FOOLING ALL OF THE PEOPLE ALL OF THE TIME (OR AT LEAST UNTIL NOVEMBER '08)
David Brooks today:
[Fred Thompson] campaigns against concentrated Republican power almost as much as he does against concentrated Democratic power. Though a Republican, he's able to launch a reasonably nonpartisan attack on the way government has worked over the last 19 years.
...What Thompson's campaign represents, then, is a return to basics. It's not primarily engaged in the issues that have dominated recent G.O.P. politics.
Peggy Noonan two weeks ago:
[Fred Thompson] is running a great campaign. It's just not a declared campaign.... It has been going on for months and is aimed at the major pleasure zones of the Republican brain. In a series of pointed columns, commentaries and podcasts, Mr. Thompson has been talking about things conservatives actually talk about.
So which is it? Is Thompson an uber-Republican or the great healer of the partisan rift?
Never mind. I'm afraid I know the answer -- or, rather, the answers -- we're going to be force-fed in the coming months: yes to both.
What I fear is going to happen is that Thompson (or whomever the GOP nominates) will be successfully sold to the middle as a centrist healer -- no more Bush! -- and to the right as a reviver of "true" conservatism -- no more Bush!
That last exclamation wasn't a typo; as we know if we've read Noonan's current column, or other recent right-wing pronouncements, the right thinks Bush is the great betrayer of right-wing principles rather than their embodiment:
For almost three years, arguably longer, conservative Bush supporters have felt like sufferers of battered wife syndrome. You don't like endless gushing spending, the kind that assumes a high and unstoppable affluence will always exist, and the tax receipts will always flow in? Too bad! You don't like expanding governmental authority and power? Too bad. You think the war was wrong or is wrong? Too bad.
Yes, righties are even denying paternity in the case of the war. (I'd like to administer that DNA test.)
Noonan goes on to say that "conservatives and Republicans are going to have to win back their party." She's wringing her hands now, but that won't last long: when the GOP nominee is chosen, he'll be running against Evil Incarnate, so Noonan and all the other righty hand-wringers will tell the base, no matter what the nominee says, that Conservatism Is Back.
But the rest of the press -- Chris Matthews and David Broder and Richard Cohen and Howard Kurtz and David Brooks -- will tell us that the bad old right-wing era of George W. Bush is over. They'll point to moderate positions the GOP nominee once took (whoever it is) and say they're a sign of centrism -- while right-wing pundits will tell the faithful to ignore the old position(s) and concentrate on the new.
Can this even extend to the war? Oh, sure. Remember we had Frank Rich a few months ago telling us that Rudy Giuliani "wasn't a cheerleader for the ... detour into Iraq, wasn't in office once the war started, and actively avoids speaking about it in any detail"; this week, we have Susan Page in USA Today saying the following:
On Iraq, Thompson voted to authorize the invasion in October 2002 and now opposes setting a timetable to withdraw U.S. troops. Still, his fortunes aren't as inextricably tied to the war as those of McCain, who has been one of the war's leading defenders.
So, never mind the fact that these guys are unswerving in their support for a far-right position on Iraq -- they're really moderates. (And if McCain's the nominee, we'll be endlessly reminded of this or that critical remark about torture or Donald Rumsfeld -- pay no attention to the fact that he's nevertheless an unstinting cheerleader for the war.)
So right-wingers will hear that the GOP nominee is a right-winger, and centrists will hear that he's a centrist. Meanwhile, left-wingers will conclude that the Democratic nominee is a middle-ground coward, while centrists will be told he or she is a big hippie radical. It's not going to be pretty.