Children of Iconic Republicans May Vote Dem

Susan Eisenhower is an accomplished professional, the president of an international consulting firm. She also happens to be Ike's granddaughter—and in that role, she's the humble torchbearer for moderate "Eisenhower Republicans." Increasingly, however, she says that the partisanship and free spending of the Bush presidency—and the takeover of the party by single-issue voters, especially pro-lifers—is driving these pragmatic, fiscally conservative voters out of the GOP. Eisenhower says she could vote Democratic in 2008, but she's still intent on saving her party. "I made a pact with a number of people," she tells NEWSWEEK. "I said, 'Please don't leave the party without calling me first.' For a while, there weren't too many calls. And then suddenly, there was a flurry of them. I found myself watching them slip away one by one."

Eisenhower isn't the only GOP scion debating if the party still feels like home. Theodore Roosevelt IV, an investment banker in New York and an environmental activist like his great-grandfather, Teddy, takes issue with what he says is George W. Bush's inattention to global warming (and Republican presidential contender John McCain's flirtations with the religious right). He's unhappy with the cost of the global war on terror and the record deficits incurred to finance it. Ninety years ago, former president Teddy Roosevelt attacked Woodrow Wilson's pro-democracy idealism, calling it "milk-and-water righteousness"; Roosevelt's great-grandson doesn't like how the current president is promoting values abroad, either. "I come from a tradition of pragmatic Republicanism," he says. "This administration has taken the idea of aggressively exporting democracy à la Woodrow Wilson and gone in a direction even Wilson wouldn't have considered."

The party might even be alien to Barry Goldwater, the 1964 GOP nominee who jolted the party rightward when he said that "extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice." Goldwater's youngest daughter, Peggy, who is active in GOP politics in Orange County, Calif., says she is a "moderate conservative," just as her firebrand father became later in life, irked by Republicans in Washington who embrace big government. "The government is taking on more than I feel they can handle," she says.

Granted, these are no ordinary voters. But their unhappiness with the GOP suggests there's a new middle up for grabs in 2008. George W. Bush, of course, campaigned as a "compassionate conservative"; he and Karl Rove dreamed of a new and lasting Republican majority. Theodore Lowi, however, the author of "The End of the Republican Era," says the nation's disaffection over Iraq and Bush is so great that 2008 could resemble 1932, when FDR exploited the collapse of the GOP under Herbert Hoover to create a new Democratic majority. (The return of Congress to the Dems in 2006 is a possible prelude.) Or, 2008 could look like 1968, when Democratic self-destruction after Vietnam led to Richard Nixon's election, and later to a realignment under Ronald Reagan.

Some Republicans, such as former secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger, believe Republicans will always close ranks behind their standard-bearer, unlike ever-fractious Democrats, no matter how upset they are with the direction of the party. "Certainly, Hillary unites the Republicans when almost nothing else will," he says. But Lowi thinks today's GOP schisms are "deeper and harder to plaster over." That worries GOP mavericks like Sen. Chuck Hagel as well as moderate party loyalists like Brent Scowcroft, national-security adviser under George H.W. Bush, who says, "We lack an organizing principle for the party."

Poll numbers don't yet reflect a massive moderate exodus. Still, Michael Dimock of the Pew Research Center says that Republican party identification has dropped "quite a bit." In 2002, 30 percent of Americans identified themselves as Republicans, 31 percent as Democrats. This year it's 25 percent Republican, 33 percent Dems. Independents, Dimock says, are leaning "much more Democratic." Even so, Eisenhower and other lifelong Republicans say they haven't heard much yet from the leading Democratic candidates that persuades them. "I can't tell you how many Republicans I've talked to who are thinking along radical lines" about deserting in '08 if they hear the right message, says Eisenhower. "It's a buyer's market. Make my day."

Join the Discussion