Sunday, January 27, 2008

Fight's On!

What a difference two months makes. As I mentioned earlier, I was afraid that the front-loading of the primary season would essentially pre-select the nominees, making the process essentially superfluous. Boy, was I ever wrong.

This is shaping up to be the most wide-open primary season since 1928: for the first time in living memory, neither party has an incumbent running for re-election, nor does either have a vice-president standing for his own first term in the top job. It's a no-holds-barred full-contact scrum, which is first-rate entertainment for those of us who consider politics to be their favorite indoor sport. But some serious questions are at stake, as both parties must contend with figuring out where they go from here. So, with no further ado:

The Republicans

The race for the Republican nomination has settled down into a four-man brawl between Mitt Romney, John McCain, Mike Huckabee, and Rudy Giuliani, with poor Ron Paul hanging on at the end out of sheer bull-headed stubbornness. (Capital-L Libertarians are good at sheer bull-headed stubbornness.) Super Tuesday on February 5th will probably cause a down-select to a three-man or two-man field, but will probably not cement anyone as a clear front-runner. We may even arrive at a contested convention for the first time in ... well, damn near forever. Capsule TTS reviews of the candidates, in descending order of current delegate count:

Mitt Romney is an empty suit. I'm sorry, but that's about the only way I can put it. He put in a good turn as Governor of Massachusetts, and his health insurance legislation actually makes a lot of sense. But what does he really believe? What direction would he take us in foreign affairs? What does he really think about domestic policy? To me, it seems like he says whatever he thinks will stick, poll-wise. That might make him a savvy politician, but a damn poor excuse for a leader. Thank you for playing, Sir, your consolation prize is a job running the RNC for the next four years.

John McCain can sometimes be an angry, angry man. Anger is a useful servant, but a perilous master; I think he has finally learned this, and has managed to keep that in check so far this year. Of all the Republicans, I like him best. His record of service is above reproach, and it's a fact that no one in this year's list has made greater sacrifices nor suffered more in America's cause than he has. He's the least nutty on domestic issues, and having worn the uniform himself will think long and hard before sending our warriors into harm's way. But his campaign is running on a shoestring and a prayer, he might end up running out of money. Strong showings so far have kept him afloat, and a strong showing on Super Tuesday keeps him in the fight, possibly for the duration.

Mike Huckabee is the real-world name for the presidential candidate that Robert Heinlein predicted would win in 2012: Nehemiah Scudder. It's scary: old Bob sure could call 'em, couldn't he? But he's going nowhere fast. Aside from the God-Guns-Gays trifecta, there's precious little daylight separating him from John Edwards. He's not so much a conservative as he is a Christian socialist. After his surprise win in Iowa, the antibodies of the Republican party have come out. The old guard is not about to let him win the nomination. Expect him to make a good showing in the rural South, and then sink without a trace.

Rudy Giuliani was the widely-expected front runner about a year ago, but his poll numbers have been in steady decline since then. Chris Rock likens him to a pit bull: sure, he'll keep burglars out of your apartment, but he might eat your kids. He's the all-security-all-the-time candidate. This made him a good mayor for New York at the time, and he did make the streets safe for walking again. But he's scary, scary, scary when it comes to civil liberties. He may or may not last, though. He's put all his chips on Florida. Unless he comes up with big money there next week, he's probably toast.

Ron Paul, God bless him, is the Dennis Kucinich of the Republicans. He's an earnest nut, but he's still a nut. The only thing keeping him going at this point is pure titanium-skulled stubbornness. Which means he'll probably be in the race for the duration, unless he flat runs out of money.

The Democrats

The also-rans have, for the most part, been flushed out of the Democrat field, leaving three serious contenders and one stubborn bastard: Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards, and Mike Gravel. Super Tuesday may or may not force a down-select, but it will probably firm up a de facto two-way race between Clinton and Obama. If Edwards pulls enough delegates he might swing some clout in a brokered convention. It's a long shot, but could still happen. Unless Edwards pulls that kind of support, though, we'll probably exit Super Tuesday with a clear front-runner.
Capsule TTS reviews of the candidates, in descending order of current delegate count:

Hillary Clinton is ... problematic. I have no doubt that she can do the job. She probably wouldn't suck. Bush has set that bar appallingly low. But I can't go there. You see, anyone younger than their early to mid twenties has never known a President who wasn't named Bush or Clinton. Dynastic succession is something that happens in places like North Korea or Syria. It is not something that should happen in a Republic. Besides which, I have a generational beef. With liberals of her generation, it's always 1968, and every stinking foreign policy issue ends up in the damn rice paddies. It's completely got them wrapped around the axle, and when it comes to considering foreign interventions, they're incapable of rational thought. I so want to get past that.

Barack Obama offers a fresh approach, even if he offers nothing else. I like most of what he's said so far, and even the things I don't agree with are at least well reasoned out. He appears to be someone with whom you can have a substantive discussion without it breaking down into name-calling. He's someone who can talk to conservatives, not at them. Which, given his background, is no real surprise: he was a law professor at the University of Chicago, not an especially liberal institution, and had decent working relationships with his conservative colleagues. And he's an example of what's still right with America: there are very few things that the sons of immigrants can't aspire to. If he's smart enough to surround himself with good advisors, and wise enough to know when they're smoking rope, we could do rather worse than elect him President. (We could elect Huckabee, for example...)

If John Edwards were any kind of real man at all, he'd have withdrawn his candidacy as soon as he found out that his wife's cancer had metastasized. And that's really about all I have to say about him. I have had a low opinion of Edwards ever since the wrap-up to the 2004 election. The day after, when they were considering the Ohio vote, John Kerry swallowed his disappointment like a man, and decided to spare America another long drawn-out period of indecision. Edwards wanted to fight on regardless. It didn't matter what kind of collateral damage he would do to America, so long as he could fight for his own power. Him, we don't need. G'bye, and good riddance.

Mike Gravel is a magnificent stubborn old coot that no one's ever heard of. I have to admit, I have a certain amount of admiration for guys that hang on despite the fact that Satan will drive a snowplow to work before they win the nomination. But as an Alaskan who is accustomed to waiting six months for the next sunrise, patience is something that comes as second nature to a man like Gravel. God bless you, brother, and I'll be a little saddened to see you go. But your campaign ain't long for this world... He'll probably end up as the down-selectee come Super Tuesday.

The Expected Results

If God is merciful, we'll get to choose between John McCain and Barack Obama in November. It could still shake out that way. It probably won't: Clinton will probably be the Democrat front-runner after Super Tuesday, with Obama nipping at her heels going into the convention. But God alone knows who'll be ahead on the Republican side. I like McCain's chances. Romney probably doesn't have the staying power, and Giuliani has got to do something to arrest his slide. Rudy's Super Tuesday gamble might pay off. If not, he's outta here. If it stays a three- or four-way race, the Republican convention could be a righteous scrum indeed. Get your popcorn ready, 'cause it's gonna be one wild ride.

Vote early, and vote often!

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