One fascinating piece of fallout from the collapse of Bush popularity is the now-entrenched media idea that Democratic presidential candidates will "tack left" as they are "pushed and prodded" by the netroots and others on their way to the 2008 primaries. However, responsible coverage also adds just how far out of the mainstream current Republican thinking is:
Reconciling the divergent needs of economically-downscale voters, culturally liberal upscale voters, and essential swing- and/or centrist voters will not be easy.
These difficulties pale in comparison, however, to those facing the Republican Party and its candidates for the nomination.
In a reversal of past patterns, the conflicts in this cycle between the Republican primary electorate, on the one hand, and general election voters, on the other, are far more severe than on the Democratic side of the aisle. The continuing support among Republican voters for both President Bush and his policies in Iraq has pushed all the leading GOP candidates well outside mainstream views on ending the war, the issue most likely to dominate 2008.
The potential for conflict between Republican Party orthodoxy and more moderate general election voters was graphically displayed at a Columbia, South Carolina Republican Party debate on May 15, when the audience erupted in cheers as Rudy Giuliani endorsed the use of torture.
The rallying cry that Bush isn't a conservative is a weak one. And Digby has already captured the angst as the self-appointed centrists (who really are Establishment conservatives) try and apply outdated and inaccurate labels that better position themselves far more than enlighten their audience.
In any case, as Rasmussen points out, progressive has a more positive connotation than moderate or conservative (liberal is out of favor). When it comes to conservative, Bush and the GOP have sullied the brand.
For some, it may seem strange to distinguish between a candidate who is like Reagan and a candidate who is politically conservative. But, that gap has arisen because the definition of conservative has been altered by the more recent GOP leadership in Congress and the White House. Also, of course, being compared to Reagan ascribes some personal characteristics that cannot be captured in an ideological label.
These two themes – Reagan good, Bush bad and the American consensus on issues like Iraq, stem cell research, health care and government's (non-Norquist) role in tackling the problems of the 21st Century – will flavor the description of where the public and the candidates are described as falling within the political spectrum, particularly by the establishment punditocracy. And the more the political center moves away from the failed establishment (not just Bush but the people that supported him, including the pundits) and back to mainstream sensibility, the more that the 'left' label will be hurled in desperation, as if it matters to the pragmatic American public. It's good for fund raising on the right, I suppose, but it won't help the GOP come election day.