Party today. If the comments of George H.W. Bush best friend Brent Scowcroft about the Republicans today are any benchmark for the views of President #41, then add that President to the roster too.

All of this is why I don't see someone like General David Petraeus easily saddling up to the Republican Party in his post-military, post-Afghanistan Eisenhoweresque rise. I have watched Petraeus carefully in the last few years -- met him several times -- and there is simply nothing in his character that would allow him to stroke the egos of the modern equivalent of the Know Nothing Party.

Petraeus could find himself on a White House course one of either two ways -- and both involve knocking back the Tea Party movement.

Either President Obama, who is a shrewd neutralizer of political rivals, plays a wild card in the 2012 race and offers his VP slot for the next term neither to Joe Biden or Hillary Clinton but rather to General Petraeus -- thus robbing from the Republicans and the Tea Party movement someone who may be the best chance for a revival of 'America as Great Power, national security-oriented leadership'.

Alternatively, if Petraeus survives the real and political challenges of his new brief as military czar in Afghanistan, the Tea Party and Sarah Palin could play their best hand in 2012, get crushed in the election, and then have the Republican Party adopt a Petraeus-led new leadership after the Tea Party is lobotomized from the institution.

While I don't think that the Tea Party will win the White House or even make much headway in the two chambers of Congress, the net impact is that their actions will pull the Dems to the right. And Barack Obama's survivability in 2012 rises right along with the popularity of the Tea Party.

-- Steve Clemons publishes the popular political blog, The Washington Note. Clemons can be followed on Twitter @SCClemons

 

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