With the possible exception of Jon Huntsman, the Republican presidential field is weak on candidates who could appeal to centrist swing voters, including moderate Republicans. But there is one 2012 prospect who has a proven track record of pursuing policies that owe a great deal to the moderate Republican tradition and who could potentially shake up the race for the GOP presidential nomination: President Barack Obama.
If Obama chose to run for reelection not as a Democrat but as a moderate Republican, he could bring about two healthy transformations in the American political system. The moderate wing of the Republican Party could be restored. And the Democratic presidential nomination might be opened up to politicians from the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.
In the last generation, the old-fashioned moderate Republicans from New England and the Midwest symbolized by Nelson Rockefeller have been driven out of the GOP by the conservative followers of Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan. Streaming into the Democratic Party as voters, and buying it with ample Wall Street cash as donors, this upscale elite has changed the party from a populist liberal alliance of unionized workers and populists into a socially liberal, economically conservative version of the old country-club Republicanism of the pre-Reagan era. The transformation began under Jimmy Carter, accelerated under Bill Clinton and has nearly been completed under Barack Obama. This is not your grandfather’s Democratic Party. It is your grandfather’s Republican Party of 1955.
In his book "The Agenda: Inside the Clinton White House," Bob Woodward described a Clinton administration meeting in 1993: "Where are all the Democrats?" Clinton bellowed. "I hope you’re all aware we’re all Eisenhower Republicans," he said, his voice dripping with sarcasm. "We’re all Eisenhower Republicans here, and we are fighting the Reagan Republicans. We stand for lower deficits and free trade and the bond market. Isn't that great?"
The Obama administration is the third Clinton administration -- or perhaps the fifth Eisenhower administration, following the four combined terms of Dwight Eisenhower and Bill Clinton (by comparison to both, Richard Nixon, as president, was a New Deal liberal). Under the influence of Treasury secretary and master fundraiser Robert Rubin, the Mark Hanna of the modern Democratic Party, Clinton scrapped the "putting people first" agenda he had run on in 1992 and focused on rapidly balancing the budget -- a longtime obsession of fiscal conservatives in the Eisenhower-Rockefeller tradition, rather than supply-siders in the Reagan-Kemp tradition. Similarly, Barack Obama supported a stimulus that was only a quarter as big as necessary -- half of the $2 trillion that his advisor Christina Romer estimated was necessary, with about half of that wasted on ineffectual tax cuts. In spite of the prospect of years of mass unemployment, Barack Obama, in the spirit of the budget-balancing Rubinomics of the 1990s and Ike-onomics of the 1950s, has called for freezing discretionary spending except for defense. He has allowed the conversation to be shifted from recovery to long-term fiscal consolidation, which conservatives will try to use as an excuse to partly replace Social Security and Medicare with mandatory private accounts that will generate lucrative fees for Wall Street and the insurance industry from a huge captive population of American fee-payers.
If he were to run for the Republican nomination, Obama could point out that in the past few years he has already done far more to thwart American liberalism than any of his rivals in the GOP primary have done in their entire careers.