Some Thoughts on the Primaries

(wrote this last Friday, still think it holds pretty well):

I don’t usually talk explicitly about politics on this blog, but as Super Tuesday approaches, and what with Mitt Romney garnering so much attention, it seems appropriate:

Mitt’s road, incidentally, is uphill and very steep. Mitt is probably the best reincarnation of Ronald Reagan the party will see for a long time–charismatic, affable, down-the-line conservative, good-looking, a clear communicator–but for some reason I don’t quite understand, the country in whole and even the republican party itself does not seem particularly interested in Ronald Reagan. Despite incredible amounts of advertising, an overwhelming financial advantage, incredible tactical superiority, and a dirth of attractive Republican candidates, Romney has been unable to make a real impression. So far, his only wins have come in places where other republicans hardly seriously campaigned. The only exception is Michigan, but even there it seems the other candidates were content enough to let Romney win while they focused on South Carolina and other upcoming states.

Now, McCain has almost all the momentum going into the virtual nationwide primary and Romney is left hoping he can turn enough states to stay in the race. He may be able to strike some kind of advatange with advertising, and if he employs a cunning enough strategy he just might be able to keep things competetive. It seems like a tall order, though, because for all the airtime Romney can buy, it will be very difficult to outadvertise the newly-ordained and long-awaited “GOP frontrunner.”

The GOP x-factor is Mike Huckabee. Despite his win in Iowa, serious observers have always known he never had a chance to be president. His policies are too liberal for most mainline republicans and his experience is too shallow for the independents and cross-over democrats he might otherwise attract. What with the all-but-official declaration that this is now a two-man race, one wonders what Huckabee gains by staying in the race. I wonder, though I don’t mean to suggest any official agreement between the two, if he has stayed in as a help to McCain–a sort of firewall against any extra support Romney might garner. This would make sense on a number of levels. While Romney and Huckabee seem, in a sense, to be very different candidates–one a retired Baptist minister, one a former Mormon ecclesiastical leader, one a Reaganesque conservative, one a pseudo-populist with certain hardcore social conservative commitments–the fact remains that they both play to one very important segment of the GOP crowd: conservtaive Christians. Huckabee appeals to the Christian base both by virtue of his explicitly-emphasized religion and as a result of his devotion to the causes of life and family; Mitt, on the other hand, has tried desperately to appeal to this segment of the base by his committment to the Reagan coalition. Consequently, by staying in the race as long as possible, and especially in the south, Huckabee siphons support away from Romney, stealing desperately-needed voters. It is true some of Huckabee’s supporters might otherwise vote for McCain, but I think the majority would favor Romney, disdaining McCain’s maverick and rather unrepublican tendencies.

If this were true, it would not only give McCain reason to celebrate Huckabee’s continued presence in the race–as inconsequential and Quixotic and that might otherwise be–it would also make Huckabee the perfect running mate if McCain wins the nomination. By choosing Huckabee, McCain first scratches the back of the friend who scratched his, and then immediately solidifies his support on the far right, with the very voters who are most likely to stay home from the polls harumphing in McCain is the GOP nominee. It sounds, in many ways, like the perfect plan for wrapping up the primary and then shoring up the probability of winning the general election.

All of this begs the question: does McCain’s likely victory help Barack Obama? I must admit, I do not see Hillary Clinton’s appeal. I know she has long been annointed to “the inevitable one” (a frightening fact in itself, dynastic as such an appointment would be), but beyond that early inauguration by the press, she strikes me as cold, calculating, political, and divisive. I know pundits praise her apparently vast knowledge of policy matters and I know she has made much of her “thirty five years of experience.” The first of these matters I will have to grant her, but I would then point out that others of her remaining contenders, Mitt Romney in particular, share this talent and may exceed it. And the second matter–her experience–strikes me as questionable at best. The experience she has emphasized most strongly, after all, is her time in the white house. But this seems to be to be political chicanery: she wants on the one hand to claim her husband’s experience but on the other to declare her political independence from him; she wants to take credit for assisting in many of his successes while only claiming to have learned from his failures; and, of course, she immediately distanced herself from the dismal failure that was her only true substantial foray into public policy during that time: her healthcare plan. Consequently, her experience does not seem to me more impressive than that of the other candidates (especially since none of our most recent or greatest presidents has had direct in-the-white-house experience before entering office anyway) and her policy knowledge also does not, in my mind, set her apart.

Barack Obama, it seems to me, is the much more attractive candidate. He is charismatic and eloquent and, moreover, is a man of vision. He has been compared much recently to JFK and the comparison seems apt. That, of course, if both a warning and an endorsement, since JFK’s presidency was a decidedly mixed bag. But it still makes him more attractive than Hillary.

More importantly to this discussion, however, is Obama’s cross-over appeal. Hillary is, in many ways, Romney’s perfect foil. Knowledgeable, like him, and a member of the vanguard of old party ways. She represents the Democratic party’s past and in consequentially divisive–those who supported her husband are likely to support her but she in unlikely to attract new voters. If she were running against Romney I don’t think that would matter because the country is poised, as it usually does, to change political colors this year and elect a democrat. that calculus is disrupted, however, if McCain wins because he would attract substantial crossover support–enough, I think, to beat Hillary. That, then, makes me wonder if Democrats hoping to tie-up the coming general election won’t gravitate toward Obama if only because his appeal to independents and even some republicans makes him more likely to beat McCain than Clinton who cross-over appeal seems to be about like that of Justice Robert Bork

Published in: on February 7, 2008 at 4:04 am  Leave a Comment  

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