Campaign 2012

The Inevitable Mr. Romney

Nate Silver, the political oracle behind Five Thirty-Eight argues that Mitt Romney is becoming close to the inevitable GOP nominee in 2012—and while Silver notes that Romney certainly can lose, there’s no one else in the field that has the staying power to take him down. Even though the GOP isn’t in love with the idea of a Romney candidacy, no one has been able to mount a serious, long-term challenge to Romney.


The past few months of the 2012 campaign has seen a dynamic between Romney running slow but steady, with a series of putative challengers rising and falling. At first, Michele Bachmann was looking like the anti-Romney, until the GOP electorate realized that she was great as an ideological happy warrior, but has no appeal outside her base. Congresswoman Bachmann is a solid and principled conservative, but she is no the sort of person who can win in a national election. So she peaked early and has not regained momentum since.

Then the GOP electorate moved on to Rick Perry—until Governor Perry opened his mouth and made a fool of himself. One bad debate performance is not necessarily enough to doom a candidacy, but a series of them made it clear that Perry was not remotely ready for prime-time. If Perry can’t win over a friendly audience, he would have zero chance against Obama. What momentum Perry had after announcing was quickly diminished as Perry proved himself unprepared and prone to embarrassing verbal gaffes.

Then came Herman Cain, the next flavor of the week. Cain made some bold policy moves with his “9-9-9? plan. But his bold policies had no chance of working in the real world. Then Cain, like Perry, demonstrated that he was criminally unprepared for the task of running for President. (Yes, Mr. Cain, you should know something about those countries with “-stan” at the end if you want to be taken seriously as a candidate.) Then a drip of scandal turned into a torrent, as numerous women accused Cain of having affairs with them—and while a few anonymous allegations don’t count for much, a flood of them with details do. In the end, Cain was forced to leave the race in relative disgrace.

The last flavor of the week has been Newt Gingrich—who unlike Cain and Perry is an intellectual force to be reckoned with. But as brilliant as Newt may be, he is equally undisciplined. His attack on the judiciary was intended to be red meat for the conservative base, but it was deeply irresponsible and not at all in line with constitutional conservatism. Newt has taken many of the same positions that Romney has, and to call him the conservative alternative to Romney is a joke. Newt may be a great thinker who does well in debates, but he would likely implode long before mounting a challenge to Obama.

The rest of the field also underwhelms. Santorum’s last electoral experience was a double-digit blowout loss, and he has little appeal outside hardcore social conservatives. Jon Huntsman is running in the wrong party’s primary. Ron Paul is, to put it charitably, an isolationist conspiracy-mongering nutball.

By nothing more than default, Mitt Romney is the only candidate left on the field that is not damaged goods in some form or fashion. But the question then becomes, is Romney an acceptable candidate for the GOP nomination in 2012?

The Case For Romney

John Hinderaker at Power Line makes the case for Romney as the 2012 GOP nominee:

In electing a president, we are choosing someone to run the Executive Branch. A leader, to be sure, but not a speechmaker, a bomb-thrower, a quipster, a television personality or an exemplar of ideological purity. At this point in our history, the United States desperately needs a leader who understands the economy, the world of business, and, more generally, how the world works. We have had more than enough of a leader who was good at giving speeches and was ideologically pure, but who had no clue how the economy works or how the federal government can be administered without resort to graft and corruption. It is time for a president who knows what he is doing.

Hinderaker gives four arguments why Romney is the strongest candidate in the race, and the candidate most likely to beat President Obama, including the fact that in a time when the United States is badly in need on a turnaround, who better suited to fix our national problems than someone who has years of experience turning around failing companies?

On the other side, John Hawkins provides 7 reasons why he believes that Romney’s “electability” is a myth.

Hinderaker seems to have the better of the arguments here. What we do know of Romney’s general-election prospects come from early polling—and of the early general-election polls, Romney runs ahead of the rest of the Republican field in key states like Ohio. What candidate has a chance of doing better than Mitt Romney at this point? Gingrich? Paul? Perry? Santorum? Does anyone believe that anyone else in this field has a credible shot at taking on Obama and winning?

Romney’s conservative bona fides are constantly questioned, but Gingrich is no less an “establishment” figure and has departed from conservative orthodoxy just as much as Romney. Romney may not be every conservative’s ideal candidate, but he’s the most conservative candidate with a realistic prayer of winning.

A President Romney is not going to veto a conservative Congress’ budget cuts. A President Romney would not dramatically increase the size and scope of the federal government—certainly not when paired with a conservative Congress. A President Romney is a step forward for the nation—four more years of President Obama would be a disaster at a time when fiscal discipline is no longer optional.

Mitt Romney has a compelling narrative going into 2012: the turnaround artist for a country that faces bankruptcy. While the Republican Party should listen to Hawkin’s arguments against Romney’s electability and start working on contingencies to address them, the fact remains that Romney has the best chance to beat President Obama in 2012. He’s the only candidate that has a realistic chance to beat the President this year and restore some semblance of fiscal sanity to the Executive Branch.

And that is ultimately why I believe than Romney will be the 2012 nominee for the Republican Party. At the end of the day, the one thing that Establishment Republicans and conservative activists all want is to unseat President Obama. Romney is the one that is most likely to do it, and the GOP electorate has run through all the alternatives in the hopes of finding a more conservative challenger. At the end of the day, Romney has survived while others have faltered, and he is the candidate best positioned to take on the President and beat him.

Finally, the next four years will be crucial for the future of this country. While every election is tagged as the “most important” election ever, the stakes continue to get higher and higher for this country. Say what you want about Romney, he has years of experience in the private sector taking failing organizations and turning them into profitable and efficient ones. Taking on the U.S. government will be orders of magnitude more difficult than that, but Romney’s experience is relevant to the challenges ahead. We may not be getting our dream candidate, but we never were going to get that. Romney is conservative enough to be acceptable, is effective enough to run a disciplined campaign, and is smart and tough enough to lead this country. In the end, that is what matters.


Post-New Hampshire Quick Takes

Well, this really throws a monkey wrench into this race, doesn’t it?

Hillary Clinton is back, and back with a vengeance. This was an upset, and a huge upset. This is “Dewey Beats Truman” big. Every poll showed an Obama blowout. For Clinton to have come close would have been big. To win is massive.

Hillary said something interesting: “I’ve found my own voice.” I think her show of emotion this weekend helped her. I didn’t see it at first, and when I saw the actual footage, it came across as the most genuine I’ve ever seen her. She won women by 13%—and I think her display of humanity helped her. Could this mean we’ll see the softer side of Hillary?

However, Obama is not out. South Carolina will be a key state for him, and Hillary still has a long road to travel. Yet after tonight, anything is possible. Obama is still untested and hasn’t taken the fire that Clinton has in the last few days.

I used to think that Bill was the most politically astute Clinton. Now, I’m wondering if he wasn’t the lesser of the couple.

McCain’s win was not a surprise, but the margin was. Romney is basically dead in the water—a loss in Michigan means that his campaign is over. The big question is where his support will go. If it’s Thompson, then Fred could be viable in the next contests. If they rally around McCain, McCain has the best shot. My guess is that the dynamics of the Republican race will be Huckabee versus whomever can beat Huckabee. At this point, I think John McCain has the best shot at doing that—but don’t count Rudy or Fred out quite yet. Rudy’s strategy may pay off, since he’s ahead in his key kickoff state of Florida in the latest polls.

In short, this race just got much more interesting. Clinton’s comeback is unprecedented. All the people who thought that Clinton was out have a lot of crow to eat. Anyone know what wine to pair with it?

Campaign 2008, Politics

New Hampshire Results

FOX News’ exit poll shows McCain with a 5% lead over Mitt Romney. Interestingly enough, that same exit poll shows that Clinton and Obama are also separated by 5%, with Obama leading 39% to 34%. The early results have been very favorable to Clinton, which would really make this race interesting. If Obama fails to blow out Clinton, that would be a major shot in the arm for the Clinton campaign.

More as the night continues…

UPDATE: 7:06PM – Jim Geraghty is getting some very interesting exit poll results showing a very close race on both the Democratic and Republican sides. This could be a rather interesting night if those exit polls hold true.

UPDATE: 7:14PM – Both CNN and FOX News have called the New Hampshire primary for John McCain. It looks like McCain may beat Romney by a bigger margin that Obama will beat Hillary. That’s an unexpected result.

This puts McCain in the position of being the frontrunner, as Romney’s strategy was based around strong showings in Iowa and New Hampshire. I don’t think that Romney will bow out, but it seems likely that he’s not going to be able to recover from this. If McCain wins in Michigan, and I think he will, that’s the end of Romney’s campaign.

Conservatives are going to be taking a close look at McCain in the next few weeks, which means that McCain has a lot of reassuring to do on key issues. However, on key issues like Iraq and spending, McCain has been a conservative vanguard. That may be enough for many conservatives, even with McCain’s squishiness on other issues.

Here’s the interesting question: where does Romney’s support go in the aftermath of consecutive loses in Iowa and New Hampshire?

UPDATE: 7:38PM – Clinton still has a slight lead against Obama with 16% of the votes in. I doubt it will last, but if Clinton stays within striking distance of Obama, it will be a very interesting race. This isn’t looking like an Obama blowout at all, which means that Clinton may be following her husband as being the “Comeback Kid” in New Hampshire—remember that Clinton also came in second in New Hampshire when he got that moniker.

UPDATE: 7:43PM – Interestingly, McCain did very well with late deciders, which indicates that Romney’s supposed late gains didn’t actually materialize. That’s interesting, as there were indications that Romney was making a comeback in New Hampshire. If these numbers are accurate, that means that Romney’s efforts to retool his campaign towards the end just didn’t work.

UPDATE: 7:47PM – Romney is speaking – “we got a silver.” Unfortunately for Romney, I just don’t see him coming back from this one. His strategy was based upon winning these early contests, and failing that he doesn’t seem to have much of a fallback strategy.

UPDATE: 7:53PM – This is interesting. While Romney speaks, more numbers are coming in. Hillary Clinton is increasing her lead against Barack Obama. She’s now ahead by 6% with about 23% of the precincts reporting. Anything could change, but it’s looking more and more like the runaway Obama win that was widely predicted isn’t appearing yet.

UPDATE: 8:04PM – Huckabee is speaking, despite taking only third. Meanwhile, the Clinton/Obama race is slowly tightening. Clinton is still ahead, but the margins are closing a bit. Still, even if Obama wins narrowly, Clinton could be the Comeback Queen tonight…

UPDATE: 8:12PM – McCain is speaking. A lot of iPhones in the crowd, which is chanting “Mac is back.” Indeed he is. McCain’s campaign was DOA a few months ago, and now he’s the frontrunner. McCain is emphasizing how he’s the “straight talk” candidate. Right now it’s looking like the predicted blowouts were reversed—McCain has won convincingly against Romney, and Clinton still leads Obama with 36% of the vote counted.

This is looking like a night for dramatic comebacks.

UPDATE: 8:17PM – McCain looks very Presidential tonight. I was an early supporter of Senator McCain in 2000, and the John McCain I’m seeing tonight is the John McCain I liked then. For his faults, I could see Republicans rallying around him—and a McCain/Thompson ticket sounds really good to me.

UPDATE: 8:27PM – The Clinton/Obama race is tightening, with Clinton still ahead by 2% and 42% of the vote counted.

Captain Ed has an interesting theory—that independents crossed over to vote for McCain, thinking Obama would win handily. Only about 20,000 fewer Republicans showed up to vote than Democrats, which gives some credence to that theory.

UPDATE: 8:31PM – The latest FOX News exit poll shows Clinton ahead 39-37%. I’m starting to think that she could win it. Hillary Clinton is the Comeback Queen tonight, as it’s looking like Barack Obama can’t pull off the blowout that everyone was expecting.

UPDATE: 8:36PM – Jim Geraghty has rave reviews for McCain’s speech. McCain actually carried the conservative vote in New Hampshire, and with Churchilian rhetoric like that, it’s not hard to understand why.

Clinton’s lead has increased to 4%—I’m really starting to think that she’s going to win. If she does, prepare for the coronation of the Comeback Queen.

UPDATE: 8:47PM – CNN is saying that the college towns haven’t reported in yet, and that might shift the balance back over to Obama. That could be, but unless Obama suddenly breaks out and wins convincingly, Hillary has still utterly demolished expectations tonight.

UPDATE: 9:00PM – The exit poll results are interesting. Clinton is dominating the female vote by 13%. She’s also winning union voters, lower-imcome voters, and older voters. Obama is winning with younger voters and independents.

UPDATE: 9:07PM – Here’s an interesting thought. The CW is that the college vote will heavily favor Clinton. But will it favor him enough to beat the current spread? Dartmouth has an enrollment of about 6,000—could Obama really pick up enough votes from places like that to beat a roughly 3,000 vote spread? I’m starting to wonder if Obama can really pick up enough votes to beat Hillary’s momentum if demographic trends continue.

UPDATE: 9:12PM – On FOX, Obama’s people are saying that the race could come down to Hanover. I’m not so sure—the exit polls are showing that Obama is not doing as well as predicted in western New Hampshire. The margins keep fluctuating, and if there’s a trend towards Obama, it isn’t showing yet.

Hanover is where Dartmouth is, but again, if it’s a 4,000 vote race, even a strong Obama showing may not be enough for Obama to pull ahead. Michael Barone is running the numbers, and says that Hanover could erase Hillary’s gains. Still, that’s only if Obama trounces Hillary there. If it’s a 60/40 split, Hillary could still eke out a narrow win—and even a narrow win makes Hillary look good.

The bottom line is this: Hillary Clinton defied expectations tonight. Even if she loses by a narrow margin it’s still a victory for her campaign. If she wins, even more so.

UPDATE: 9:19PM – Edwards is speaking. I’m trying to hold my dinner in. What a phony, and a phony who has no chance to win. Thankfully.

UPDATE: 9:33PM – The AP has called the race for Hillary Clinton.

UPDATE: 9:35PM – MSNBC has has also called the race for Hillary Clinton. With a 5,000 vote margin, it’s still possible for Obama to take the lead, but I’m not so sure that it’s likely at this point.

UPDATE: 9:42PM – I’m calling it for Clinton. With a lead of ~6,000 votes, even a strong turnout in Hanover doesn’t seem likely to shift the balance. This is a major achievement for Senator Clinton, and a major loss for the pundits.

This afternoon, the word was about the collapse of Hillary Clinton. Tomorrow it will be about the coronation of the Comeback Queen. What a night!

UPDATE: 9:45PM – Jim Geraghty reminds us all of just how wrong the polls were in this race. Let that be a lesson to those who think that political polls have a great deal of meaning.

UPDATE: 9:47PM – FOX News has called the race for Hillary Clinton. Barack Obama is about to speak.

This is bad news for McCain, because his win is already old news.

UPDATE: 9:49PM – Obama’s speech sounds more like a victory speech than a concession speech. Then again, with the race this close, his campaign is hardly over.

UPDATE: 9:56PM – If someone had said that tonight John McCain would beat Romney by a larger margin than the spread between Obama and Clinton I’d think you were nuts. If they had said that Hillary Clinton would beat Obama, I’d definitely think they were crazy. Yet tonight, the crazy people would have been right.

UPDATE: 9:57PM – CNN has also called the race for Hillary Clinton.

UPDATE: 10:00PM – I’m surprised at how vapid Obama’s speech is: I think his schtick is wearing a bit thin. All this talk about “change” and “yes we can” but no substance to any of it. Change to what? Yes we can do what?

I don’t think the Democrats are in a post-partisan mood this year any more than they have been in the last few years. They want to kick ass, and Hillary Clinton is a pro at that.

Campaign 2008, Politics

Down To The Wire In New Hampshire

It’s looking like the action tonight will be on the Republican side. With about an hour before the polls close, Obama is almost certainly to rout Hillary, but the race between McCain and Romney appears to be closer than expected.

If Romney loses tonight, it’s hard to see how his campaign can keep going over the long term. If Romney wins, it could easily revive his campaign and sink that of John McCain. What happens tonight will have some significant impacts on the rest of the GOP race.

The long night of Hillary Clinton looks like it’s going to get a lot longer and a lot darker. She’s being forced into the same strategy as Rudy Giuliani, hoping that Super-Duper Ultra Mega Tuesday will lift her fortunes. It’s a risky strategy, and one that doesn’t seem to be a smart one for either candidate—except that for Rudy, he consciously chose that strategy.

In any event, the unseasonably warm weather has lifted turnout to record levels, with around half a million New Hampshire residents voting tonight.

More analysis tonight as the results come in.

UPDATE: Word is that there is strong turnout in both the Democratic and GOP races.

Campaign 2008, Politics

New Hampshire Predictions

This one won’t be that hard to predict, at least on the Democratic side. Hillary Clinton is toast. She needs a miracle to defeat Obama, and the ham-handed way she’s tried to come back have failed. Even though she’s right—even her paltry experience is infinitely more than Obama’s platitudes—the Democrats have embraced Obama’s gauzy rhetoric. Politically, it’s not a bad move. In terms of who can provide the Democrats with real leadership, Obama is a terrible candidate. However, he happens to have the right message at the right time, and that’s enough to win.

On the Republican side, I wouldn’t count Romney out quite yet. He did well in the debates, and McCain’s overtly combative side that we saw this weekend does not suit him well. The independent voters in New Hampshire will likely join the Obama juggernaut, which gives McCain less of an advantage. That being said, I think McCain will win. If McCain wins New Hampshire and Michigan, I don’t see how Romney can continue. Which is too bad, since I’m warming to him the more I hear.

Those two matchups are all that matter in this race. The rest of the candidates aren’t in the game in New Hampshire. Rudy and Fred are not campaigning there. (And Ron Paul isn’t going to get the nomination, even if he will pull some support in New Hampshire.) Edwards is a dead man walking, politically. He didn’t even pull the same support in Iowa he did in 2004. Huckabee will get some play in New Hampshire, but his brand of evangelical identity politics does not play well at all there.

For the Democrats, I don’t see any way that anyone can stop Obama now. It’s possible he could slip up, but the Clinton campaign has come off the rails in a way that I wouldn’t have expected. She’s never had to run a truly competitive race in her life (and neither has Obama), and she doesn’t know what to do. My guess is that Clinton will not go quietly. What’s amazing is that even her well-crafted spin machine can’t save her now.

The Republican field is still wide open. Romney is sinking, but he’s not out. McCain’s star is rising. Huckabee is still in the lead. Thompson is hanging on and betting the farm on a solid performance in South Carolina. Rudy could always come up from behind and surprise everyone if his strategy actually works. At this point a brokered convention isn’t out of the picture. There’s no real momentum yet for one candidate.

The big question is who goes out first. Right now, Romney looks like he’s going to lose steam before the others. If that happens, who gets his support? That’s why this race is so undecided—in a race divided by a few percentage points between the candidates a gain by one can propel someone ahead of the others. If Romney’s support goes to Thompson, Thompson ends up being in a vastly better position. If it goes to Huckabee, he’d be nearly impossible to beat. If it goes to McCain, McCain would have a strong chance of winning. If it gets split, then we’re still in a morass.

New Hampshire is proving to be somewhat anti-climactic, but that could change in the event that Hillary or Mitt stage a comeback. However, it’s looking like the Democratic race is becoming more firmly established just as the Republican one continues to be unsettled.

Campaign 2008, Politics

Yet More Quick Debate Reactions

I have to admit, Mitt Romney is smooth under pressure. Everyone was gunning for him, and he held his ground. This was his night, and he did well in defending his record. Granted, it would be convenient for my chosen candidate if the field gets split, but I wouldn’t be at all disappointed if Romney were the nominee.

I have great respect for John McCain, but this wasn’t a good debate for him. Oddly enough, he doesn’t do well under pressure. He tends to get too combative when questioned, which doesn’t look good for him.

Everyone knows who my candidate is, and once again, he did well. Not great, but well. Remember, New Hampshire isn’t his state. He isn’t campaigning here, so his position in the polls isn’t relevant to his campaign. He needs to win South Carolina, though, and he didn’t do anything that would knock him out. The problem is that he needs to do more before that contest, or his campaign won’t be able to recover.

Giuliani also failed to make traction. New Hampshire should be a strong state for him, but he’s largely out of the picture. Everyone’s carping on Fred, but Rudy’s really blown his lead in a way that no other candidate has in this race. He could still come back, but that strategy of waiting until Super Tuesday to do well seems to be failing him. Then again, a few weeks from now I could be eating those words, along with many pundits.

Here’s what infuriates me about Mike Huckabee: he’s not qualified to be President, but he gets the pulse of the electorate right. I despise political populism, but the reality is that the electorate doesn’t feel that this country is going in the right direction. He’s the only one really speaking to that, even though Rudy Giuliani touched upon an argument that the GOP should be making. The problem with Huckabee is that he is utterly clueless about foreign policy, and would follow the Bush big government model of conservatism—which ultimately becomes a betrayal of conservative principles.

Romney helped himself tonight, but nobody made any critical mistakes, which leaves the race fairly wide open. Giuliani and Thompson are in the second tier, but could come back based off of the results in South Carolina and Florida. McCain, Romney and Huckabee remain in a deadlock. Of those three, Romney is the most conservative and the most acceptable to both wings of the GOP base. He did very well in Frank Luntz’s focus groups, and for good reason.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again—even with all the divisions, the Republican field is strong on the issue, better informed the than Democrats and far more substantive. That certainly counts for much. It’s not just about “change,” it’s about taking this country forward. The Republican field would do that, and for all Obama’s personal magnetism, he doesn’t nearly the depth that the Republicans do.

Campaign 2008, Politics

Quick GOP Debate Reactions

Romney just mentioned Sayyid Qutb, which made me think quite highly of him. There’s a real clash of ideas here, which is heartening. For all the divisions in the GOP, this group of candidates seems to be much more informed about the world than on the other side. Even Huckabee was fairly on the ball and knew who Quth was. Of course, with all if them piling on Ron Paul, its not hard to make them look smart in comparison.

McCain’s answer to the question about his principles was solid. He looks Presidential, which counts for a lot. Romney’s answer was also well spoken and has a lot of resonance with the attitude of the electorate today. I’m not sure what New Hampshire will mean, Romney could keep a lead or McCain could take it. Charlie Gibson’s questioning here is tough, but quite probative in getting substantive answers from the candidates.

Ron Paul is still a nutball. He’s acting as the punching bag for the debate.

Ugh, the question about healthcare was horrendously biased. We’re the only industrialized nation without a government-run healthcare system because we’re the largest developed nation with the most diverse population. The argument that people can’t select their own health insurance at a good price and a good level of quality is ridiculous. People make all kinds of choices, retirement funds, auto insurance, schools. People can and do make critical life choices, and healthcare is one of them. The market works in other fields, and there’s no solid reason why people can’t get individual rates just as they do with other insurance products. The reason why individual insurance is so expensive is because it’s rare, and it’s subject to differing tax treatment that makes it prohibitively expensive.

McCain’s answer about cutting inflation seemed iffy to me—it’s hard to cut costs. Medical care will always be expensive unless you want to spend less money training doctors and developing equipment.

I actually like Romney’s “connector” idea which helps develop the right economy of scale. It’s not a perfect system, but it has done fairly well in Massachusetts.

Oh, and would someone give Ron Paul some medication? Thompson’s bemused reaction to Paul was priceless.

Thompson’s answer on healthcare helped clarify the issue, and he had a good clash over the issue of mandates with Romney. In principle, Romney’s position is fine, but the reality is that he’s positioning himself against the side of mandates rather than for them. Yes, they should be responsible for paying for their own care, but he’s creating a false dichotomy that proves Thompson’s point. There’s no disagreement on the basic point, which muddied the debate.

Huckabee’s idea of preventative care is nice in theory, but it doesn’t work in practice. You can’t force people to make those kind of lifestyle choices, and unless you can do that, you don’t get much savings. The problem I have with Huckabee is that if you’re going to enact policies that mandate preventative healthcare you can’t do that with significantly reducing individual freedom. Preferential tax treatment for preventative care? Good idea. Will it it actually reduce costs significantly? Probably not. People don’t get checkups when they should, myself included. That’s human nature—we tend not to think about medical care unless we’re actually sick.

McCain wasn’t phased by the immigration question. However, his semi-amnesty amnesty plan rubs the GOP electorate the wrong way. I’m not sure what the real effect of illegal immigration is on the economy, but a flood of low-wage workers could easily increase domestic unemployment and reduce wages. Not only that, but it reflects a fundamental disrespect for the rule of law. Immigration is fine, but illegal immigration is not. Immigration is a security problem, an economic problem and a social problem. (Victor Davis Hansen’s wonderful Mexifornia: A State of Becoming is a good book on the subject.) We need a policy that recognizes these challenges.

Giuliani’s plan is also an amnesty-like plan. Getting rid of the lack of documentation fixes the security problem. It doesn’t fix the economic and the social impacts. A good plan should address all those issues, but coming up with such a plan that could actually pass is extremely difficult.

McCain’s position that his position is not amnesty is semantically correct. Realistically, if McCain’s position is amnesty, then amnesty is the only policy that works. We can’t start deporting all illegal immigrants, at least not without spending a great deal of money and effort. We can raise the opportunity costs of illegal immigration. We can mainstream illegal immigrants into American society and our economy. Romney’s plan is amnesty too, if he’s not deporting everyone. The question is not amnesty or not amnesty, the question is how to deal with the effects of immigration.

Giuliani’s response was perfect—and I think he’s got the right position on this issue.

Thompson’s “enforcement by attrition” idea is more workable. We can’t find a “fix” for immigration because there’s no easy fix. Enforcing the border, employment verification, and enforcing immigration laws are all workable solutions. Complaining about who supports amnesty and who had a “sanctuary city” is a largely pointless debate. Everyone agrees on the three basic points: secure the border, enforce the laws, and get employment verification.

Huckabee’s answer here was quite good. The problem is that we shouldn’t “seal” the borders—which is the wrong term to use. What’s annoying here is that there’s little real clash, everyone agrees on the basics, but people are trying to naggle over largely meaningless distinctions. Huckabee did himself a favor here, even if his record on this subject is spotty.

How does Ron Paul hide his tinfoil hat? He has to be wearing one, right? He wouldn’t let the CIA satellites communicate with the RFID chip in his brain, would he?

The question about Obama as the nominee was an interesting tack—it’s looking like Obama could very well be the nominee, and his positions are doctrinaire liberal. He may have a great personality, but when it gets down to substance he’s far, far to the left of the American electorate. Giuliani is also right that Obama has never led anything much larger than a classroom. There’s something to be said about executive experience. I also like the idea that “change” for nothing more than the sake of change is bad. What the GOP so desperately need to do is get out what their first principles are and distinguish a truly conservative government from what we have now.

Huckabee’s response to the Obama question is quite right. The problem with Huckabee is that his first principles are not conservative. He’s a good man and he has the right intentions, and he’s quite right that the GOP has to stand for something. It’s just that if we stand for what he has stood for we’ll be sticking with the failed policies of the present Administration rather than a compelling vision of the future.

Thompson’s performance tonight has been very low-key, which is good. However, he needs to show more energy at times. There have been times that he’s stepped in between two bickering candidates to try to distill the issues. That’s a great thing to do as a moderator, but Thompson isn’t setting the world on fire. It’s the story of his campaign: strong on substance, low on flash. Then again, he’s basically out of the running in New Hampshire, so the more McCain and Romney slam each other, the better.

McCain was far too harsh with Romney. It doesn’t look statesmanlike. That might hurt McCain if the race is close. Then again, who is actually watching this thing? (Other than nerds like myself, that is…)

A few parting shots: the only movement that could come out of here is a slight downtick for McCain. He seemed too combative with Romney. The other candidates just placed rather than changed the dynamics. Giuliani was good, which might help him, but he’s got to get some traction soon to remain viable. Thompson did a good job, but didn’t stand out enough. (Although I have a feeling that Fred’s rapidly ascending to the VP shortlist for whomever gets the nomination.) Huckabee was solid, but didn’t get any big lines. If there is such a thing as a winner, I’d have to say that Romney looked good. This debate might help him, provided anyone’s paying attention. Romney’s candidacy has been declared alll but dead after Iowa, but a New Hampshire win could help him immensely.

The format of this debate was good. I like having more back-and-forth between the candidates. It was more relaxed and seemed to show more of the different policy positions.

I’m off for the Democratic debate—I’ll only spend so much time watching politics on a Saturday night…

UPDATE: Marc Ambinder of The Atlantic thinks that Thompson won the debate on substance. That’s true, but if substance were the arbiter of this race, Fred would be leading the polls by leaps and bounds. He was good, but he missed some opportunities to really distinguish himself from the field. Fellow Fredhead Jonathan Adler said the same thing. Fortunately, this debate doesn’t mean much for Fred Thompson. Few were watching, and he’s not competing in New Hampshire. His critical state is South Carolina, which is where he needs to truly perform to stay viable.


Is McCain Surging In Iowa?

That’s what the latest ARG poll of Iowa shows. McCain is ahead of Romney in that poll. In NH, ARG shows McCain tied for first place.

What this goes to show is how volatile polling in Iowa really is. The dynamics of the race are constantly shifting, and a long-shot contender like McCain has just as much of a shot as Romney or Huckabee. Because this is a caucus rather than an open primary the actual results will be decided by a relatively small number of people—and those people aren’t always the people answering the pollster’s questions.

It will be interesting to see if Sen. McCain can execute an “up the middle” strategy in Iowa and New Hampshire. The big issue that has been hurting McCain has been immigration, but that issue hasn’t been dominating the headlines as much as it has. McCain has a strong appeal with fiscal and national defense conservatives, and he’s an acceptable candidate with social conservatives as well. If McCain does well in Iowa and New Hampshire, it could completely alter the dynamics of the race.

Could there be a McCain/Lieberman unity ticket in the future? I wouldn’t be making any big bets on it, but in this fluid time, it’s not impossible either.

Campaign 2008

Is Thompson Over?

Power Line notes that Fred Thompson is losing ground in polling in key primary states:

I think there are several reasons why Thompson’s campaign has not, so far, taken off as some expected. Thompson is a perfectly good conservative, but he lacks any particular stature as a one-and-a-half term Senator with no outstanding legislative accomplishments or policy innovations to his name. Given that he is also a quiet (some say lackluster) campaigner, it shouldn’t be surprising that so far, he hasn’t emerged as a powerhouse.

Also, Thompson’s appeal is based largely on the “none of the above” factor. He set out to appeal to the considerable segment of the Republican electorate that expressed dissatisfaction with the existing field. That was a good and potentially fertile niche, but it means that in a sense Thompson has been running against the field. To the extent that Romney, Giuliani and Huckabee have won over some previously skeptical voters, the need for a “none of the above” candidate may have diminished. And John McCain’s resurgence must have taken support away from Thompson, the candidate whose policy profile most nearly resembles McCain’s.

The appeal of Thompson’s campaign is that he’s a consistent conservative who is actually coming out with some strong policy prescriptions—especially in terms of Social Security reform. Granted, it may be a politically unwise endeavor to lead your campaign off with something so esoteric, but in a political climate devoted more to style than substance, there’s something refreshing about Thompson.

The fact that Thompson has been formally endorsed by the National Right to Life Foundation certainly helps. The fact that Mitt Romney had been lobbying for that endorsement also says something about the state of the race. Thompson is finding his niche as a consistent conservative in a race in which candidates either have great appeal to social conservatives and little to fiscal conservatives (Huckabee) or great appeal to fiscal conservatives and less to social conservatives (Giuliani) or candidates who have been accused of shifting their positions to match the prevailing political winds (Romney).

Thompson is not out—polling in these key states can be volatile, and many (including myself) figured John Kerry was dead in the water at this time four years ago. Still, Thompson is losing ground in Iowa and New Hampshire, and while he’s doing very well in South Carolina, it remains to be seen whether the winds won’t shift between the earlier states and that race.

What Thompson needs to do is start creating a grass-roots effort—and that means more time on the campaign trail. He’s got a firm grasp on the issues, in terms of fiscal issues, social issues, and national defense he’s the most consistent conservative in the race. The problem is that people don’t yet see him being able to win. To counter that perception, Thompson is going to have to get his boots on the ground in Iowa and New Hampshire and start making a stronger impression with the electorate.

This race is totally up in the air. Romney and Giuliani have the inside track, but Thompson could pull ahead, especially with this key endorsement. McCain is doing better than one would expect (though not enough to win). Huckabee has been doing an excellent job of what Thompson should be doing—winning over social conservatives alienated by the top tier. There is no clear winner, and anything could change.