The Wall Street Journal's Daniel Henninger opines that what Republicans really want is a chance to "re-boot" their party. If the right's reactions to the first GOP debate were lukewarm, it was probably because that debate did little to clarify questions about where conservatives and their party might go from here. "What [Republicans] want," suggests Henninger, "is not so much Mr. Right as a clearer understanding than they've got now of what it means to be a Republican."
This isn't the kind of campaign that appeals to the pundit class, accustomed to dividing all life into A versus B or pollsters' percentages. There's no clear front-runner setting the daily agenda in either party. That exposes to view the fact that the parties themselves have become shifting inkblots with no meaning until one candidate wins the nomination and redefines the party, for awhile. The only people giddy about our current blank slates are the political scientists. Dial one up and he'll tell you that the muddle is the normal condition of the American political mind.There is indeed something "glorious" about that inscrutability, but that isn't how a movement activist should feel. Not that I mean to categorize Henninger himself one way or another. But when the pages of the Opinion Journal are given over to melancholic rapture about the shifting and non-ideological nature of the elecorate's views, one might suppose that we are beginning to see a change -- or at least a hesitation -- in the step of the army that once marched so confidently across the American political landscape.
And that's the rub: Political scientists have known for over 40 years, when detailed election data began to appear, that most of the millions of people who vote have no settled political ideology. You and your friends may watch all the political talk shows on Sunday morning. But most people don't.
The originator of the notion of politics as eternally wet cement was Philip Converse of the University of Michigan. His study, "The American Voter," with Angus Campbell and other Michigan colleagues, remains the basic starting point for all arguments over why people vote. It is why a John McCain or Hillary Clinton pay political professionals huge fees to lie awake nights trying to match the content of their candidate's next speech with what's tripping through the minds of 50%-plus listeners. In short, divining the collective mind of 121 million U.S. presidential election voters remains, gloriously, a deep and unsolvable mystery.