Here it is mid-February 2007, Presidents' Day, and the world "awaits" my picks to win the presidential super bowl - the biggest game in politics, still a year away. Predicting each political party's eventual nominee almost a year before the first vote is cast makes about as much sense as forecasting the 2008 Super Bowl. But the odds do not scare a skilled prognosticator such as myself. ha.
So, here goes my Pat Robertson-style prophecy, listing the ego trippers' names in order of their chances of winning the party nomination. (OK, God speaks to Pat more than me; I'm not even Republican.) Tomorrow I'll assess the Democrats' chances, but today the focus is on Republicans. As always, exercise caution. Results may vary.
Republicans Ranked by Nomination Probability
1. Mitt Romney
2. Jeb Bush
3. Rudy Giuliani
4. Chuck Hagel
5. John McCain
6. Mike Huckabee
7. Newt Gingrich
8. Sam Brownback
Others: Hunter, Gilmore, Tommy Thompson, Pataki, Bloomberg, et al
John McCain is losing whatever credibility he ever had, even with Republicans. Proposing a massive escalation of the debacle in Iraq (with troops, materiel and support that were not available) will be recognized as cynical positioning to deflect blame onto others for losing the war. Kissing W.'s ring (and more) for eight years and plunging headfirst into Jerry Falwell's baptismal pool will be seen by voters for what they are worth: nothing.
Rudi Giuliani will never be supported by the religious wrong unless he can convince them he has done a 180 on the social issues. So long as Falwell, Dobson and the other theocracy-minded puritans have any other acceptable choice with a chance of winning the general election, they will not settle for an empty suit in high heels. Staying alive and walking the streets of New York City after 9/11, instead of crawling into a hole and whimpering, does not in their view cancel Rudy's unpardonable sin of spending his nights in the sanctuary of the unholy (the home of gay men).
When the two leading candidates begin falling in the polls, who will move up? Mitt Romney, perhaps. Despite his changed positions on social issues (not changing but changed, as of his latest announcement), Romney has repented his evil ways (and he really, really loves his one wife), making himself acceptable to the hardliners if he can sell the penitence act, and I think he can. Once he gathers up the hoes and the pitchforks, and goes marching off to slay the evil dragons of liberalism, his mistakes of the past will be forgiven. Romney's Mormon religion could prove to be a plus, not a minus, among evangelical voters, and he's already following in Ronald Reagan's footsteps: "This is the way, walk ye in it." (Isaiah 30:21) All Mitt is missing now is Ronnie's hair stylist and the rusty halo.
Chuck Hagel could face more problems than Romney simply because he split with his party on Iraq. The wingnuts will find that hard to forgive, and his presence on the ticket would be a constant reminder of how deadly wrong all the others were. Still, Republicans will do most anything to win, and Hagel is not only a mid-West conservative who won 83% of his state's vote in his 2002 reelection, but he is a (sometimes) straight-shooting Vietnam war hero - without the McCain baggage. In what could become a strange turn, a vote for Hagel could give rank-and-file Republican voters some feeling of redemption for following Bush off the cliff: "I voted for Chuck after I voted for W."
Should neither McCain, Giuliani, Romney nor Hagel take a formidable lead by the end of this year, however, party bigshots may be scrambling for a compromise candidate. Mike Huckabee is well-positioned, but so far, not well known. As attractive as he could be to the average voter, I don't see Republican power brokers throwing their weight behind him. He's an outsider, from Arkansas, of all places. Right now, "Huckaberry" and Haley look more like VP options - and either man would take the deal in a heartbeat. (Forgive the unintended use of weight, heartbeat and VP all in the same sentence.)
Who, then, if no one makes the big break toward the end zone, would the party turn to? Gingrich? I doubt it. Newt may be the GOP "ideas man," but his jabbering won't play well in the heat of battle (one reason he's holding off for now), and I don't think the party would risk taking him and his history into the general election. Brownback and Hunter, like Bauer and Keyes in 2000, will scare the bejesus out of more moderate voters, and it's doubtful any of the lesser candidates (other than Bloomberg or Fred Thompson, if they were to enter the race) will have the financial backing to challenge the big boys.
That leaves one player of some stature on the sidelines. And, yes, he's a Bush. If the others throw themselves into a mid-field brawl, Jeb Bush could become the one candidate that all the party factions could rally around. Traditional wisdom may be that George has destroyed Jeb's chances, at least for 2008. But Jeb is not George, and if the others flounder in the big game, Jeb could be the hero coming off the bench to the cheers of the GOP faithful. I'm not ready to move him up to first place yet, but we shouldn't forget, "he's the smart one."
These predictions may be far-fetched - and a Hollywoodie ex-senator could change the political Nielsons overnight - but keep in mind that Republicans are not imaginative. Right or wrong, orders come from above. Once the team owners anoint the new quarterback, the team players and fans will assume their assigned positions and never question the call. To Republicans, winning ain't everything; it's the only thing.