Friday, January 18, 2008

Mapping the Republicans

Contrary to John Dickinson of Slate, I think it's easier to make sense of the Republican primaries now that Romney's won in Michigan. Here's a quick take of all the major and formerly major candidates.

At Death's Door--Thompson and Giuliani. The McCain, Romney, and Huckabee campaigns have all been at the revolving death's door at some point in the last year. Now Giuliani and Thompson are taking their turns.

It's an interesting contrast. In my opinion, Giuliani was waging a skilled front-runner campaign before it became public that New York City provided police protection for Judi Nathan while she was his mistress. Now Giuliani looks kind of ridiculous, but that doesn't mean that his candidacy will actually die. Rudy could decide to stay in on the hope that he'll recapture his mojo.

Thompson's at death's door precisely because he himself refused to take himself or his presidential campaign seriously. Thompson had a real chance to emerge as a popular Southern conservative alternative to Rudy McRomney, but he didn't want the presidency badly enough to make a determined effort. Thompson seemed to decide that he didn't want his campaign to have a theatrical element, refused to be anything but what he wanted to be, and revolted at the demands for "acting" that are part of any serious presidential campaign.

Actually, I can sympathize with that on a human level. I don't like "acting" like I'm glad to do what the university bureaucracy wants me to do and that's why I'm not a department-chair type. In the case of Thompson, the political result of his decision-making is that Mike Huckabee has become the popular conservative.

But it's still not clear that Thompson will end up flatlining either. He could hang around hoping for Huckabee's campaign to collapse and then try again to be the popular conservative.

The Fight for Anti-Huckabee No 1--John McCain and Mitt Romney are battling to become the no. 1 candidate of the Republican establishment. Both of them have real weaknesses that already have brought their candidacies to death's door once. McCain is genuinely popular with moderates, independents, and many liberals, but his maverick streak on taxes, lobbying reform, campaign finance, tobacco, and immigration policy makes him anathema to conservative activists and voters. Romney is running as a more orthodox "Reagan" conservative, but he's completely failed to project any of the "honest phony" authenticity of Reagan turns off all kinds of voters. If there is a clear winner between McCain and Romney, that candidate will become the "anti-Huckabee" candidate and will be the favorite for the nomination. I've previously viewed Romney as a slight favorite. I'm now viewing McCain as a favorite because of the big states coming up on Feb. 5 and the increasing numbers of moderate and independent Republicans in those states.

Muddle Scenarios. If there is no clear winner between McCain and Romney, that's when scenarios for a thoroughly muddled nomination process and possible contested convention become plausible. If McCain and Romney are roughly equal, Huckabee will be roughly equal to both of them and nobody will be getting a decided advantage. That kind of stalemate will also encourage Giuliani and Thompson to keep hanging around, perhaps steal a primary here or there, and hope that lightning strikes. That would be five candidates with real hopes. That would be a muddle.

The Huckabee Conundrum. There are two possible Huckabee scenarios. The positive scenario would be that Huckabee becomes the favorite son of the South and monopolizes the evangelical vote. That would give Huckabee a strong enough regional base and enough of a national presence to have a real shot at the nomination if there is no clear leader between McCain and Romney. If a leading establishment candidate emerges, that candidate would be the leader and Huckabee would be candidate 1A. If no establishment emerges, Huckabee has a shot at no. 1.

But it's just as likely that Huckabee's candidacy will fall apart. Huckabee has a lot of skeletons in his closet, commits an even bigger number of gaffes, and apparently has an army of unsavory push-polling supporters. As a result, any number of things could reveal Huckabee's whole candidacy as a house of cards and tip him into the "ridiculous" category currently occupied by Rudy Giuliani.

If Huck does fall apart, I think it will be easier for a real leader to emerge between McCain and Romney. That would make the whole process smoother for the GOP even if it leaves a lot of dissatisfied evangelicals (and Southerners).

The Outlook. The two main questions that need to be resolved for the Republicans are who emerges between McCain and Romney and whether Huckabee remains a viable evangelical/ regional candidate. McCain looks like the strongest Republican right now but not by that much. He's averaging 28% in the polls and I view him as having about that much of a chance for the nomination. Romney would be the second pick because he would emerge as the strongest candidate as soon as McCain weakened. That puts Huckabee in the top 2 but likely to stay number 2 even if he can avoid a meltdown.


Scottye said...

At least Ron Paul doesn't have a shot. He terrifies me

Anonymous said...

Huckabee, and to a lesser degree McCain frighten me. I would vote for Obama over Huck, and he is neck and neck with McCain. I think it is too early to count out Thompson, someone said the other day he isn't running for President, he is walking. I like that approach.

B Moe

Ric Caric said...

Why would Huckabee frighten you, B Moe. Wouldn't he start as many wars as you want?

I'm not counting Thompson out. But it's obvious that his candidacy is at death's door. There are basically two ways he could get back. First, Huckabee could collapse and Thompson might inherit his vote if Fred became a more effective campaigner. Second, a deadlocked convention might give the nomination to Thompson as a last resort.

To say that Thompson is "walking" for president is to over-estimate the vigor and energy that he's putting into his campaign. You need a less dynamic metaphor there.

MJ said...

It certainly did not help Huckabee when he appeared on Jay Leno and crossed the picket line. I highly doubt that anyone in a union would vote for any Presidential candidate that crosses any picket line during a strike. Unions play a big part (not as much as before) in this country especially in politics. I think his appearance hurt his campaign.

John D Doyle said...

Ric, Huckabee has, in the past, been nice to the children of illegal immigrants, he spouts off about the poor, and HE RAISED TAXES. Caring about people is strike one, not caring more about rich people is strike two, and raising taxes is strike three when you are authoritarian follower of the conservative oligarchy.

Huckabee and McCain's success is so entertaining to me. I page around to Red State or Malkin and check it out. It's very funny.