The collective exhalation and sigh of relief coming out of the Texas State House in Austin last week could be felt statewide and is resonating across the nation. Usually such an expression of relief during a high profile election campaign would be synonymous with gaining a prized political endorsement from a national figure. However, this not so modest celebration resulted from the opposition getting the endorsement.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney has come out in favor of Kay Bailey Hutchison for Republican gubernatorial nominee in next spring’s primary election. And that suits the sitting governor, Rick Perry, just fine. In fact, it plays directly into Perry’s central strategy of portraying himself as a Washington outsider while painting the opposition as just another Washington bureaucrat. He is indeed half right.
Receiving the endorsement of a consummate Washington insider such as Cheney would have dampened the Perry campaign strategy somewhat, though not irreparably. Political spin doctors have a line for sugar coating every unfortunate turn of events. And a Cheney endorsement for Perry would have indeed been unfortunate for Perry who has garnered a good bit of attention and far right support in recent months for his assertion that Texas might ought to secede from the union. Such rhetoric falls into the cliché that there is no such thing as bad publicity.
Sen. Hutchison on the other hand is struggling to appear gracious in light of her receipt of the less than coveted “prize”. Though Cheney is grinding political axes loudly and frequently these days to the chagrin of even many Republicans and other conservatives, it would be seen as politically incorrect and “bad form” to turn one’s back totally on Cheney’s still considerable fund raising capacities.
National cable news programming has dubbed the Texas Republican primary election as “one to watch.” It is believed to be a harbinger of the future direction of the Republican Party and whether they can hold together a coalition of middle of the road and electable candidates or whether the right wing pressures will continue to polarize them.
A few short years ago the same polarizing political dynamic was afflicting the Democratic Party and resulted in the ascent of people like George McGovern and Michael Dukakis and was accompanied by the coincidental ascent of the The Republican Party as the vast center of the national electorate embraced less ideologically extreme liberal rhetoric in favor of what was perceived to be “more reasonable and pragmatic” Republican talking points. The cyclical nature of politics, especially at the national level is the one constant that remains in the governing process referred to as “democracy.”
Newt Gingrich, once a darling of the then far right, recently was quoted as saying that “20 percent of the national electorate can be an energetic movement, but you need 50 percent plus one after the recount” to get elected. By today’s standards Gingrich is moderate and is having a tough time selling pragmatism. The Democrats learned that over the years and now as the Republicans deal with the temporary state of “splinteritis” those candidates serious about electability will invariably gravitate back to center right from the far right fringes of political irrelevance.
Dick Cheney’s endorsement of Kay Bailey Hutchison will be an indicator of whether he can be considered a political asset to electability or whether he will be seen as a far right flame-thrower in a party being temporarily sidetracked by far right flame-throwers.
John Kliebenstein is circulation and operations manager of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Wednesdays. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.