GOPers Mull Their Lousy Field
On the day after the midterm elections, a lot of Republicans undoubtedly consoled themselves with visions of a 2008 comeback. After all, the electorate's thorough repudiation of George W. Bush eliminated any political obligation for 2008 candidates to run on the Bush legacy. A Democratic Congress would probably start sharing in the opprobrium of Wrong Track voters. And most important, early trial heats showed at least two 2008 Republican candidates, John McCain and Rudy Giuliani, running ahead of all potential Democratic rivals.
Eleven weeks later, GOPers are beginning to take a long, realistic look at their 2008 field, and they aren't happy about it any more. A galvanizing example (via The Plank's Michael Crowley) is a recent post by RedState's Erick Erickson, an influential conservative blogger, entitled "They All Suck." A sample:
Every one of the thus far announced Republican candidates for President sucks. From the lecherous adulterer to the egomaniacal nut job to the flip-flopping opportunist with the perfect hair to the guy who hates brown people to the guy we've never heard of to the guy who has a better chance of getting hit by a meteor while being consumed by a blue whale being struck by lightening.
They all suck. (Well, okay, Brownback doesn't suck at all, but I perceive no viability for his candidacy.)
Over at The Politico, Jonathan Martin has a more conventional account of conservative unhappiness with the 2008 batch, but it adds up to the same story.
To sum it up, from my own reading of the field:
John McCain looked like a hold-your-nose-cause-he-can-at-least-win choice for GOPers until his own poll numbers started sliding, thanks to his choice of Iraq esalation as his bonding device with conservatives. And conservative disgruntlement with McCain is not just a matter of his past apostasy on campaign finance reform, taxes, and cultural issues. Right now he is in the uncomfortable position of being the primary Republican cosponsor, with Ted Kennedy, of immigration legislation roundly loathed by rank-and-file conservatives, and also, with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, of legislation creating a cap on carbon dioxide emissions, another highly visible non-starter with the Right. For all his money, his success in recruiting big-time campaign operatives, and his continuing love affair with the media, McCain is increasingly in danger of falling between two stools in his attempted Shift to the Right.
If McCain's problems are quite visible, Rudy Giuliani's are just beneath the surface, but larger. Less than a year before the Iowa Caucuses, Rudy has yet to deliver the Big Speech everyone says he must do to become acceptable to social conservatives, somehow changing his long-standing positions on abortion and gay rights. The later it comes, the less credible it will be. And worse yet, Giuliani's many years of negotiating the straits of New York politics, and of a, well, rather complicated personal life, offer a gold mine for opposition researchers. I wonder exactly when grimly serious conservative activists are going to find themselves staring at images of "America's Mayor" in drag in 1997, calling himself (a la Victor/Victoria) a "Republican pretending to be a Democrat pretending to be a Republican." If he survives that, he deserves the nomination, but don't hold your breath.
Meanwhile, the audition for the "true conservative alternative" to McCain and Giuliani ain't going so well.
After a good start with conservative opinion-leaders, Mitt Romney's checkered ideological past, and his sometimes vapid current message, aren't wearing very well. And on top of everything else, he has the burden of detoxifying his religion, which decades of those soft- focus LDS television ads apparently failed to do.
I know a few smart Republicans who think the Newtster will catch fire. But aside from his marital baggage (which rivals Giuliani's) and his late-1990s record as a national pariah and punching bag for Bill Clinton, Gingrich is stubbornly refusing to commit to a candidacy until September, at which point his rivals will have all but taken up residency in Iowa.
Brownback? Aside from being to the right of Jimmy Dean Sausage on abortion and gay rights, the Kansan has recently taken positions on immigration and Iraq that will repel many conservatives (I also wonder about the Da Vinci Code factor, since Brownback is an Opus Dei convert to Catholicism). Hagel? He's McCain without the hawkishness or the media buzz. Tancredo? Hunter? Gilmore? Give me a break.
Tommy Thompson might have been an intriguing possibility in the past, but his recent gig heading up what conservatives consider an out-of-control-welfare-state at HHS doesn't bode that well for his long-shot candidacy. Mike Huckabee has been many insiders' favorite dark horse for a while, but he's off to a slow start, and must also deal with a tax increase on his watch as governor of Arkansas.
The crowning irony, as Martin's Politico piece explains, is that the candidate conservatives really pine for in 2008 is named Bush--not W., of course, but Jeb:
In separate interviews, two prominent Republican strategists in Washington used almost identical language to lament that the incumbent president's brother will spend 2008 on the sidelines.
"If his last name was 'Smith' instead of 'Bush,' Jeb would be the front-runner," said one. "If he were 'Jeb Smith' instead of 'Jeb Bush' he'd probably be at the top of the pack right now," said the other.
Cry me a river, folks. After all, W. made it into the finals in 2000 in no small part because of poll ratings inflated by rosy memories of Bush 41, whom many respondents actually confused with his son. There's some rough justice in the fact that Jebbie's now being disqualified by his last name, which has become a millstone. Live by the dynasty, die by the dynasty, eh?
Meanwhile, GOPers slouch towards 2008, grumbling the whole way. --