Category: Campaign 2008.9
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Yes, that line forms on the right, babe
Now that Macky’s back in town …
Look out … old Macky is back!!

For McCain, this must seem like deja vu all over again. After the astounding win in New Hampshire this week, he faces all the same questions he did in 2000. Can he convert his triumph in the Granite State into victories out West and down South? As before, he is comparatively low on money, and he must rise above his counter-productive popularity with the liberal-leaning mainstream media and the stigma of winning New Hampshire with the wrong voters.

Last time around, he won Michigan following New Hampshire but then met his Waterloo in South Carolina--after which, the wheels came off with disturbing rapidity.

Will history repeat itself? Will John McCain be the Ohio State of American politics?

South Carolina 2008 will not shake out exactly as it did in 2000, for this current race is so fundamentally different from eight years ago. Back then it was a two-man contest. Today there are perhaps five viable candidates--three of whom see South Carolina as a must-win (McCain, Mike Huckabee and Fred Thompson).

Significantly, Romney has backed off in South Carolina for the moment--concentrating on the showdown with McCain in Michigan. Will Romney fold, if he loses Michigan? Maybe--but the Romney camp swears he will press on. We will see.

An Aside: In general, I have wondered whether Romney would stay in this race even after his own chances diminished, just to hammer McCain. That is, no matter what, would Romney remain an inexhaustible ubiquitous force in this campaign as a generic funder of anti-McCain media? But, evidently, he will not play that role in South Carolina (or Florida?)--which means there are limits to how much effort and fortune Romney is willing to expend in this campaign.

Bottom line: The other guys are going to have to pay their own freight and come up with their own anti-McCain ads. This is a huge help to McCain in the Palmetto State and good news for him in general.

Huckabee and Thompson. The media is playing up Huckabee's "southernness" and his affinity with evangelicals, who make up a large segment of Republican primary voters in South Carolina. All of this may work out just fine for Huckabee--but I would not be at all surprised if we find that South Carolinians see Arkansans as less southern than Tennesseans.

What a fool believes (speaking of myself, of course): considering the full spectrum of conservative policy positions, Fred Thompson has a chance (his absolutely last opportunity) to emerge victorious in the first southern state primary. Again, we'll see; Fred has a long way to go and a short time to get there.

One other thing, evangelicals are much more diverse and complicated than the folks who work at Rockefeller Center can ever fathom. Huckabee is not necessarily a slam dunk for conservative evangelicals in the Deep South. Remember, a significant number of southern evangelicals abandoned their fellow Baptist, Jimmy Carter, to vote for a divorced Presbyterian from Hollywood in 1980.

One last note on Fred. For the first one hundred years of American politics, candidates for president never ran for office; rather, they stood for office. That is, instead of soliciting votes personally, candidates announced that they would accept elective office as servants of the public interest, if the public so desired. Although this pose was somewhat disingenuous, candidates eschewed personal campaigns (no kissing babies, endless handshaking, or litany of promises). In theory, they waited for the electorate to find them.

Fred is running the closest thing to an old-style campaign that we have witnessed in one hundred years. It is interesting--and in this tumultuous year in which the unexpected has become the rule, his off-beat approach has a chance of working. We will see.

Can McCain win South Carolina? Yes. He is great on the war--and that is great in the South. He has Lindsey Graham--and that helps. Having said that, things are still very tough for him. The conservative establishment is still extremely antagonistic and unforgiving. As for Republican voters in general, McCain is most vulnerable on immigration. I suppose we will see how powerful that issue really resonates with the base--but McCain's defense does not stand up to much scrutiny on this subject. For a self-proclaimed straight shooter, McCain's Clintonesque reliance on a semantically slippery definition of "amnesty" does real damage to his image.

One last cheap shot at McCain (but maybe it is worth noting):

In an era in which "forty is the new thirty," forty-six year-old Barack Obama seems much younger than the forty-three year-old 1960-vintage JFK, whom we view through the prism of history and mostly gray scale images.

In contrast, in an era in which "seventy is the new sixty," John McCain looks every day his age. The oldest president ever was Ronald Reagan--but he was a movie star, who maintained his matinee idol good looks and athletic vigor for all of his public life. The seventy-one year-old McCain is craggy-faced and unhealthy looking. In this era, McCain's physical appearance and stamina could prove a significant deficit to his campaign.
Category: Campaign 2008.9
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
I am listening to Hugh Hewitt tonight.

I love Hugh Hewitt (and I like Mitt Romney okay). But Hugh is completely irrational when it comes to Mitt and this election.

He has overtly limited his callers tonight to listeners who support Romney and adamantly desire him to stay in the race. If anyone violates this rule (and expresses a dissenting opinion), they are rudely ejected off the show. All the while, after every positive call, Hewitt announces: "another vote for Romney to stay in!"

The Romney-ites are curiously and comically insistent that their man is winning this race.

The Facts: Romney is an extremely wealthy person, who built and funded a great organization, and devised a brilliant strategy. The plan: win the Iowa caucus (spending more money there than all the other candidates combined and utilizing his army of paid volunteers). From there, win the New Hampshire primary, where he was well positioned as a former governor of neighboring Massachusetts. Next capture Michigan, where his father served as a popular governor during the 1960s. These early victories would begin an avalanche of inevitability, allowing Romney to win the GOP nomination. It was a great plan—but it went awry.

He did not miss by much. Romney almost "bought the pot" in Iowa, chasing all of his big-name competitors from the field, but, in the end, he lost by nine points to an under-funded long shot, Mike Huckabee. In New Hampshire, five days later, lightening struck again when John McCain, long given up for dead, dramatically climbed out of the crypt and took the Granite State by six points. Moreover, Hewitt concedes that Romney may well come in second in Michigan next week and possibly do even worse in South Carolina after that. Nevertheless, Hewitt asserts with complete confidence that all is going according to plan (Plan B), and Romney remains in the best position to secure the nomination.

Plan B: outlast the other hopefuls and win by default.

Now that is the Audacity of Hope.

Of course, the crazy thing is that things are so chaotic that I am not ready to say that this line of thinking is completely foolish. Nobody Knows Anything. At this point in the GOP canvass, nothing is impossible. McCain and Huckabee, the presumptive frontrunners, have troubles of their own—lingering skepticism with core conservatives. Rudy is betting heavy on his ability to draw an inside-straight in Florida (the first card of his big-state strategy), and Fred is still a mystery (are we waiting on a broken-down bus?).

So, conceivably, all these candidates could run out of gas and the ever-smiling, optimistic, all-America Mitt Romney, currently running second everywhere and giving pleasantly gracious concession speeches, might be there to pick up the pieces.

I doubt it, but damn if I know…

UPDATE: The AP is reporting the Romney is pulling ads in South Carolina and Florida.
Category: Campaign 2008.9
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Back when I was a miserably clueless high school algebra student, I spent a lot of time sitting in my seat toward the back of the classroom staring at a poster featuring a befuddled-looking monkey with this caption:

Just when I figured out all the answers, they changed all the questions.

Wow! 8:20 PM CST. With 36 percent of the precincts reporting in NH things look awfully unexpected on the Democratic Party side.

I lost count of all the "end of the Clintons" stories I read between last Thursday night and today, but it was a big number. How many total? A number approximate to the total number of pundits with access to a keyboard.

Perhaps they were a bit premature.

A Personal Aside: it was my good fortune to have been too busy (and too confused) to write such a story.

A Statistical Aside: the number of thoughtfully penned “Clinton is dead” essays over the last five days was approximately equal to the “Clinton is inevitable” essays offered with absolutely certainty two months ago.

There is a lesson here--and it is something we should all remember--and it is one of the elements of American politics that makes it the best show in town: the only thing we know for sure is that Nobody (and that goes double for me) Knows Anything.

But I think you can take this one to the bank, as I said last Friday: Fasten your seatbelts, boys; we're in for a bumpy ride.
Category: Campaign 2008.9
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
A couple of observations from the Republican debate on Saturday evening.

Obviously, all parties turned on Mitt Romney last night. Why? He has played it tough, and it was his time to take some hard shots in return. Blood is in the water. Politics is a tough game.

Nevertheless, for the first time in this campaign my heart went out to Romney. I agreed with him that the caddy remarks and tag-team taunting was unbecoming and a bit excessive.

John McCain would have us believe that his snide remarks were merely "just desserts" for the rich-boy governor who had been distorting his record. On the other hand, I am increasingly less inclined to buy McCain's victim pose. Didn't we hear the same thing from the McCain camp about George Bush back in 2000? According to the legend, all the Bushies were running around slandering the good name of the heroic senator and trotting out all the dirty tricks.

What did Romney say last night that was so bad? Even as I agree with McCain on immigration, in large part, Mr. Straight-Talk Express was playing pretty fast and loose with the facts. Hiding behind a semantically slippery definition of "amnesty" is not heroic. From what I can tell, Romney had it just about right in his characterization of McCain's record in this explosive area. McCain knows he is vulnerable on immigration, and Romney hit him where it hurt. Nothing foul about that. Politics is a tough game.

One Important note on the Democratic Race in New Hampshire. Although Hillary retains a one-point advantage in the most recent Reuters / C-SPAN / Zogby Daily Tracking Poll, this is misleading. That poll is based on a rolling canvass; that is, the latest poll reflects an average of the last three days.

However, I heard John Zogby say on C-SPAN this morning that yesterdays numbers, when taken alone, reveal an eight-point Obama advantage. This would indicate that the tide has turned in a dramatic way, which explains why the Clinton folks are running for the hills, and the pundits are predicting a crushing defeat for Mrs. Clinton in the Granite State.
Sometimes the very thing you're looking for
Is the one thing you can't see

And now we're standing face to face
Isn't this world a crazy place
Just when I thought our chance had passed
You go and save the best for last

John McCain has executed a phoenix-like comeback. Now leading in the polls in New Hampshire, he is on the verge of winning the historically meaningful "first" primary. His new-found potency, once again, incredibly, makes him a viable player in the greater race for the Republican nomination. Is the much-maligned John McCain really going to win the Republican standard in 2008?

David Brooks, Robert Novak, and Bill Kristol think so.

While confessing my admiration for McCain, and reminding readers that I had come out for McCain twenty-one months ago as a courageous and electable Reagan conservative, I wrote with confidence a few days ago that the McCain comeback would necessarily fall short.

I offered a list of five improbable events, which would need to transpire in order for the seventy-two year-old Arizona senator to emerge victorious. But I argued then, taken together, they were highly unlikely; however, yesterday I noted that "two have come to pass and, incredibly, the ice seems to be breaking on the other three."

The Five Signs of the Political Apocalypse:

1. Huckabee holds on to Iowa.

Happened. This much and more. I had expected Huck to fade a bit and Mitt Romney to prevail thinly on the strength of money, organization, and electability. Not so! Huckabee won the caucus by nine points, and he is the darling of the national press corps this weekend. On the other hand, the person McCain has always seen as his primary obstacle to victory, Mitt Romney, is staggered, bloody, and on the ropes.

2. McCain "finishes strong" (third place) in Iowa.

Miraculously, in effect, this happened also. McCain surged to finish in a statistical dead-heat with Fred Thompson for third-place in Iowa, adding to his growing sense of possibility and sapping Fred of the bounce he might have enjoyed from a solo finish in the money.

3. Independents in NH abandon Obama and other attractive fruitcakes and come out for McCain.

Of the five improbables, this one remains the most intractable. While McCain did well with independents in New Hampshire in 2000, New Hampshire independents have a lot more choices than they did then: Ron Paul, John Edwards, and, most troubling for McCain, Barack Obama.

Many pundits had averred that an Obama loss in Iowa would help McCain with independents in New Hampshire--but, alas, a triumphant Obama arrives in the Granite State with momentum, enthusiasm, and a compelling pitch for independents. One other problem for McCain and NH independents: while McCain's incredibly courageous and prescient leadership on the war in Iraq inspires rock-ribbed Republicans, I wonder whether this facet of his current political package makes him much less appealing to these independents, whoever they really are?

On the other hand, perhaps the conventional wisdom is wrong, and McCain does not really need the mysterious independents to win this race. Perhaps he is surging the old-fashioned way--which could portend more success in the aftermath of New Hampshire 2008 than in 2000. Following the shocking McCain upset eight years ago, the independent-tainted victory seemed an albatross around his neck in the ensuing primaries, serving as further proof to core Republicans that the Maverick really was not one of us.

4. At the crucial moment, the GOP establishment (conservative talk radio, blogs, non profits, etc.) experiences an epiphany, suddenly embracing "Maverick McCain" and admitting grievous error.

Within my original post a few days ago, I said: "Not in this lifetime." But, maybe so. Of all the "improbables," this would be the most ironic. It is not happening right now--but a big win in New Hampshire, which seems possible, will force conservatives to re-examine McCain. Rush has advocated for Fred Thompson as the only conservative alternative. Sean Hannity says he could accept either Rudy, Mitt, or Fred Thompson. But what if none of these candidates are around next month? Mitt is probably out. Fred is Fred (see below). Rudy is in the netherworld right now--but will likely get one more chance on the national stage as we head South (and West).

My point: alternatives to McCain are falling away. At some point, conceivably, the conservative establishment could be forced to pick between two options: McCain or Huckabee. Most likely, they pick the old hero.

5. Fred Thompson proves as lifeless as advertised.

As noted above, Fred won third, but (quoting myself from yesterday) "[h]e pulled off a surprisingly lackluster and curiously uninspiring third place. He may have, once again, done the minimum to keep himself above water in this race."

Fred is still alive--but only because there are so few other options. Let's see what happens in the big prime-time, nationally televised debate tonight on ABC--but, as always, it is now or never for Fred. He certainly could prove as "lifeless as advertised" and as insignificant as every knowledgeable person in the mainstream media seems to think. We'll see.

The Bottom Line: Does McCain have a chance? Yes. Today I think he does, but I still would not bet the house on it.