From 10/6/07

The horror, the horror... the 2008 election is still more than a year away, and the pundits are already gathering to determine how the campaigns will go.

It's a particularly interesting campaign season, admittedly, but I'm already finding the focus on everything from Hillary's "cackle" to Rudy's cell phone habits to Obama's lapel pin choices deeply, deeply irritating.  I'm also somewhat frustrated at the possibility--indeed, at this juncture I'd say probability--that the U.S. will again extend its executive power to one of the same two families that have held the White House since 1988.  I mean, this is supposed to be a democracy, right?  It's starting to look like Florence in Dante's day, with the Guelphs taking charge for a while, and then the Ghibellines seizing power, only to yield it to a Guelph when times change, etc., etc., ad infinitum.

But still, I can't help looking at the field and trying, in my amateurish way, to handicap it.  In particular, the GOP field is baffling.  I still haven't figured out how any of them can win the nomination, let alone the general election.  My short takes on the Republican leaders:

John McCain:  His reputation as a straight-talking maverick is suffering badly after his "misstatements" about Baghdad's safety, his open courting of the religious right, and (primarily) his hitching his wagon to an increasingly unpopular war.  Yes, Republicans support the war more than independents or Democrats do, but if the situation in Iraq doesn't improve drastically, Giuliani and Romney will use McCain's voting record on the war against him.  He also has less money than either Mitt or Giuliani (and is making less and less with every report), his campaign staff is in seemingly perpetual disarray, and his age is a concern for some voters.  Finally, he's a Senator, and it's extremely difficult to jump from the Senate (where compromise with the opposition is a necessity) to the White House (where the voters expect more uncompromising leadership); in fact, the last sitting Senator to win the Presidency was John F. Kennedy in 1960--and he barely pulled it off.

Mitt Romney:  He's only pulling 11%, despite having bought a win in the Ames, IA, straw poll with his own money--that's trouble.  He's been ridiculed for such lapses in judgment as comparing his sons' campaigning for him to their peers' military service in Iraq, not to mention for lashing his (understandably terrified) dog's carrier to the roof of his car for a drive from Massachusetts to Canada.  Moreover, his Mormonism is an issue for many, especially among evangelical Christians, who also have trouble with the pro-choice, pro-gun control, pro-gay-rights record in Massachusetts.  Of course, many also have problems with the fact that he has flip-flopped on nearly every issue he addressed when he was governor, including immigration, gun control, health care, and stem cell research.  His opponents are going to hit those flip-flops hard, whether they're Republicans in primaries or Democrats in the general election.  Can he convince voters that he's not just an opportunist?  He'd better--the last Massachusetts politician to win the White House was... John F. Kennedy.

Rudy Giuliani:  His reputation as a can-do mayor helps, but he has no foreign policy experience, and his comments about Iran (a Shiite nation) being a supporter of al-Qaeda (a Sunni organization) suggest that he's not studying very hard.  His stance on abortion--not merely pro-choice, but in favor of allowing federal funding for some abortions--may repel many GOP voters (including Focus on the Family's James Dobson, who has openly claimed he'll lead an evangelical walkout from the party if a pro-choice candidate is nominated) and his marital record (three divorces and a very public affair) won't help him win votes among family values voters, especially if he keeps interrupting his speeches to take his latest wife's cell phone calls.  Accusations of connections to corrupt city officials aren't helpful, either.  His supposed 9/11 heroism has been debunked by NYC firefighters and the other members of the 9/11 Commission (who kept investigating the attacks after Rudy left the Commission to exploit his fame in the more lucrative arena of public speaking), and he's also been criticized for choosing to put the city's anti-terrorism emergency headquarters in the WTC itself, which had already been targeted by terrorists in 1993.  And he may even face bias against his Roman Catholicism, much like that faced in 1960 by... John F. Kennedy.

Fred Thompson: He has a reputation as lazy, which hasn't exactly fallen away during his will-he/won't-he flirtation with declaring his candidacy, and he has yet to energize the conservative base, including evangelicals such as the aforementioned Dobson, with whom he's exchanged sharp words on several occasions.  He doesn't seem to have any expertise on anything (except maybe television acting), he's done legal work for Planned Parenthood, and he was a staffer in the Nixon White House, which means there are people who dislike him all across the political spectrum.  His main advantage now is his celebrity, but it might help that he has a hot wife, just like... John F. Kennedy.

Unfortunately, despite all the above candidates' similarities to JFK, not a one of them possesses his main political advantage: running against Richard Nixon.  That's essentially the Republicans' strategy for November, though: to hope that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee, and that their loyal voters will be so galvanized by the threat of a Hillary White House that they'll defy all polling numbers and sweep a Republican--any Republican--into office.  Alas, I don't think her five o'clock shadow will be enough to give the GOP any leverage in 2008.

All in all, it's a stunningly weak and deeply peculiar group of candidates, which might be why libertarian Ron Paul is starting to make more campaign cash than expected, and why Mike Huckabee (who is at least a sincere evangelical conservative) finished well in the Ames poll.  Basically, the GOP has already decided that it'll be kissing a pig; now it's going to have to spend the next eight months deciding which one looks best in its compulsory Red State Passion shade of lipstick.

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on October 8, 2007 3:53 PM.

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