My Mantra: Nobody Knows Anything.

But everybody says Fred Thompson is going to get into this race within the month. Let's assume they are right.

Where are we? And what does the advent of Thompson mean?

John McCain continues to spin his wheels in the soft, wet turf of the Republican primary. Although he presents legitimate conservative bona fides, the stalwarts within the movement cannot forgive his transgressions concerning campaign finance reform, a weak stomach on tax cuts and, now the final mortal blow to his chance at the nomination, his politically disastrous position on the current immigration reform.

Mitt Romney continues to raise a lot of money, look good on TV, perform well in the debates and court conservatives. Nevertheless, the former-Massachusetts governor has not captured the imagination of the nation, the party or even insomniac C-SPAN junkies. Significantly, Hugh Hewitt and Dean Barnett like him. No matter, he still looks like an also-ran to me.

Rudy continues to lead in the polls. He continues to enjoy respect and admiration from almost every Republican in America. However, we continue to ask the same question: can he overcome his unorthodoxy regarding abortion and gun control? Multiple marriages? Rudy is a long shot--but I tend to think he is a viable candidate. I think he could win the national primary in January and have as good a chance as anybody else to win in November.

Newt Gingrich continues to offer brilliant ideas and canny directions from the sidelines, desperately yearning for the fans to demand his insertion into the game. Will they? Probably not. Will he strap on a helmet and run onto the field of his own accord? Maybe--but I am betting against it. He is smart enough to avoid a humiliating rebuff. The race would need to be in near chaos this fall for Newt to have a chance.

Fred Thompson continues to grow in strength as a shadow candidate. He is a conservative (which is what is needed, we are told constantly). He is actually a taller and statelier version of McCain.

However, watching Thompson tonight on C-SPAN speaking to Republicans in Virginia, I am reminded that he is not as smooth as most of us are expecting. He is not Ronald Reagan--not even close. Of course, Ronald Reagan was a 100-year candidate. Thompson can hope to be as good as Clinton or Kennedy, with some practice, which is not too bad.

Also, to Thompson's advantage, his rougher-than-expected style will cut against the expectation of a glitzy movie star. He is going to run as a populist, conservative, log cabin (in the c.19 sense) kind of man of the people speaking common sense in plain language. It is a time-tested winning persona.

What might happen? Thompson may jump in here next month and rout the opposition. We'll see. On the other hand, some revelation, some concern about his health, some revealing gaffe, or just the fickleness of the modern electorate may cut his lofty stature down to size. Nobody knows.

If Thompson wins the nomination, can he win in November? Yes. Unlikely--but not impossible. The Democrats have the inside track. For myriad reasons, it is a Democratic year. A lot of extraordinary things must happen between now and the fall of 2008 for the Republicans to have a chance. But nothing is set in stone at this point. Stranger things have happened in American politics.
Category: Campaign 2008.2
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Remember my mantra? When it comes to Campaign 2008, nobody knows anything. But here goes nothing:

This race for the presidency gets "curiouser and cusiouser."

The latest polls show Romney and Edwards ahead in Iowa. Admittedly, Romney is a minor surprise for me, although it probably should not be. McCain begins in a hole, as he by-passed Iowa in 2000, and Giuliani is just not a great fit for the Hawkeye State. As for Edwards, he has been running hard in Iowa for four years. If Edwards is not strong there, he is not a viable candidate anywhere.

The question of the day, however, is this:

Does Iowa matter?

Some things to think about: Although Iowa Democrats have a respectable record of selecting their eventual party nominee, the Republican straw poll has been much quirkier. The GOP caucus in Iowa is the same group that passed over Ronald Reagan in 1976 and 1980, selected Bob Dole and Pat Robertson over George H.W. Bush in 1988 and made a contender out of Pat Buchanan in 1992. I defy anyone to find a pattern in all that, other than kooky randomness. The Iowa GOP is not impressive as a bellweather even under normal circumstances.

And these are not normal circumstances. Iowa has even less meaning for 2008. As important delegate-rich states rush to move their primaries forward to the earliest possible dates, we are on the verge of having a national primary over a fortnight. That is, over a few nights in January and early February, all the candidates will be competing in a large number of states for all the marbles.

To reiterate, we are talking about a national primary, which means the winner will be the candidate who builds the best national organization, proves the most adroit at manipulating the national and local media and raises enough money to keep all these balls in the air.

Iowa has always been mostly psychological and momentum building, but that is especially true for this election cycle. Iowa (and more accurately the pre-Iowa polls) are mostly about creating the aura of electability.

Having said all that, I still would rather be on top in Iowa at this moment than running second or third there.
Let me belatedly associate myself with Senator McCain's remarks from the debate this week:

"Spending is out of control. We didn't lose the 2006 election because of the war in Iraq; we lost it because we in the Republican Party came to Washington to change government and government changed us. We let spending go out of control. We spent money like a drunken sailor, although I never knew a sailor drunk or sober with the imagination of my colleagues."

Category: Campaign 2008.2
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Dana Milbank's column in the Washington Post today considers the potential for a Chuck Hagel campaign for President as an independent (read here).

As Milbank notes, Hagel keeps hinting he will run. More puzzling is the fact that pundits keep reacting to this flirtation as if the question had some relevance to the 2008 race.

A better question: Who would vote for Hagel?

Hagel is currently vying with Ron Paul for the dubious distinction of Republican least-likely to succeed with Republican voters. Paul is on top right now as a result of name recognition following this week's debate--but, if Republicans knew Hagel better, there is no doubt that they would despise him just as much.

And then there are the Democrats, who, for the first time in a generation, feel confident that they are on the brink of a fortuitous electoral swing back in their direction. Why would they embrace Hagel? True enough, Democrats enjoy his attacks on the President, and he is something of an anomaly as a defeatist Republican, but given the opportunity to vote for John Edwards or Barack Obama or any number of truly retreat-oriented Democrats, Hagel immediately loses his uniqueness.

There are no votes out there for Hagel. Why do we keep talking about this guy?

08/05: More Romney

Category: Campaign 2008.2
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Dan Gilgoff's insightful column today supports Tocqueville's recent prediction that Romney will secure the Republican nomination:

Gilgoff (regarding Republicans and the Christian Right):

Republican presidential candidates who fall on either end of the continuum, who either embody the Christian Right (Pat Robertson in 1988) or who reject it (Texas Senator Phil Gramm in 1996) lose the nomination. The two most electorally successful Republican presidential candidates of the last 30 years -- Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush -- took a different path, embracing the movement even though they were outsiders to it. If the next Republican to occupy the White House must follow that same strategy, Mitt Romney, former Massachusetts governor, may be in much better shape than polls suggest.

What Reagan and Bush knew was that the Christian Right was too small a force to nominate its own nonestablishment candidate but too large a force to ignore or offend. This year, Romney is acting likewise, attempting to persuade the Christian Right that he has seen the light on abortion and gay rights. At last week's debate, Romney went furthest in speaking the language of the Christian Right, declaring he "won't apologize to anybody for becoming prolife" (unlike Giuliani), that he opposed federal funding for embryonic stem cell research (unlike McCain) and that he thinks the American family is "the heart of the Republican Party" (unlike Giuliani or McCain).

Of course, Romney's Mormonism makes him a tougher sell to the mostly evangelical Christian Right. But with the two other Republican front-runners staking their independence from Christian conservatives on some key issues and the true Christian Right candidates stuck at 1 percent in the polls, Romney sees his opening. And if it is another candidate who winds up winning the Republican nomination, he will need to prove that, when it comes to the Christian Right's role in presidential politics, the math has changed.

Read the entire Gilgoff piece via the Boston Globe here.
Category: Campaign 2008.2
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
I saw it again today in Ken Walsh's U.S.News piece on the ever sinking fortunes of President George Bush (here):

"[0]nly McCain [among the Republican candidates] has made [standing firm on Iraq] a frequent talking point, which is considered one reason why he has faded from front-runner status."

Wrong Again. Republican primary voters are not deserting John McCain because of his courage in the face of declining support for the American mission in Iraq. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

What explains John McCain's troubles?

Part of it is the erroneous context in which his campaign is habitually framed: the fallen front runner. Many months ago, some beltway media types named John McCain the front runner. He wasn't. There was no election going on back then. There was some public opinion polling that asked voters to pick between John McCain and a lot of guys they had never heard of. Surprise, they picked McCain. At the same time, in the same rounds of meaningless polls, McCain showed that he would win in the general against Hillary.

What do the polls say now? The polls say that the Republicans are disoriented and looking for a Messiah. Giuliani? Thompson? And there will be others.

The same beltway types now characterize McCain as the guy who blew the big lead, which is preposterous.

By the way, McCain still bests Hillary in the national polls (as does Rudy).

Cautionary Aside: Take absolutely no hope from those canvases; those surveys are still absolutely meaningless. The Democratic candidate will kick off the campaign with a 20 to 30 point lead on Labor Day. Then things will tighten significantly.

A year ago the large contingent of McCain haters in the Republican Party went to great pains to reject the bogus pronouncements from the mainstream media that McCain was the front runner for the nomination. However, now that a fallen front runner story serves them well, most of the same anti-McCain people are quietly accepting or gleefully adopting the storyline.

Why are the MSM so down on McCain? He betrayed them. They loved him when he was the straight-talking maverick who was always a thorn in the flesh of George Bush. Now, to hear them tell it, he has made a politically motivated decision to support the President and inherit his base. And, irony of ironies, there is no base to inherit.

This is a fallacy, for the most part. McCain (like Joe Lieberman) could have gained much more by deserting the President and the policy, but he (they) proved more intrepid than expedient. McCain (and Lieberman) are great Americans; either one would make a great president. PERIOD.

The other obvious MSM reason for antipathy: the fallen McCain story advances the anti-war story.

Why do the Republicans hate McCain? That is a more complicated question to which I do not have a compelling answer. But here is an overly simplistic nutshell-type explanation: For many hardcore Republicans, they also feel betrayed: Tax Cuts, McCain-Feingold, the deal on filibuster, etc. None of that strikes me as altogether fair--but that's life.

The McCain Paradox: The Bush base doesn't like him to begin with. Therefore, fidelity to the President and the nation doesn't help him with the people who would most likely admire his courageous stand. However, his convictions on Iraq alienate all the folks on the periphery who once were inclined to follow the maverick McCain. If it was an attempt at a master political stroke, it was a poorly drawn strategy.

An Epilogue: McCain is down but not out. His great advantage is his tenacity. He will be there in Round 15 throwing punches. You never know, one might land. You can't count a McCain out until they carry him away.
Category: Campaign 2008.2
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Back in early February, the Okie Gardener raised the issue of Barack Obama's church (read the original post here).

FYI: That February post continues to be one of our most popular "Google" hits.

Since that post, much has been written about the candidate and his church and his pastor. Today, the New York Times weighs in with what strikes me as a relatively thorough and fair discussion of Obama and his spiritual journey. I will be interested to see if the Gardener has any additional thoughts on the matter.

I am pasting an abridged version of the introductory graphs below, followed by the link to the story in full, but, first, this comment:

As a dedicated parishioner of a sincere and loving church that is not always in accord with my political views, I am not eager to hold a congregant responsible for everything his pastor says in the pulpit or in other public spaces.

Having said that, I am interested in Obama's religious views and his spiritual biography.

Excerpts from the Times article by Jodi Kantor:

Twenty years ago at Trinity, Mr. Obama, then a community organizer in poor Chicago neighborhoods, found the African-American community he had sought all his life, along with professional credibility as a community organizer and an education in how to inspire followers. He had sampled various faiths but adopted none until he met [Rev. Jeremiah A.] Wright Jr., a dynamic pastor who preached Afrocentric theology, dabbled in radical politics and delivered music-and-profanity-spiked sermons.

"Evidently, the pressures of Mr. Obama’s presidential run are placing a strain on the relationship between the star congregant and the man who led him from skeptic to self-described Christian."

Mr. Wright’s assertions of widespread white racism and his scorching remarks about American government have drawn criticism, and prompted the senator to cancel his delivery of the invocation when he formally announced his candidacy in February.

Mr. Obama, a Democratic presidential candidate who says he was only shielding his pastor from the spotlight, said he respected Mr. Wright’s work for the poor and his fight against injustice. But “we don’t agree on everything,” Mr. Obama said. “I’ve never had a thorough conversation with him about all aspects of politics.”

It is hard to imagine, though, how Mr. Obama can truly distance himself from Mr. Wright. The Christianity that Mr. Obama adopted at Trinity has infused not only his life, but also his campaign. He began his presidential announcement with the phrase “Giving all praise and honor to God,” a salutation common in the black church. He titled his second book, “The Audacity of Hope,” after one of Mr. Wright’s sermons, and often talks about biblical underdogs, the mutual interests of religious and secular America, and the centrality of faith in public life.

The full article here.
Category: Campaign 2008.2
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
We are approaching an election of great import. We are a nation at war, and we face grave external threats. We are buffeted by serious challenges at home that include healthcare, education, our increasing inability to live within our means and the coarsening of our culture. We will expect the next President to address all these problems as well as determine the course of American freedom through significant appointments to the federal judiciary and within the Executive. Much is at stake.

At the same time, we have never conducted a presidential canvass like this before, with so many candidates, with so much money and media attention on this scale so early in the election cycle. Therefore, there are no historical parallels. There are no compelling models (at least not during the primary season).

What should we expect? My mantra: Nobody knows anything.

Having said that, I am optimistic. I am confident that the American people are up to the duty of selecting the next chief executive. Moreover, I am convinced that the next president (whom ever he or she may prove to be) will be up to the difficult task.

Regardless of who wins the coming election, approximately half the nation, in varying degrees of vehemence, will greet the next president with disdain. However, that person will undoubtedly be a dedicated public servant who wants America to prosper and succeed. The burdensome office will test, torment and age the 44th President of the United States, but the sacred obligation will also summon the total of that individual’s inner strength and the best elements of his or her personality to meet the awesome challenges of the post.

More importantly, our nation has the innate capacity to overcome the limitations of our individual leaders. Writing in the 1830s, Alexis de Tocqueville observed: "the great advantage of the Americans consists in their [ability] to commit faults which they may afterwards repair." As a corollary, he wrote: "American democracy frequently errs in the choice of the individuals to whom it entrusts the power of the administration; but...the state prospers under their rule."

Why does American democracy prosper in spite of inferior leadership? Tocqueville offered three reasons: 1) the people are vigilant and jealous of their rights; 2) leaders are in power for relatively short periods of time; and, most importantly, 3) the interest of the leaders are more likely to be subsumed in the interest of the people.

While aristocratic (or elite) "magistrates" might offer more sterling talents and virtues individually, there is "a secret tendency in democratic institutions that [works toward the good] of the community in spite of their vices and mistakes." Ironically, Tocqueville argues, "in aristocratic governments public men may frequently do harm without intending it; and in democratic states they bring about good results of which they have never thought."

In truth, political passions tend to blind us to the good in American public servants. Looking back over American history, we do not see a pattern of good versus evil. While the battles between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson were cast in those Manichean partisan terms during their own day, we now see that both Hamilton and Jefferson were earnest and self-sacrificing in their love of country; more importantly, they both proved essential to our corporate success.

The same can be said for Andrew Jackson and Henry Clay or William McKinley and William Jennings Bryan. This is a recurring theme in our national narrative.

My prediction for 2008 (with one caveat): As long as we the people do our job, the system will work and democracy will prevail.
Category: Campaign 2008.2
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
You may remember a couple of posts concerning an insightful discussion of the coming 2008 presidential race offered by Thomas Patterson, Bradlee Professor of Government and the Press at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. Patterson spoke at a meeting in Austin in February, which I attended. You may read the most recent of those posts here.

An Update:

Professor Patterson reminds us:

"One of the points in your posting--the money trail--will be revealed in a few days when the candidates file their fundraising reports. Journalists are eagerly awaiting the results, which will affect their reporting, which in turn will affect the candidates' fundraising capacity in the next quarter. It's a self-sustaining circle with considerable consequences for the nominating races."

I agree wholeheartedly. The coming release will certainly mark an entirely new phase of the journey. It seems altogether likely that this information will give new life to a candidate (or maybe two) and probably make life much harder for a few more.

Also, Patterson generously notes:

"The parallels between the pamphleteers of early America and the bloggers of today are striking."

We appreciate the encouragement.
Category: Campaign 2008.2
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Remember my Mantra: Nobody Knows Anything (a review here).

Having said that, once again, here goes nothing:

If the proverb is right, and nature really does abhor a vacuum, we can look forward to a procession of boomlets for conservative candidates between now and January.

Enter Fred Thompson: You may sign on to his campaign here. You cannot deny the buzz he has created during the last week. Even on a mountain in Arkansas, I met people who were talking about him.

For the sake of full disclosure, I too am a long-time admirer of the former Senator from Tennessee. He is a formidable presence on the American political/cultural scene. But before we stampede over to the Fred Thompson camp, how much do we really know about him?

He looks and sounds presidential. He looks and sounds conservative.

Maybe he is our guy? Who knows? Time will tell.

Does it matter that we actually know very little about him? Or are we determined to elect someone with whom we are unacquainted. Are we so contemptuous of the candidates with whom we are familiar that we are bent on finding a mysterious stranger?

In other words, is this the year of the dark horse?

The first dark horse candidate for president was another Tennessean, James K. Polk. Although he was a former governor, former speaker of the House of Representatives and a protégé of Andrew Jackson, Polk was not well known nationally and not a candidate for president when he arrived at the Democratic nominating convention in 1844 (although he was hoping for consideration as the vice-presidential nominee). However, once the frontrunner stumbled, and the other three leading contenders failed to rally broad support, the convention turned to Polk, discovering him on the seventh ballot and nominating him on the ninth. Polk went on to win the national election that fall against a much more celebrated opponent, Henry Clay.

There have been other successful dark horse candidates since Polk (Franklin Pierce, 1852, Rutherford Hayes, 1876, James Garfield, 1880, and Warren Harding, 1920, come to mind). But is has been a while. Why? Today nominating conventions do not pick nominees. Party bosses no longer turn to lesser-knowns during the wee hours of the morning in some smoke-filled room. Long before the next convention, partisan voters in state primaries will elect the party nominees for 2008.

We are twenty months from the general election. Is it possible to remain mysterious and "available" for that long? The Democratic Party put forward James K. Polk in May of 1844 to run for president in an election five months later. They were able to introduce and sell him to the electorate as a hard working realist, who would judiciously oversee the expansion of a growing nation. Although the age of the telegraph and rotary press was upon them, there were no cable news networks and twenty-four hour news cycles to combat.

Can a dark horse succeed in the current digital age? Dexterously catching an anti-establishment popular wave in the wake of Watergate, Jimmy Carter successfully ran a more modern variety of the dark horse campaign in 1975 and 1976. But much has changed in the last three decades. The Carter candidacy probably has more in common with his nineteenth-century predecessors than the contemporary contestants.

In 2004, the primary voters unraveled the mystery of Howard Dean at the most inauspicious of times, transforming Dean's December 2003 sense of inevitability into humiliation and bitter derision for the insurgent candidate in January and February of 2004.

What awaits these candidates whom we partially know? Only time will tell. One thing is certain. We will know much, much more about all of these aspirants by January 2008.

My prediction: Fred Thompson won't be the last vessel of great expectations for Republicans in 2008. But, in the end, the race will most likely go to one of the candidates that perseveres over the long haul.