The most interesting thing about the Republican race for president, at least so far, is not what’s working, but what isn’t.
The best known candidate, the superstar, America’s Mayor Rudy Giuliani is floundering in the early contests.
The best financed, best organized candidate, not to mention the best looking, has been unable to translate all his money and organization, not to mention the neighboring state advantage in New Hampshire, into better than a second-place finish in either of the first two major contests.
The most sought-after candidate, the one conservatives fell over themselves encouraging to get into the race and propping up when he did, Fred Thompson has practically fallen off the radar screen.
Presidential politics looks easy until you try it.
The Republican race may not have a true front-runner, but its two winners thus far are probably the last two choices of what passes as the Republican elite.
I don’t mean to laugh, but in the weird world of political punditry, few things are funnier than watching conservative commentators try to restrain their displeasure when Mike Huckabee and John McCain start talking. In the usual pair-up, I’m supposed to be the one trashing the Republican winner, but I don’t have to say a thing. It’s clear that Rush has no use for either of them. Neither does my friend and frequent sparring partner Laura Ingraham. Sean Hannity gives them a much harder time than I do.
Why don’t the talkers like their winners?
In their book, Huckabee isn’t a true conservative and McCain isn’t conservative at all. Huckabee raised taxes to finance roads and schools, allowed the children of illegal aliens equal access to public universities and wasn’t tough enough on crime. The only one with a worse record than that, from a conservative standpoint, is John McCain, who actually worked with Ted Kennedy to try to fashion a comprehensive approach to immigration, and with Wisconsin liberal Russ Feingold to reform campaign finances and fundraising.
Far better, at least for the elites and opinion shapers, are the candidates who, whatever their past records of accomplishment or lack thereof (Fred Thompson) or conservative consistency or lack thereof (Romney and Rudy), have openly and actively courted the conservative base of the party with promises to cut taxes, shrink government, deport immigrants and take the fight to the Democrats.
The only problem is that it’s not working with voters.
Listen to the Republican alsorans and you get the impression that things are pretty great in America. Mitt Romney got rich – proof that capitalism is still creating fortunes for those who work hard and play by the rules. Rudy Giuliani got cured – proof that America has the best health care in the world. Fred Thompson got famous – proof that the Hollywood dream is for real. If anything’s wrong, it’s probably the Clintons’ fault.
Listen to voters, look at exit polls, study the results to date, and you get a very different picture. Voters are anxious about the economy, worried about access to affordable health care and sick of partisan bickering. They know that some people get rich, but they worry that they do it by outsourcing jobs, laying off longtime workers and cutting back on benefits. They know some people in America get the best health care in the world, but they worry that they aren’t those people, or won’t be, and that premiums keep going up and even minor illness makes you uninsurable. They don’t like partisan bickering and slick campaigning.
I’m no fan of Mike Huckabee, but he speaks a different language than most of the Republicans I know. He talks about anxiety on Main Street and economic insecurity. I like John McCain, more than many Republicans I know, precisely because he is not hide-bound to the partisan divide, precisely because he is an independent thinker and is willing to take unpopular positions. His campaign phase one, the topheavy, well-funded, Washingtonbased effort to convince conser- vative diehards that he was really one of them was a total failure. It was only when he became, for want of a better term, more Huckabee-like in his approach, when he jettisoned conventional thinking and conventional campaigning and got back on the bus, speaking his mind straight to people, that he came back.
There may be a lesson in this for the rest of the Republican field, but as a Democrat, I’m not sure I’m all that eager to see them learn it.
©2008 Creators Syndicate Inc.