January 27, 2008

Update to presidential predictions: Republicans

On February 18, 2007, I ranked Republicans’ chances for their party’s nomination: 1- Romney, 2- Jeb Bush, 3- Giuliani, 4- Hagel, 5- McCain, 6- Huckabee.

In the intervening months, Mayor "9-11" has practically disappeared without a trace. Giuliani’s mistake was coming to Florida – and staying. The more time he spent here, the less Florida liked him, just as many of us had expected when the “experts” were anointing “the country’s mayor” as the most worthy opponent to face Hillary in the fall. (National opinion polls at the time had him at 45-50% and higher. So much for name recognition polls.)

Sen. Hagel, to his credit, recognized that the Republican Party faithful would never forgive him for being right on the Iraq war, and he remains right on both counts. Whether he will join a Bloomberg Bull Moose Party remains an open question.

Sen. Thompson, the lobbyist/actor I ignored with good reason, flared briefly then dropped from sight after harrumphing himself through the early primaries and caucuses. I had expected him to last about three weeks from the time he announced his candidacy - but I could have been wrong: his decline probably started in less time. Still, I don't count him out as someone's attack dog in the fall campaign.

As we approach the Florida primaries this Tuesday, three men remain in the game. Little has changed since I made this comment about Gov. Huckabee last February: “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.” His support among certain religious groups caught some observers by surprise, but Rev. Huckabee’s intentions of rewriting the Constitution to conform to his personal interpretations of selected Bible verses, along with his lack of funds, seem to have taken him out of contention for the top position.

My greatest prediction error was ranking Sen. McCain so low. Obviously the field of candidates appeared so dreadful, even to Republicans, that Lazarus was called up from the political graveyard. If they should settle on "Bomb, bomb Iran" McCain to head the ticket, perhaps the country will be given a clear choice of whether or not they agree that hundred-year wars, plural, are sustainable. One wonders how long the manipulated fears that took us into a disastrous mess can be used to keep us there.

Until proven wrong, which could happen two days from now, I continue to rank Romney first among Republicans. Everyone knew a year ago that he would adopt a highly conservative economic and social agenda for his campaign. Running slightly to the right of Attila the Hun, however, made him so patently artificial that many within his party do not trust him to remain true to his expressed agenda. I do. Mitt boy is the rich showoff who will do anything to prove his toughness to the bullies demanding a ride in Daddy’s Jag. To succeed, he becomes a bigger bully to everyone else. Being the hardnosed businessman that he is, we should not be surprised that he would study the Republican void and, like a high pressure salesman in a sharkskin suit, remake himself in the image of Jeb Bush. Mitt becomes Jeb, and why not? Jeb represents all that’s wrong with the Republican Party, so the marketing strategy could yield high returns. After all, someone has to fill the Republican leadership vacuum and Jeb can’t run – or can he? Would you bet against his becoming the Republican nominee if he could appear magically in the race tomorrow?

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