For the GOP, the War is The Only Issue

Stephen Bainbridge has written a piece in TCS Daily advising the GOP to not talk about the war in the 2006 election. He has further argued that a recent WSJ piece supports this position.

His argument, at its simplest can be summarized with this:

Democrats need to talk about the war, while Republicans need to talk about something else.

I suspect a substantial number of Americans might agree with the following sentiment: The Republicans deserve to lose at the ballot box, but the Democrats don’t deserve to win.

He continues:

Under George Bush, the GOP has largely stopped even pretending to talk the talk. Instead, Bush’s two terms have brought us: a massive increase in government entitlements; renewed fiscal deficits; a worsening trade deficit; huge spending increases; bigger government; more intrusive government.

The GOP therefore needs to talk about these issues. They have to persuade the American people either that the war is so important that nothing else matters or that the GOP can both win the war on terror and get back to its sound fiscal roots.

He then sights the results in MI-7 and CO-5 that the GOP base will turn out for something else.

I like the idea of the GOP getting back to its sound fiscal roots, but will it work to talk about it during an election after having failed totally during the Bush administration on these issues? That is, does the current GOP — defined by President Bush — have the credibility to speak on these issues? Furthermore, the GOP base is not motivated by these issues, as indicated by the RNC’s base mobilization memo. From this we know that the base gets mobilized by:

  • The Global War on Terror (high 80s%)
  • Moral issues (high 80s%)
  • The War in Iraq (mid 80s%)
  • Wiretapping or Patriot Act (about 80%)
  • Extending tax cuts (high 60s%)

Etc. The only economic issue that gets any traction is tax cuts. The war is simply the most important issue to GOP voters right now. (for a quick take to my main topic, that is why Giuliani has a viable candidacy at all. He can sell because is the most salient issue to GOP voters)
Note that there are also good issues about scaring the base about Democrats:

This all depends on the theory that this election will be about turning out the base. If this election is about convincing swing voters, we are screwed. The President’s poll numbers are a clear indication that he has no credibility on any issues any more other than terrorism. The problem for the GOP is that in many moderate districts there isn’t enough base and they have to localize the election. Thus Chris Shays wiggles on the war, Rob Simmons talks about the submarine base (his best issue anyways), Mike Fitzpatrick gets the unions and LCV on side (and their GOTV operation), and Weldon struggles…