Is this a race to be the Adlai Stevenson of 2008?

I have said often that there are no precedents or models for the 2008 primary races; they are completely unlike anything that has ever come before.

On the other hand, the general election seems to be pretty standard fare. It occurs to me that we have plenty of historical resources upon which to draw. The two most compelling parallels are 1952 and 1968. Both modern contests transpired in the wake of extended, frustratingly expensive and unsuccessful wars of choice. Both elections featured surrogates for severely distressed sitting presidents. And both canvasses netted an out-party victory.

Contrary to the popular misapprehension, history never repeats itself. Sometimes, however, general patterns of human behavior, which can be deduced from a careful study of the past, exert great influence on current events, especially when present exigencies resemble past situations.

Here is the present political landscape. The United States is engaged in a military action, which a vast majority of Americans either believe was a mistake from the outset or egregiously mishandled at some point. These dissatisfied American political consumers are mad, dispirited, and they blame the President. Americans want a pound of flesh. How to exact revenge on a lame-duck President? Public opinion ratings. Vitriolic calumny as a new pastime. Derision. The mid-term election of 2006. The Election of 2008?

Unlike George Bush, Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson, the sitting presidents in 1952 and 1968, did not face constitutional barriers to reelection. That is, under the law, they were more than welcome to seek a second elected term. However, as commanders-in-chief of failing wars, Korea and Vietnam respectively, Truman and Johnson found that vehement public disapproval blocked their path to another four years at the helm of the United States government. For all practical purposes, we are in a similar situation this cycle.

The Democrats, the party of Harry Truman, desperate for a David-like champion to face the American hero, Dwight Eisenhower, selected Adlai Stevenson in 1952. Stevenson was an erudite candidate who thrilled loyal Democrats with his urbanity. Nevertheless, he lacked broad appeal, and he went down to ignominious defeat.

In 1968, the Democrats, once again in dire straits, chose President Johnson's VP, Hubert Humphrey, to carry the standard against a resurrected Richard Nixon. That election, despite the myriad disadvantages associated with the Johnson administration, proved extremely close--but, nevertheless, once again a loss for the candidate saddled with the war and the accompanying aura of incompetence and impotence.

Is the GOP primary the race to be the contemporary Adlai Stevenson? Actually, I expect this election to more closely resemble the 1968 model. I expect the challenger (no matter who she is) to emerge from the Democratic convention with a thirty-point lead. The Republican nominee will get some of that back at his own convention--and then struggle mightily to close the gap by the first Tuesday in November 2008, which he will do, either squeaking by with a razor-thin victory--or falling a few million votes short.

Does it matter who is running? A little. But not too much. Although there are undoubtedly some Americans out there who are up for grabs and can be swayed by personality, performance, and/or momentum (although probably not by ideas at this point).

Now a few random thoughts in re the Republican Canvass:

A Fairly Obvious Observation:

The GOP primary race lacks energy. You can see that in the money, the debates, the coverage (even on the conservative blogs).

The GOP primary race is mostly characterized in negative formulations and questions:

Can Rudy overcome problems with social conservatives?

Can Romney overcome his Mormonism and his erstwhile liberalism?

Can McCain make it through the week?

Are Americans willing to give Newt another chance?

Will Americans love Fred Thompson when they get to know him better?

The entire race is shrouded in a cloud of lethargy. We see stories of election fatigue on the Democratic side--but, for GOP voters, the campaign seems eternally stuck in its pre-game stage. GOP voters are not fatigued because we haven't really seen anything yet. We have the sense that the real campaign (and maybe even the real candidates) are off in the distance some place.

One quick thought/prediction: Although I like Fred Thompson a lot, I cannot get over the nagging sense that he may be the George Romney of 2007.

Other quick observations:

--If we were actually looking for an Adlai Stevenson, Newt fits the bill quite nicely.

--The more I see Romney, the more I like him (a nod to Tocqueville).

--Insiders keep saying to watch Mike Huckabee, who is, in fact, quite charming as a candidate and human being. I agree that he is a person of interest--but he seems unable to gain any traction. He reminds me of the best candidate of 2000: Orin Hatch.

--Rudy: still going...