Category: Campaign 2008.5
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
It is opening day for the Republican primary debate season.

Technically, the Washington Post calls today's war of words between Republican hopefuls the "sixth major debate" of the campaign. However, in my mind, it seems to me like this group of candidates has debated many more times than that--but, at the same time, none of those events merit the adjective "major."

For all the bad press, speculation by pundits, and premature political obituaries for Fred Thompson, today kicks off the GOP canvass for 2008. And Fred is back to receive. If he fair catches, his game is over. If his opponents are able to meet him with such violent ferocity that Fred's helmet goes one way and the ball goes the other, his game is over. But, if Fred takes the ball and runs with it, GAME ON. And Fred doesn't need to take it all the way. He needs to run aggressively up the heart of the defense and take the ball up to about mid-field.

Okay. For all non-football fans, my apologies.

Bottom Line:

For the first time this political season, I plan to watch a Republican debate. That is significant. Fred is under intense pressure, for what he does today will set the tone for the rest of the scramble for nomination.

The Good News for Fred and his Fans:

1. None of his so-called disadvantages mean anything once the cameras start rolling. Fred is in total control of his destiny.

2. Fred is actually entering this debate with reduced expectations. For all the hype--most people are expecting the Darrell Hammond skit from over the weekend.

3. Fred is going to be much better than Darrell Hammond (who by the way seemed unable to move past his Dick Cheney persona to really grasp Fred; judge for yourself via YouTube here).

4. Fred is not debating Ronald Reagan or, even more intimidating, Newt Gingrich. He is debating Rudy, Mitt Romney, John McCain, and Ron Paul. If he can keep Mike Huckabee and Duncan Hunter off camera--Thompson ought to look pretty good by comparison.

The headline tomorrow may very well read: THOMPSON CRACKS RACE!
Category: Campaign 2008.5
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
The Laugh:

Although I continue to think Hillary will be Clinton-44, I am not unaware of the absolutely, ridiculously unappealing public persona she presents.

From a year ago:

"If elected president of the United States in 2008, Hillary Clinton will make the least attractive and least affable chief executive of the modern media age. From the piercing laugh (oftentimes when nothing is funny) to the menacing scowl when the TV cameras catch her in unguarded moments, Mrs. Clinton tends to come across unnervingly manufactured, even soulless at times.

"A sensitive person winces at the potential for insult and imitation, if professional comedians ever draw their bead on the Senator from New York. Essentially humorless, Mrs. Clinton projects a deep cynicism that seems unbecoming as the leader of the free world. Up to this point, her most memorable public utterance remains, "the vast right-wing conspiracy," when she famously identified a mysterious cabal engaged in a plot to bring down her and her husband.

"Having said all that, if she is elected (and at this moment, she is the most likely person to be the forty-fourth president of the United States), America will endure; perhaps, we will even prosper."

Full post here.

Obama and Race:

The issue of race seems to be coming to a head. As I said back in July, race is a major problem of perception for Democrats more than a genuine electoral disadvantage:

"One other thing going against Obama: Race. I am not convinced that race would hurt Obama in the general election. In fact, I think race for Obama is, at worst, a wash. My hunch is that race would actually play to his advantage. Undoubtedly, there are still some Americans who would not vote for him because he is an African American. But most of those folks live in states that are not likely to go Democrat anyway. Maybe he will lose Alabama by a few more votes than a white Democratic candidate would have, but nothing from nothing leaves nothing. No net loss. On the other hand, I think there will be some voters of all races who will vote for Obama because he is black, and my hunch is that many of those voters may be in swing states where every converted vote counts.

"So, why does race play to Obama's disadvantage? Democrats do not buy the scenario I just laid out. In their heart of hearts, according to their world view, fly-over America is racist and will not vote for a black candidate. I hear Democrats (especially African American Democrats) say this all the time. So, in calculating a candidate who can beat the Republicans in 2008, Obama and race nag at their optimism. He becomes an increasingly risky choice for more and more Democratic primary voters.

"Add in Bill, organization and battle-tested hired guns, and Hill looks more like a winner every day."

Full post here.

One more updated wrinkle: The Democrats are likely to opt out on Obama for the reasons stated above--and then blame it on Red-State America. "We couldn't nominate a black man because of the prejudice of non-Democrats."
Does the GOP have a chance in 2008?

Anything is possible. But as I have written repeatedly over the last eighteen months, this is a Democratic year. The odds are that Hillary Clinton will be the forty-fourth president of the United States.

A month ago, I offered a recipe for a long shot victory.

Here is another thought:

An independent Ron Paul candidacy paves the way for a GOP upset.

Ron Paul's surprisingly impressive recent five-million-dollar campaign contribution haul has some pundits wondering if he has a chance in the Republican primary. Short Answer: not in this lifetime. He may finish in double-digits in a state or two in which so-called independent voters make up a statistically significant segment of the voting, but, even in those places, Dr. Ron Paul will never finish in the money. Why? His position on Iraq makes him completely unacceptable to the Republican faithful. In terms of the GOP caucus, the Paul candidacy is deader than a doornail.

However, one thing is absolutely certain. He has a noteworthy following. Of course, the money talks. But even before this announcement the power of his popular appeal has been conspicuous on places like C-SPAN, where his followers are relentlessly dedicated and unwavering. In fact, they remind me of Howard Stearn fans or, even better, the "truthers" in their persistence and their palpable certainty that they know something we don't.

So what?

Ron Paul is NOT going to win the Republican nomination. He is actually much more popular among Democrats--but he is not going to win that nomination either. Of course, the Democrats would score the coup of the century, if they could garner Paul's endorsement for their eventual nominee. But I don't think that will ever happen.

However, what might happen is that Ron Paul, rejected by Republicans and disdainful of Democrats, might choose to run for president as an independent libertarian candidate. Of course, Paul has done this before--but back then no one outside of his congressional district had ever heard of him.

If Paul were to run this time, his candidacy would be a major media event. And he would garner a lot of votes--not from traditional Republican voters-- but a lot of votes, nevertheless.

Who would vote for Ron Paul? The frustrated, cynical, disgruntled, ill-informed and numerous outliers of American political culture. The one-time Nader voters. The non-voters. The guys and gals with sock caps and questionable hygiene who hang out in non-franchised coffee shops and bemoan the closing vise of a corrupt government and mindlessly manipulative and corrosive society. The most virulent anti-war radicals. The anti-globalization crowd.

None of these folks are going to vote for the party of George Bush in 2008. Of course, many of them will sit out the election--but some of them, maybe enough of them to make a difference could possibly vote for a change--Hillary Clinton.

If these folks had a fashionable alternative, they would likely choose it. Ron Paul could very possibly siphon off the counter-cultural voters who might actually participate in the next election and make a difference.

Moreover, if Ron Paul is in the race, Hillary Clinton will not be able to tack back to the middle after gaining the nomination. She will spend a lot of time courting fringe voters who might have otherwise come to her by default. Most importantly, if Hillary is forced to remain stridently opposed to the war, she will lose a significant slice of Americans who are confused and depressed--but not quite ready to jump off the bridge.

Most of the commentators who continue to believe that Hillary is easily beatable in November fail to anticipate how moderate she aims to be in the general election. Hillary Clinton does not intend to run for president as an agent of radical change. Rather, she is prepared to court the American public in well-tailored suits, perfectly coifed hair, standing next to her ex-President husband, and promising a return to competent and steady leadership. This is a winning strategy.

However, if Dr. Paul is in the race hammering Mrs. Clinton as "more of the same," she will face a serious decision. She will try to have it both ways for as long as she can--but, eventually, she will necessarily pick mainstream, Middle America over the coffeehouse crowd. When Mrs. Clinton abandons the fringe voters, and Ron Paul picks them up, the GOP candidate will emerge in a suddenly much more competitive race.

Run, Ron, Run.
Category: Campaign 2008.5
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Dick Morris blistered Fred Thompson in his column today, calling the great GOP hope from Tennessee "ill-informed, inarticulate, badly briefed and downright lazy."

Not quite sure what Morris really thinks of Thompson? Consider this line: "Thompson seems to lack the interest, energy, will, ability and stamina to compete at this level."

I am always ambivalent about, and skeptical of, Dick Morris. He is unquestionably a brilliant political operator. However, it strikes me that Morris is often right about today but wrong about tomorrow. That is, no one is better at sensing and explaining the politics of the moment, but he is often way off in terms of long-term strategy and future predictions (and by long term I mean next week, next month or next year).

My other reservation concerning Morris is his petulance and vindictiveness. Although he was an insider, I am reluctant to accept much of his analysis or history of the Clintons, as it is filtered through his palpable hatred for Bill and Hill. Whenever I read scathing analysis from him like this, I always wonder if the target of the essay might have insulted Morris at some point and this is payback.

Having said all that, much of what Morris asserts rings true to me, especially this graph:

"Hillary is probably the next president anyway. But there is only one way to defeat her -- to nominate a candidate whose anti-terrorism credentials are so deep that if Americans return to their senses and grasp the nature of the dire and continuing threat we face, he can prevail in November. There are two candidates who fill that bill: Rudy Giuliani and John McCain. Neither Thompson nor Romney approach it."

Read in full here via RCP.

I remain open-minded and cautiously optimistic about Fred; nevertheless, clearly, he needs to kick things into gear over there at "Thompson 2008."
This week, Newt Gingrich asserted with some fanfare that the Democrats were 80-20 favorites for winning the presidency in 2008. His prediction existed in the midst of a wave of analyses with similarly gloomy prognostications.

Welcome to the party. With all humility, I can say that I postulated that scenario on my very first week online (March 2006)--and I have consistently warned my fellow Republicans that this presidential election cycle presents a battery of difficult obstacles, which we are unlikely to fully overcome.

Republicans, previously comforted by the image of Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee, are now realizing that only about 30-35 percent of the electorate view her as a hideous monster so evil that she is automatically disqualified for the presidency. While the high negatives make for a promising start, the next 15.1 to 20.1 percent required to win remains a very tough nut to crack.

For a number of reasons stated previously ad nauseam, this is a Democratic year.

However, if we had any doubts before Appalachian State, we understand fully now: on any give Saturday (or Tuesday) any kid with a slingshot can take down a prohibitive favorite. So strap on your pads boys and girls, and let's go out there and win one for the Gipper.

What can we do to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat?

1. Hang tough in Iraq. In addition to a cataclysmic mistake in terms of American foreign policy, surrendering Iraq is bad politics. If we break ranks now and allow the "defeat America caucus" to win, we will also flee the political battlefield in complete disarray, and our opponents will turn retreat into rout. We may find ourselves unable to regroup for a generation.

On the other hand, standing firm is thoroughly American, manly, and appealing. Will things get better in Iraq if we stay? There are no guarantees, although it is hard to imagine things getting much worse. But, even if they do deteriorate, we have lost nothing politically.

For all the GOP congressman and senators facing close races for re-election, I have this advice: you cannot change the course of your next canvass by changing your stance on the war at this late date. If you are a Republican who has supported the war thus far, you are committed to the war and your fortunes are pinned to the war. Recanting will only expose you as spineless and shamelessly unprincipled. You have one option: do everything in your power to help us win in Iraq. Everything looks completely different in November of 2008, if we can point to real gains on the war front. Trust me. This is your only chance.

Most important, we must make a decision to do all we can to save Iraq--and let the political chips fall where they may. Eventually winning in Iraq is much more important than winning in 2008.

2. Repent and Remind America we are them. We screwed up once. Give us another chance. The repudiation in 2006 was more about corruption, arrogance, and incompetence than it was about Iraq.

Red-state America trusted us, and we let them down. They voted for us believing that we shared their values. We dishonored them and exposed them to ridicule. We created a scenario in which the axis of American liberalism (Hollywood, academia and the mainstream media) can gleefully assert that fast-talking GOP hucksters flimflammed "fly-over country" like they were so many dopey rubes at the County Fair.

We need to admit our mistakes and go to back our constituency on our knees and ask forgiveness. Can we please have one more chance? We will do better next time, and we will never make the same mistakes again. And here is our plan...

And we should mean it. Groveling is the very least we owe our former loyalists.

3. Be Republicans. Be the party with whom America fell in love. Be strong, certain, patriotic, God-fearing and common-sense oriented. Pick the most Republican candidate available.

I love Rudy (seriously--I would vote for him in a New York-minute), but his pro-choice position and apostate Catholicism does too much damage to the Republican coalition. I am warming to Mitt Romney, but his erstwhile Massachusetts-style Rockefeller Republicanism makes him a problematic standard bearer. I have advocated for John McCain for two years, but his inability to win over core conservatives continues to plague his candidacy.

Fred Thompson? Perhaps Fred will work. He has some baggage--but it is of the more regular variety.

Mike Huckabee? Who? Huckabee is actually the candidate best-suited to beat Hillary Clinton next November. He is solidly conservative, quick-witted, telegenic, and most likely to make heartland voters feel comfortable about giving Republicans another chance. Regardless, the former governor of Arkansas remains a long shot. If he cannot work his way into the top tier on guts and logic by January, he is irrelevant.

Newt? Mr. Republican. If the GOP decided to throw caution to the wind, put forward an intrepid champion, and fight out the Election of 2008 purely on the strength of ideas—then clearly Newt Gingrich would be the best choice. Pundits have already wondered if losing with Newt might sow the seeds of a more permanent victory a la the 1964 Goldwater campaign. This possibility keeps emerging as an intriguing option. Moreover, I am not certain that Newt is an automatic loser. Anybody remember the 1972 Robert Redford movie, The Candidate ? Perhaps fearless sincerity might work.

The bottom line: Let us win or lose being genuine Republicans.
Ed Morrissey's Captain's Quarters reports that Mike Huckabee has challenged Fred Thompson to a Lincoln-Douglas style debate. This week Thompson made clear his disdain for the superficial format currently in use, and Huckabee moved quickly to become the first candidate to challenge Fred to put his money where his mouth is. Good move on the part of the Huckabee campaign. The former governor of Arkansas is funny, a good debater, and he does well on TV; nevertheless, he has not penetrated the consciousness of GOP voters. For Huckabee, a debate with Thompson would be a ticket to the big leagues.

On the other hand, Thompson has nothing to gain from facing Huckabee, who may be the most charming and quickest of all the Republican candidates, even as he is virtually unknown.

What could happen in a head-to-head encounter between Thompson and Huckabee? Thompson could very possibly lose, which would likely kill the long-awaited campaign in its cradle. At the very least, a first-tier player gives an opening to a nobody, who, if given a chance, might turn out to be the somebody who wins the whole ballgame.

Fred is a nice guy. Mike is a worthy fellow. But Fred is playing for keeps, and he is not stupid. I will be shocked if this debate comes off. The advantages are too sparse--and the downsides are potentially devastating.

Fred needs to be debating Rudy head-to-head Lincoln-Douglas style--not Huckabee. A more substantive debate (or series of debates) is probably in the offing with several combinations of candidates--but a Thompson-Huckabee face-off, if it comes, will not be before Thompson squares off against Giuliani or Romney.
Category: Campaign 2008.5
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
According to the conventional wisdom, the Iowa straw poll tomorrow for "Republicans only" is set to launch former Massachusetts governor, Mitt Romney, into a higher echelon of the American consciousness.

I have no quibble with that analysis. In addition to his superior Iowa organization, Romney is the only top-tier candidate contesting the vote tomorrow. He will undoubtedly win the canvass handily. Afterwards, for a fleeting moment, all eyes will be trained on Romney. It is up to the candidate to make the most of that opportunity.

However, tomorrow is also an important day for virtually unknown Republican candidate Mike Huckabee.

If Bill Richardson is the best candidate for the Democratic nomination that you've never heard of, Mike Huckabee is his opposite number.

Kris Kristoferson once said of Billy Joe Shaver (before the Texas songwriter became quasi-famous), "if he were a TV show, he would come on at 4:OO AM." Mike Huckabee has taken over the time slot.

The former governor of Arkansas is funny, true-blue conservative, and engaging, but he is currently in the tall weeds of the GOP primary race.

Will Iowa be the place where Mike Huckabee emerges?

Crazier things have happened.

Why might Iowa be kind to the former governor?

Mike Huckabee, an Baptist minister turned politician, ought to play well in Peoria. He is an authentic son of the heartland and a candidate that genuinely embodies the values of evangelical America. Remember Iowa is the place that briefly created an air of viability for Pat Robertson in 1988.

If Huckabee cannot gain traction tomorrow in Ames, he most likely becomes merely an obscure footnote in American presidential election history. However, I would not be shocked if Mike Huckabee did well enough on Saturday to make him worth talking about on Sunday. A GOP electorate in search of an appealing conservative could do worse.

UPDATE: Sorry I missed this excellent profile of Huckabee from Roger Simon of the Politico (worth reading: here).

09/08: Fred Who?

Category: Campaign 2008.5
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
The zeitgeist this week seems to be that Fred Thompson has tarried too long and perhaps missed his window of opportunity, while Mitt Romney is finally catching fire and coming into his own as a candidate.

Frankly, I have the same feeling.

In truth: We are just not going to understand the impact of Fred Thompson's entry into this race until he enters the race (assuming that he, indeed, will throw his hat into the ring, to which I am starting to have my doubts).

More significantly, the malaise hanging over the GOP race is a sense of impending doom in November 2008. This dread is not so much a result of inferior candidates; rather, it is the certainty that our electoral chances are inextricably linked to our success in Iraq. However, the glimmer of hope breaking across the Republican horizon in re Iraq may shine a more attractive light on our current crop of contenders.

A more successful Iraq would bode well for John McCain, if he weren't hopelessly damaged beyond all redemption with GOP primary voters--but McCain seems truly beyond resuscitation.

That leaves Rudy, who remains atop the national surveys among Republicans and continues to run strong in national polls among all voters.

Undoubtedly, Mitt Romney is finding his voice. His success in the upcoming Iowa straw poll will offer him his moment of maximum exposure. From what I can see--he is ready. It is conceivable that Romney might take this moment to emerge as the frontrunner and never look back. I must admit that I am increasingly sympathetic to him.

However, I continue to have serious doubts. Romney is running as an "outsider." I remain skeptical that the Republicans can win a national election as the party of new ideas. Will anyone buy that at this point?

For a lot of reasons, the Republicans remain in a fix.
A few days ago Tocqueville pointed me toward this story in which, according to the headline, John "McCain change[d] course on immigration."

From the AP story:

"WASHINGTON - Republican presidential hopeful John McCain on Thursday backed a scaled-down proposal that imposes strict rules to end illegal immigration but doesn't include a path to citizenship.

"The move away from a comprehensive measure is an about-face for the Arizona senator, who had been a leading GOP champion of a bill that included a guest worker program and would have legalized many of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants living in the U.S. It failed earlier this year.

'"We can still show the American people that we are serious about securing our nation's border," McCain said in a statement, adding that the new bill would "provide an essential step toward achieving comprehensive reform in the future."'

Alluding to previous conversations on this blog, Tocqueville submitted this development as further evidence that McCain is "a complete and shameless opportunist."

Call me stubborn--but I would say that this alteration indicates McCain's pragmatism much more than it proves his opportunism.

There is no doubt that his position on immigration did enormous damage to him politically, completely killing his already slim chances of winning the GOP nomination (although the Senator, evidently, disagrees). Inarguably, this reformulation is the only option for candidate McCain.

An aside: My opinion, nevertheless, is that it really does not matter at this point, rearranging deck furniture on the Titanic and all that (but, again, the Senator seems to disagree).

Regardless, McCain is merely taking a very practical position. He still wants comprehensive immigration reform--but he is admitting the obvious: cultural conservatives must be placated before any larger reform is possible.

One can argue that McCain continues to advocate the same policy--but he has shown flexibility in his approach to accomplishing his long-term goal.

Of course, the practical question becomes: will anyone who counts for anything buy into that reading of the situation? Not likely.