Wednesday, January 16, 2008
The political ground shifting underfoot



David Gergen
Senior Political Analyst




From about 30,000 feet, here's what the political landscape looks like to me today, just after Michigan and the Democratic debate in Nevada:

-- The terrain for the general election is moving even more strongly in the Democrats' favor. With results in from four states, Republicans have at least four -- arguably five -- candidates bunched together at the top -- each one of whom can win the nomination but no one of whom inspires all the party faithful. That's not a promising scenario for a party whose strength on election day has depended heavily upon an army of excited volunteers. Meanwhile, Democrats are choosing between two candidates, each of whom can win and can also rally the party in November.

-- Despite their strong position, the Democrats could still lose in November, not just on personality but on philosophy. Last night's debate showed plainly that both Barack and Hillary want far more governmental activism in tackling everything from the economy to health care to climate change. The public appears open to more government than in the recent past, but it isn't clear that it has yet come this far. Remember that the only two Democrats who have won the White House since Lyndon Johnson have been two southerners running as moderates, Carter and Clinton -- and neither won 50 percent of the popular vote.

-- Unfortunately, the election campaign so far hasn't yet shown clear evidence that any one of the candidates on either side is fully up to the challenges awaiting in 2009. Several of them would be fine for average times, but we are entering an extraordinary time in the presidency. Hopefully, the weeks ahead will provide a chance to explore more deeply what lies ahead -- and the leadership we so urgently need.

A post-script to last night's Democratic debate: Clinton, Edwards and Obama each told Tim Russert they would enforce laws requiring universities to allow military recruiters on campus. As a long-time advocate of restoring ROTC to major universities, I just want to add that a huge stumbling block now is the "don't ask, don't tell" policy of the military, which is seen at many schools as highly discriminatory against gays and lesbians. If that is amended -- as growing numbers in the military think should happen -- we will have a much better chance of persuading schools to honor service in the armed forces in the ways that they should.
Posted By CNN: 10:38 AM ET
  23 Comments
David,
It really does look as things are all shook up! LOL We have no clear frontrunner on either side. And as far as the Reps go not one of them can really carry all of the people. And the Dems seem to be at each other so much that it may turn people off from them. I suspect that this election is going to get VERY interesting! I really don't think we will know who will get the nod from either side until the very end.

Cynthia, Covington, Ga.
Posted By Blogger Cindy : 10:53 AM ET
David,
In looking at the number of votes cast in MI, rather than the percentages, Clinton received 328,161 compared to Romney's 337,847 in a state she didn't even campaign in. Wouldn't this lend some credence to her being electable?
Posted By Blogger Jan from Wood Dale, IL : 10:56 AM ET
David:

I agree with you- the Democrats are NOT set to win this election. Anything could happen between now and November. The degree of the Democrats' success will largely depend on the Republican opponent. Clinton or Obama would have less advantage if they were to contend with a social liberal (read: Giuliani) or a candidate that appeals to independents and some Democrats (read: McCain). With a more conservative candidate like Huckabee, Democrats may also lose out if Bloomberg ran an independent campaign. That being said, Republicans still face a long battle uphill.
Posted By Anonymous Anthea, Beijing, China : 11:19 AM ET
This primary season is just facinating to me. It is like a novel. Characters changing and developing from page to page, or state to state. I think it will be very interesting to see how Nevada votes.
Posted By Anonymous Jess, Paris, KY : 11:20 AM ET
The commentary last night hit the nail on the head re Romney's MI campaign. He was running for President of Michigan and McCain was running for President of the USA. I can tell you that when Romeny starts campaigning in CA in earnest, if his message is still to try and derail the push towards more fuel efficient cars, he will be playing to an empty house. Unless the anti Hillary sentiment makes for some very strange bed fellows. For me, he never had my vote to lose.

Charlotte D, Stockton CA
Posted By Blogger Charlotte : 11:32 AM ET
As of Jan. 16 McCain & Huckabee each have 25.7% of the Republican delegates and share about equally in news coverage with Romney, Clinton and Obama.
Why is it that Edwards with 26.9% of the Democratic delegates is largely ignored on the news?
Posted By Anonymous Terry Newton,IA : 11:41 AM ET
We already have many brave soldiers who are gay and lesbian which proves there is no threat to unit cohesion with their active participation in the military.

It's time for the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy to be replaced with open enrollment in our military, including gays and lesbians.

This is a start, but it's time for this country to extend equality to gay and lesbian citizens in all aspects of society.
Posted By Anonymous Joseph Kowalski, North Huntingdon, PA : 11:50 AM ET
I still waiting for the candidates to take a vocal stance on the reduction of global poverty during their campaigns. Just recently Obama introduced the Global Poverty Act in the Senate, but we do not hear him speak much about that type of foreign policy. According to the Borgen Project, 19 billion dollars would eliminate starvation globally.
Posted By Blogger Clay : 12:17 PM ET
David - I agree DADT is a major stumbling block to getting recruiters back on campus. But I'm not altogether sure allowing them back on campus is an undiluted good thing in any event. CNN was only one of many news organizations reporting several years ago on the abuses of recruiters as they pursued high schoolers. I have heard no followup on the recruiting abuses stories, so have no idea if they are still going on or not, but am prepared to bet that they are. I would not be willing to see those manipulative, even deceptive, practices brought to bear on kids, legal adults or otherwise, who are living away from parental supervision for the first time in their lives.

And while I agree that the next President will have an extraordinarily difficult job to do, you subtly alter the truth by not pointing out that most of the difficulty stems directly from the poor performance and bad decision-making of the current President.

Yes, the job will remain difficult, no matter what the cause of our current difficulties. But by withholding blame from the current administration for causing many of those difficulties, you 'take sides' in the interest of 'being fair'. Ironic, isn't it?
Posted By Anonymous Arachnae, Sterling VA : 12:36 PM ET
David,
Despite the number of votes Clinton received last night, I think her decision to participate in MI yesterday given the reasons why Obama & Edwards pulled out will affect her negatively in the long run. Because if she can't stand for her people now, when will she? And the republicans decision to ban uncommitted voters in some states, I think will deter all the uncommitted who were thinking of going republican for the mere fact that they are not even recognized but that party. The candidates need to realize that this is about the American people and not them!

DeAnn - FL
Posted By Anonymous DeAnne : 12:51 PM ET
Could the answer as to why there is no front runner on either side is many people are saying no to all the above. Yes, I saw more people at the caucus (Iowa) than I have seen before but there were many friends and relatives that usually go that didn’t because they didn’t think anyone withal of the choices we had, was the man or woman for the job. More Americans feel Washington is broke and want to replace one person at the top and fix it. The only way to fix it is to vote out the career politician in congress. ( yes, Iowa has 2 of them in the Senate) Quit saying he is a good politician look at all he has done for the state (bring home the pork) If congress would decrease spending we would at least be able to reduce the speed at which our debt is increasing and even better for our future reduce our debt. At some point we will have to pay the piper. I just think it should be the generation that made that does. Not one man can do that alone unless he is a dictator or has a different group of congressmen around him to work with him. The first would be easier in the short term but the latter is what I believe in.
Posted By Anonymous Ryan McSorley, IA : 12:54 PM ET
David,
I enjoy your insightful thoughts, but I am always reminded that you worked for The clinton administration. It seems that Hillary is the better washington politician, and Barrack is alot more likeable and trustworthy. It seems to split the vote for democrats. Either way, they both should be on the ticket for that reason. your thoughts?
Posted By OpenID sulj5 : 1:09 PM ET
Right, Hillary received almost as many votes as Romney... but Obama and Edwards were not on the ballot.
Posted By Anonymous Chrissi, Ramstein Germany : 1:11 PM ET
I'm tired of the media telling me there are only two candidates in the Democratic race. There are currently five who have not pulled out of the race and THREE of those are viable- not two. Please give Senator Edwards credit where it is due.

As for the Michigan Primary. I voted "uncommitted" on the Democratic side (this from a white, female, upstate resident). I am however totally annoyed at the state Democratic party, the national party and the candidates for creating a "Non-primary" that disenfranchised a state the Democrats need to win in November. There are many angry Democrats that might just stay home on election day in November and just incidently deliver the state (and the white house) to the Republicans
Posted By Anonymous Katherine, Escanaba, MI : 1:20 PM ET
I always find wisdom in David Gergen's commentary and can absolutely see why presidents from both parties have sought his advice. I too think that Dems have an edge going into this election, especially if the nominee goes right to the center after securing his/her spot. Government activism appeals to the party faithful but scares the heck out of moderates on both sides.

I also have to think a moderate like John McCain is the most dangerous candidate for the Democrats - if he makes it through the gaunlet. By the same token, Huckabee would likely be a gift, as he is probably the least appealing to independants and moderates.
Posted By OpenID jsbers0 : 1:34 PM ET
Sometimes I do wonder if all of these people, on both sides, are the best of what is out here in America? I guess we will see.
Right now it's just an awful lot of promises.

Lorie Ann
Buellton, Calif.
Posted By Blogger Lorie Ann : 1:37 PM ET
What struck me about the debate last nights was Obama saying the President only sets the vision but doesn't manage the government. I think this is a problem for him because both Regan and the current President took this approach and it got them into a lot of trouble. A common criticism of this administration is that Bush's policy is being made by his vice president and close advisors while he just sets the overall vision. Times are too tough to depend on others to set your policies for you. We need a leader and not someone who will just delegate.
Posted By Anonymous Tony : 2:01 PM ET
David,
After last night's results, it is really hard to tell who the Republican nominee will be. I think debates and the primaries leading up to Super Tuesday will give more information, but I predict we will not know the nominees by Super Tuesday either. It is going to be a wild ride!
Posted By Blogger pamina : 2:59 PM ET
I think that we are swinging toward a liberal democratic government because we see that when the government is limited we are not united.

Government is like HOA in that it should cover the common areas that we all use.

Traditionally the king owned all the land and maintained it. If it was attached, he defended it.

Republicans like small government but that leaves us open to "who's responsible for fixing this? Not me."

Societies don't run when you separate them. We have to act as one unit.

I think that we have finally seen what happens when we "fend for ourselves" instead of working as a whole.

United We Stand, Divided We Fall.
Posted By Anonymous Sabrina in Los Angeles : 3:37 PM ET
You said: "Several of them [candidates, both Republican and Democrat] would be fine for average times, but we are entering an extraordinary time in the presidency."

My question is, when have we ever lived in "average times"? Many times in history may seem "average" with the benefit hindsight, but do not seem so to the folks living in them. Isn't the presidency almost always perceived to be entering an "extraordinary" time?
Posted By Anonymous Hugh form Cincinnati, OH : 3:48 PM ET
Mr. Gergen,
It's an honor to respond to your commentary. I'm a big fan of how plain-spoken and clearly you lay the scenarios out for us outside of Washington. I agree completely that this whole thing is wide open! Wouldn't you think though, that even though Sen. Clinton is exceedingly qualified to lead, if she is the nominee, Republican party hardliners will come out in droves to vote AGAINST her rather than FOR their nominee? If Sen. Obama is the nominee, he's so likable and genuine that I don't see the vast conservatives rushing to the booth to vote "anti-Obama."

That's just my view from Texas. Thank you.
Posted By Anonymous Joseph in San Antonio : 4:10 PM ET
David,

I have to disagree with your assessment that there is not a candidate that is ready to lead this country from the first day in office. Senator Clinton, laid out, in the Nevada debate very clearly, what she would do to help the economy out of its slump, and a plan for responsible withdrawal from Iraq. She was truly presidential in Nevada, and showed me at least that there is a candidate that is ready to clean up the mess that has been made of the White House.
Posted By Anonymous Renee : 5:54 PM ET
Don't Mitt Romney's two golds and two silvers put him in the lead?
Posted By Anonymous Lee- Houston, Tx. : 6:57 PM ET
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