Jul 31, 2013

Hillary vs Rand, the coming political realignment

While many are focused on the Christie vs Rand front of the pre-2016 war, a new rift emerged this morning that could have much more significant consequences.

John McCain, 2008 Republican nominee for President and long-term thorn in the side of both right and left, joked that he would would have a "touch choice" if the nominees in 2016 were Hillary Clinton and Rand Paul. He clarified that he thinks Rand is evolving his father's particular brand of crazy into something more respectable, but went on to praise Hillary's term as Secretary of State and her stature in the world. A few background notes elucidate these comments: earlier this year McCain brutally lashed Rand on the floor of the Senate over his anti-drone filibuster, as the 2008 nominee McCain nearly faced Hillary in that Presidential election, but more recently McCain has been a vocal critic of Hillary's handling of Benghazi in Congressional testimony. So it's quite something that McCain would even joke about supporting Hillary Clinton over his own party's nominee for President.

However, if he wasn't joking, and I suspect not, McCain's comments hint at a possible coming political realignment like our nation hasn't seen since the mid-20th Century. Since the Reagan era the parties have been viewed on opposite sides of two major issue spectrums, Republicans have generally been for small(er) government and big security, while Democrats have generally been for big(ger) government and less security. If the parties choose Hillary Clinton and Rand Paul as their respective nominees, this ideological polarity will have reversed on the security spectrum. While she grew up in the anti-war 60s and was seen in the 90s as the doctrinaire liberal to husband Bill's triangulating centrism, since her time in the Senate, Hillary has emerged as a more globally interventionist hawk than even some Republicans. On the other hand, labeling himself a "libertarian Republican", and with his anti-drone filibuster and opposition to NSA surveillance and most foreign aid, Rand Paul is one of the leading voices for American non-interventionism.

If this realignment on security occurs, it will put the parties on a more clear liberty vs security axis. On all but social/moral issues, which are becoming increasingly state-based anyway, Republicans would be the party of liberty, and Democrats would be the party of security, both economic and national. (I would love to see the social/moral spectrum realign as well, of course, but that will take much more work.) As McCain suggests, Republican national security and foreign policy hawks might have a hard time supporting Rand Paul. To be sure, most would also have a hard time supporting the party's arch-enemy for the last 30 years too, but sometimes the easiest hurdle to cross is the tallest one if it's also the first one. McCain's open praise for Hillary as a competent leader and globally respected personality would be the basis for his and other Republican defections.

Now, all of this assumes that the realignment occurs in both directions. If Republican hawks move to Hillary, but no Democrat doves move to Rand, then we would have more of a one-sided collapse than a realignment. But there are plenty of Democrats who have made similar moves in the past, and more recently explicitly aligned with Rand on security issues.

So if a Hillary vs Rand election happens (and way way early polls suggest it might), and a realignment begins, I will welcome it. We've been dealing with contradictory party philosophies for far too long. We need an explicit party alignment on the liberty vs security axis, not issue-dependent positions on that spectrum. Even if we lose that fight, it's one worth having.

Full disclosure: I'm terrible at predictions.

No comments: