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Rewriting the Rulebook

Then-candidate George W. Bush, with Sen. Charles Grassley, playing by a different set of rules back in the 2000 Iowa caucus. (AP).

By Peter Baker
Starting tonight, the Rulebook of American Politics gets thrown out, or at least seriously rewritten. As voters in Iowa head to caucuses to cast the first ballots in the 2008 presidential campaign, the one thing we know for sure is they're kicking off a process that will defy at least some of the conventions that have governed national elections for generations.

After all, when it comes to the White House, the Rulebook says voters won't elect a woman. Or an African American. Or a Mormon. Or a candidate who will be 80 at the end of his second term. The Rulebook says a populist running to end poverty can't win. Nor can a social liberal in a conservative party. Nor for that matter can a candidate who does not meet the minimum fire-in-the-belly requirement. And while the Rulebook may make no mention of it, the odds are certainly astronomical that a new president would come from the same tiny town as the most recent former president, a town with the politically symbolic name of Hope.

Up until now, it has been far easier to explain why this candidate or that candidate simply cannot win, and yet if nothing else, by process of elimination, someone actually will win the Democratic and Republican caucuses tonight and eventually someone -- not necessarily the same someones -- will win the two party nominations, probably by a month from Saturday when more than 20 states hold primaries. So the voting that gets underway tonight begins a test of politics in America these days and where it might be headed.

The environment in which the voting starts tonight could not be more different than the last time America picked a new president. On the eve of the Iowa caucuses in 2000, the discussion was about how dull they were shaping up to be. America was at peace and enjoying prosperity, content with its place as the world's last superpower and blissfully unaware of the threats that loomed. The main debate at the time seemed to be whether to use its newfound economic wealth to cut taxes or expand health care. Osama bin Laden was a household name in virtually no household and "the Iraq war" referred to a distant, fuzzy memory of a short, four-day ground war to liberate Kuwait nearly a decade earlier. "Iowa Show Nears, But Drama Missing," read the headline of a story that year by our Takemaster Dan Balz. "Caucuses Inspire Little Passion, Pro or Con." The same could not be written this year.

Heading into that vote eight years ago, the most important issue to Republican voters was "moral values," cited by 35 percent of those surveyed as they entered caucuses, followed by taxes at 25 percent, abortion at 11 percent and Social Security and Medicare at 8 percent. An umbrella "world affairs" category seemed most important to just 6 percent of Republicans that year. On the Democratic side, 26 percent cited Social Security and Medicare as their top issue, followed by 22 percent who said education, 16 percent who said health care, 11 percent who said the economy and 6 percent who named campaign finances. Just 4 percent listed world affairs as the top issue.

By comparison, the last Washington Post-ABC News poll of Iowa caucusgoers before tonight's contests found immigration the top issue among Republicans, cited by 17 percent, followed by terrorism, the Iraq war and abortion, all named by 9 percent. Moral or family values was cited by just 7 percent, one fifth of the proportion in 2000, tying the economy and ethics in government. The Democrats put health care at the top, named by 28 percent, followed closely by Iraq at 23 percent. About 12 percent named the economy, six percent education and four percent ethics in government.

It seems to matter who wins tonight and over the next month in a way it did not eight years ago. The next president will be left with some profound choices to make for the country -- what to do about Iraq, what to do about Iran, what to do about Pakistan, what to do about immigration, what to do about health care. The next president, the first new post-9/11 leader, will be charged with defending a country with a giant bulls eye on it and will have to determine the right balance in the precarious competition between security and liberty -- how far should the government go in eavesdropping without warrants, what should be done with the suspected terrorists at Guantanamo? And more broadly, what role should America play in the world?

So perhaps in that sort of terrain, it makes sense that the old Rulebook looks obsolete. Whether Hillary Rodham Clinton becomes the first female president or Barack Obama the first black president or Mitt Romney the first Mormon president may ultimately be important but secondary. They are all being judged less on who they are than what they would do. And old assumptions seem to fall by the wayside.

Still, history has lessons that are ignored at one's peril. According to history, the Republicans face an uphill battle this year. Only once since World War II has a party won the White House three straight terms (in 1988 when George H.W. Bush succeeded Ronald Reagan), so Republicans already would have confronted long odds even if the country were not in an unpopular war led by an unpopular incumbent.

But history also suggests that if Democrats do win this fall, the winner may only be a one-term president. Only once in the 220-year history of the American presidency have three presidents in a row served two full terms, and that was Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe.

And so everybody has some incentive starting tonight to make a little new history and rewrite the Rulebook.

By Washington Post editors  |  January 3, 2008; 10:08 AM ET
Categories:  B_Blog , Morning Cheat Sheet  
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SteelWheel1, In case you have not noticed, I spend possibly too much time doing this! One reason, I do not have the opportunities during the dead of the Christmas Season to promote my services in the industry I am unfortunetly in, another is that I feel I have targeted some of the issues that have been my demise, and feel an obligation to try to help ALL THE MANY OTHER PEOPLE suffering just like I am, but are not focused on the reasons why, and are bound to obligations and responsibilities I do not have to struggle in other ways!

Consider this effort of mine, a cross I unfortunately chose to bear! Who knows?
It is said the Lord works in mysterious ways. What I do know, is from the days before the last election, when I first caught on to the Yahoo's Discussion Sections(Message Boards), through a few brief good months of the insipidly Stupid Yahoo Answers Game, to my arrival here at the poor WaPo, I do feel I have made a point or two, and have raised the bar a notch or two!

After all, Seeds that cannot Bloom by Day, Must Flower in the Night!

And as stated, I BITE!

Posted by: rat-the | January 3, 2008 7:01 PM | Report abuse

man I'm really sorry to hear that. The American Founding Father's intention regarding elected officials were for them to leave office and live under the laws they created while members of Congress. The Founding Fathers did not men to become professional politicians.

The reason why the Founding Fathers sought this is for the reasons you stated. These politicians have no clue the harm they are doing to the people they took oaths to serve.

I'm very angry that our elected officials has let you down!

Posted by: SteelWheel1 | January 3, 2008 6:37 PM | Report abuse

SteelWheel1-Not sure how to say this, but suffice it to be said, what I want, probably does not matter!

I have already been nailed by the stupid actions of reckless Leaders. Time is NOT on my side!

What Stupid Actions?

EO:13166, Capital Gains Waivers, on Houses "Flipped" Within 2 Years, The ALLOWANCE of a thing like a "Sanctuary City", Home Equity Loans, and just too many other things like hurricanes, wars, droughts, floods, Gas Speculations, Etc., Etc..

You can believe me, when I tell you, I have come to despair!


Because the Iraqi's get financial help, the illegals get Benefits, and I cannot even get a prospective Representative capable of saying that any of the above Mistakes-Are JUST THAT! :-(

Posted by: rat-the | January 3, 2008 4:56 PM | Report abuse

I was just teasing by throwing Barack's name in there : ) I know where you stand with regard to lawyers holding executive positions and I really don't blame you at all.

I want someone in the executive branch that has a record of making things happen that has a long-term positive affect on the day-to-day working Americans. The poor and the rich seem to always have an advocate but the people who truly are supporting both ends of the economic extremes constantly get left out. And to add insult to injury greater burdens are heap upon the middle-class working people every election cycle.

So yes, you are justified in not wanting anymore lawyer-minded executives and career politicians who never had to risk anything.

Posted by: SteelWheel1 | January 3, 2008 4:30 PM | Report abuse

SteelWheel1-You just quoted Dr. Krauthammer exept for the President, believe!

When it comes to Barack Hussein Obama, I even agree with much of what he says. HOWEVER, then I look at what he has done! And Where he is from-ACLU just one example!

I don't trust him to deliver on what he is saying one friggin bit!

The Person I believe he is trying to Impersonate, is the Person I was always rooting for, and would love to see back as the Secretary Of State again, at least!

Colin Powell!

But since I do not trust Obasama, and Colin does not want the Thankless Job he knows too well it to be(Surprised ANYONE actually want's it!), the question comes down to who can manage talents the best!

The Mittster has shown himself to be very astute, and very capable!

Posted by: rat-the | January 3, 2008 3:51 PM | Report abuse

I didn't look at the candidates from a collective stand point as you did.

Although I don't like Rudy as my president he would do quite well as Attorney General provided he doesn't get indicted.

I don't like Mitt as my president but I would like him as my Secretary of Commerce.

John McCain Secretary of DoD

I like Mike Huckabee as VP

And as my president Barack Obama.

Posted by: SteelWheel1 | January 3, 2008 3:38 PM | Report abuse

That would be a Consequence. It would also make the appointment plans much more transparent, so the people Would Know, the whole package!
But mostly, my point is that we could get away from the current attrition each Party suffers from the opposing Party due to the ability to cause the best candidate to appear to lack support!

As long as a Dimocrat can deceptively vote in the Republican Primary, and influence the Choice, and vice versa, the Flaw exists!
Then, consider that we do not consider the key posts of a very BIG Job, Yeah! your right about the FACT it would be a MUCH better approach to know the whole Package!

This Election, for some reason, the Republican Candidates are "Specialized" and even though they have weaknesses, they have great strengths that when Combined, make for a Powerful Team! Coincidence, could possibly do away with Tradition, and make for Politics NOT as usual!

As I have said before, it will take a TEAM EFFORT to fix the mess this Country is in. And "Unity", should begin at Home, in the Big Tent!

Posted by: rat-the | January 3, 2008 3:17 PM | Report abuse

I get what you are saying and it has merit.

Your recommendation would allow the American people to not only choose its President/VP but also to vet out the Presidential-Nominee's selections for key Executive Branch members.

Case in point using your selections: Presidential Candidate Romney would direct campaign questions concerning military matters to John McCain, Romney's choice for Secretary of DoD instead of fielding the questions himself.

The merit in this is that the American people can judge the judgment of the prospective presidential candidate prior to the Cabinet member being appointed.

Did I capture the essence of your recommendation?

Posted by: SteelWheel1 | January 3, 2008 3:03 PM | Report abuse

Thanks to threedy for the correction on the geography of Hope. We've fixed the error.

Posted by: bakermoscow | January 3, 2008 2:41 PM | Report abuse

the rule books are right,maybe in 50 years.

Posted by: gonville1 | January 3, 2008 2:33 PM | Report abuse

SteelWheel1-Actually, what would work better, would be cross referencing Voters, with their Social Security numbers, to accurately determine legitimacy at the time of Decision in November.
And then, for the Parties to decide on their candidates themselves rather than expose the decision to outside influence like we have now!

Classic Case in point, The Republicans could divide up roles, based on common sense! Mitt Romney as President, a popular Exectutive like Huck as VP to ensure large Evangelical Support. The Legal minds of Giuliani and Thompson, The Doctor Ron Paul, the Military Expert McCain, the Labor Law Advocate Tancredo all in the Cabinet able to perform their functions without the distractions the Exectutives face! Where they can actually accomplish MORE!

As I begged the question Yesterday for John McCain-I'll do again, in hopes his Staff might see it, and ask him for me!

Senator McCain-It is September 11, 2001. Would YOU rather be in a School Room, reading "My Pet Goat" to entertain some Children, or in the White House as the Man the President is counting on for Military Advice? In other words, would you rather appear in Charge, or be in Charge?
Personally, Senator McCain, I think you are running for the wrong position!

If the GOP organized it'self, and presented the Package, I think they would save a whole lot of people a whole lot of grief!
As for the Dims, Lawyers are inherently too corrupt and greedy to just agree to share powers! THAT, is what makes them Lawyers! And the Powerfull Ones, are the better ones! What the Dims needed, was a better Exectutive than the Dual Nationality Richardson!-Especially, with Immigration being such a polorizing issue!

But, as I said, Billary, Biden, and even Obasama, will all still be right where they belong!


Posted by: rat-the | January 3, 2008 2:32 PM | Report abuse

Oddly enough, in the nearly 1,000 word article the candidates positions on the important policies are entirely left out. Mr. Baker does inform us on the important details:
Obama is Black
Hillary is a Woman
Romney is the Morman
And while not mentioned by name one of the candidates comes from Hope Arkansas.

Where do they stand on
Health Care
Illegal immigration
Civil Rights / anti-Terrorism
Abortion / Women's right to choose

Maybe there will be time to get into all that after the primaries are over. Or maybe not.

Posted by: factorfiction | January 3, 2008 2:29 PM | Report abuse

You were right the first time: The Rule Book is getting thrown out; not seriously rewritten.

Just like the Constitution, God help us.

Posted by: wardropper | January 3, 2008 2:19 PM | Report abuse

Or a Muslim. Not even a secret one.

Posted by: factorfiction | January 3, 2008 2:18 PM | Report abuse

I agree with you that it is foolish that so much stock is being put into the results of the Iowa caucus; however, Iowa does have a record of selecting the candidates that go on to win the nomination.

Posted by: SteelWheel1 | January 3, 2008 1:52 PM | Report abuse

Your entire post is on point especially when you said " any Candidate too far off the Norm, gets hurt by the opposing Party's Voters voting in the Primaries for the opponent!"

A two part solution think would solve this is:

1. A person can only be consider a candidate for President and thus eligible to solicit for donations when the person gets enough Americans signatures (whatever the number) on a ballot from each state by some specified date supporting the person for President of the U.S.

2. A candidate will have a fixed amount of money to spend on the campaign. Individual donations can not exceed $100 from an individual or group with a valid social security number or U.S business I.D. respectfully.

Just my thoughts.

Posted by: SteelWheel1 | January 3, 2008 1:46 PM | Report abuse

The only third party candidate that I see in the offing is whoever Unity08 (Bloomberg/Lieberman?) puts up to run. And to what end? What issues would they run on that would be different from what the major parties run on? And could you see them taking more Democratic votes than Republican? I don't think so.
And if it were Bloomberg running, what would his constituency be? Billionaire CEO's? Do you think the NY Jew label would win him votes in the south?
What the Unity08 is about is maintaining the status quo for the military-industrial complex, more deficit spending, keeping the power in the same hands and more tax cuts for the wealthy.
Unity08's home base is the same as that of former Roger Ailes (Fox News)consultant Jim Jonas' "Peak Creative Media" headquarters. In my mind, that makes it likely that it is the creation of Fox Corp. and Rupert Murdoch.
Yeah, I can see all the love and unity emanating from there already.

Posted by: capemh | January 3, 2008 1:41 PM | Report abuse

Being a Naturalized Citizen, I am amazed by the fascination of reporter-types with statistics and sport-analogies when it comes to politics. It too is very peculiar that they think that the Iowa Caucuses are "significant events" and that the results have a significant impact on who becomes the next President, considering that 98% of Iowans are white, most of them do NOT participate in the caucuses and the total population of the State is about 3 million. Frankly, I have no respect for any candidate who takes this Iowa Process seriously. I hope that a rich Independent candidate will win this race.

Posted by: gabordobay | January 3, 2008 1:07 PM | Report abuse

Stipulate right at the start that the caucuses in Iowa, and the importance the campaign-centric media ascribes to them, are an egregiously foolish way to begin the process of selecting a new President.

With that said, the rulebook also says a third-party candidacy can't succeed. The rulebook is probably right. A well-funded third-party candidacy this year could, however, have a profound effect next November. A race with three major candidates may even be the only way a Republican can get elected this year.

The media will cover this possibility when it is right in front of them, and when it is they will think it marks a new epoch in the political history of mankind. But before that happens, we ought to recognize that nomination by the two parties does not carry the legitimacy that it once did with the American public. All a third party, or independent, candidate would need to get into the mix this fall would be a certain amount of celebrity and a great deal of money.

Posted by: jbritt3 | January 3, 2008 12:36 PM | Report abuse

Hope, Ark. is not in the Ozarks, though all Washington reporters think the entire state is. Their understanding of the South all comes from Al Capp.

Posted by: threedy | January 3, 2008 12:33 PM | Report abuse

It is said that the only rule book question since the premature demise of Nixon has been, which candidate from either party do the real power elite appoint?
Perhaps only Obama or Ron Paul can rewrite it.

Posted by: qualquan | January 3, 2008 12:05 PM | Report abuse

Rewrite the rulebook, yes, but don't chuck the Huck!

Posted by: filoporquequilo | January 3, 2008 11:49 AM | Report abuse

Mr. Baker, Have you ever considered WHY that has always been the case?

Allow me to shine some light for you!

We have a Flawed System, that currently allows voter attrition. I might be wrong, and it might actually be construed as a blessing, but any Candidate too far off the Norm, gets hurt by the opposing Party's Voters voting in the Primaries for the opponent!

THAT, in a Nut-Shell, is WHY every final Election, we seem to be looking at two sides of the same coin!

If it holds true again this Year(Which I hope it does not), be ready for the Clintons(If they survive the Supreme Court Challenge sure to come!), Vs. Ruthie Giuliani!

And 4 more years of the same ol same old!

Posted by: rat-the | January 3, 2008 10:53 AM | Report abuse

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