Each summer, The Daily Beast likes to make sure you have room on your calendar for the fall’s most promising political fights. Last August, we had our eyes on Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley’s headlock on health care legislation. We were watching the Democratic Senate primary field in Massachusetts to see which liberal would inherit Ted Kennedy’s throne (whoops). Oh, and there was a little scrum over ground zero, but this one had nothing to do with a mosque: New Yorkers were squabbling over how little was getting done at the site. Now we’re in an election year, the feuds have gotten more pitched. Here’s a preview:
John McCain vs. John McCainThe war hero will enter a heroic battle with himself after he cashiers talk jock J.D. Hayworth in Arizona’s Republican primary and rounds the corner toward the general election on November 2. McCain built his reputation on being a man of conscience, rather than party; someone who reads from the playbook of a higher body, not that of the Republican caucus. But with the immigration debate at full boil, the former maverick has re-incarnated himself as a conservative flamethrower, saying whatever he can to earn points with Tea Party nation. Having spent a fortune to beat Hayworth, McCain will enter a new round of shadow-boxing, as he tries to determine how much of his old fighting self he wishes to recover.
The Feds vs. Julian Assange WikiLeaks had its moment in the sun in July, when the secret-sharing site dropped hundreds of thousands of pages of documents detailing U.S. blundering in Afghanistan. But amid all the hubbub—Were they the new Pentagon Papers?—one tiny detail dropped from the conversation. The war logs weren’t the most explosive weapon in the website’s arsenal. Julian Assange, WikiLeaks’ founder, is said to have a video of the U.S. bombing of the Garani village in Afghanistan. The Justice Department is trying to find ways to connect WikiLeaks to a criminal investigation into the documents’ release. Those on the right have begun to beat the drums, rooting for his prosecution: “WikiLeaks is not a news organization; it is a criminal organization,” former Bush aide Marc Thiessen has written. When the next video surfaces, the federal government’s maneuvering to put a hold on Assange’s operation is likely to get even more fervid.
George W. Bush vs. HistoryHistory, George W. Bush has often professed, isn’t his bag. “We don’t know. We’ll all be dead,” the president once told reporter Bob Woodward. But that won’t stop Bush from making his case. On November 9, the Decider will release his presidential memoir, Decision Points. The Daily Beast’s Matt Latimer, a former Bush speechwriter, has noted how the book is already giving Republicans fits, as they worry a resurfacing Bush will make for unwanted waves before Election Day. But the more interesting contest will be Bush’s struggle with history—by the end of his presidency, his approval ratings were in the 20s and he was a regular on historians’ “worst” lists. The memoir is Bush’s chance at a rebuttal. Bush hired Chris Michel, known for his collection of presidential biographies while working at the White House, to work as his amanuensis. Michel is likely well aware of what kind of book is necessary to help the Bush rehab project and will be angling to get his boss moved up a few spots in the presidential batting order. The Bushies have already worked out a rough draft of the Bush presidency, finishing a 128-page book called A Charge Kept as they turned out the lights in the West Wing. Students of history will look closely at how Bush tangles with the economic downturn and Hurricane Katrina.
House Democrats vs. Barack ObamaAs the days grow shorter and Democrats’ sleepless nights get longer, the love-hate relationship between the president and his Democratic colleagues in the House of Representatives will likely grow more intense. First, House Democrats were crying that Obama wasn’t paying attention to them on issues like climate change and the stimulus—his professed pragmatism gumming up any real progressive agenda. Then, many realized that perhaps they didn’t want Obama’s attention, worried that having the president in their backyard might remind voters of their inchoate frustration with Washington. If Republicans make substantial gains in November, as is predicted, expect the trail of recriminations to stretch from one end of Pennsylvania Avenue to the other.
GOP Presidential Wannabes vs. Each OtherAs the midterm elections shake out, the Republican candidates who are chomping at the bit to challenge Obama in 2012 will be prepping their final machinations. A proxy war between Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, and others has broken out as each contender backs primary candidates, hoping for a little love when presidential campaign season returns. Many of the 2012 hopefuls are already regular visitors to early-voting states: Romney is wearing out the byways of New Hampshire in his 2002 Chevy. Pawlenty’s sneaking into Iowa for corn-field pep-talks. And they’ve often endorsed competing candidates in the same GOP primaries. So while many eye the current ballot, another campaign will be taking form in the shadows.
Samuel P. Jacobs is a staff reporter at The Daily Beast. He has also written for The Boston Globe, The New York Observer, and The New Republic Online.