Anybody Want to Lead?
the Republicans nor Democrats in Virginia offer a
compelling vision for the future.
hallmark of the American political party system —
the existence over time of two major parties — is
under great strain in Virginia. Unlike a
parliamentary system, which tends toward multiple
parties, the American system accommodates a wider
range of issue conflicts within two powerful
parties. Even when a third party begins to build
substantial support in the American system, one of
the two leading parties usually absorbs it.
Virginia, both Democrats and Republicans are
experiencing internal divisions that can be repaired
only by extraordinary leadership.
exulted when Mark R. Warner prevailed in the 2001
gubernatorial election, but quickly learned that
Warner’s formula for electoral success was not
necessarily a formula for party-building. Democrats
win statewide elections through a sort of alchemy.
Their candidates must project themselves as moderate
and non-threatening, while simultaneously placating
the powerful interest groups that constitute the
core of the modern Democratic Party.
managed to pull off that balancing act in 2001.
Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the Democrats’
candidate for governor in Maryland this year,
couldn’t do the same. The fall-off in support for
Townsend among African-Americans is certainly the
principal factor in her loss.
is no less difficult for Republicans to keep their
core constituencies engaged and reasonably content.
In contrast to Warner, Mark Earley couldn’t count
on the support or at least the enthusiasm of several
core GOP constituencies in his 2001 gubernatorial
campaign. A Republican candidate for statewide
office in Virginia should have a substantial
advantage if he or she can hold these groups
Reagan found the national Republicans similarly
fractured in the late 1970s. Although he was
depicted by his opponents and political pundits as
too far to the right to lead the GOP, much less the
nation, he galvanized Republicans, drew many
traditional Democrats to his side and won the 1980
presidential election in a landslide.
achieved this result through boldness. His
compelling vision, not his mastery of inside
political maneuvering, was his advantage.
Republicans continue to add to their majorities in
both houses of the General Assembly, but it won’t
matter much if they have no agenda. The
Commonwealth’s current financial crisis is a real
test of both the governor and the GOP-dominated
legislature. Neither has yet provided a
of the leaders in the Republican legislative caucus,
obviously frustrated by the defeat of the twin sales
tax referendums they supported, have openly attacked
their colleagues who opposed those ballot measures.
These same GOP leaders seem oblivious to the growing
dissatisfaction among many grassroots Republicans.
the face of the centrifugal forces at work in both
parties, there is an extraordinary opportunity for a
leader to step forward with boldness that Virginians
have not recently seen. The public is unhappy with,
and distrustful of, both parties, as the last
election demonstrated. They want to know who
Wilder remarked a decade ago that there was only one
party in Washington — the incumbent party.
He could say the same today about Richmond.
within a major party are not unnatural. Unless
someone supplies a vision that turns warring
factions toward a common challenge that binds
members together in some purposeful effort, a party
inevitably loses strength.
have argued for centuries over whether history is
made by unusually gifted individuals or by powerful
ideas. It could be that history is made by a
combination of the two.
December 9, 2002