Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Where Was Alan Keyes?

In a spirit of bipartisanship bordering on masochism, I watched the Republican Economic debate last night. The usual suspects were there, plus the debate debut of Fred Thompson. Missing was Alan Keyes, who made what can best be described as the ultimate token appearance by showing up at the “Urban” debate hosted by Tavis Smiley, as if to say “look, we have one too”. Of course, when Republicans talk about money, they’re talking to and for white people; mostly rich white people, with a smattering of very rich white people thrown in. So there really was no point in having Keyes show up again.
As for the debate itself, apparently, all these guys believe in the free market. Rudy spent a lot of his time attacking Hillary Clinton. Romney spent his time attacking Rudy. McCain spent his time attacking Iraq. Ron Paul attacked the war in Iraq. Tom Tancredo attacked illegal immigrants and in a mild surprise, Duncan Hunter attacked China. It’s not that Hunter wouldn’t attack the other things, but China appears to be his main target. Sam Brownback attacked single-parent families, while Mike Huckabee hates the IRS. Fred Thompson attacked insomnia, with a performance which could graciously be described as tepid.
If Mitt Romney is the happy warrior in this race – when asked the greatest threat to America’s economic future, he answered, to all intents and purposes, pessimism – then Thompson is the Grinch. It was a little hard to follow at times, through his soporific style, but either things are good and getting worse, or things are not so good and getting worse. Along with being dull and uninspiring, he looks like he hasn’t slept in a few months. He actually makes John McCain look young. This guy isn’t winning anything.
If Hillary is the Democratic nominee, look for steady attacks on any program she might suggest, with words like “socialism” and “HillaryCare” being bandied about. There may have been many changes in Republican philosophy over the last half century – from isolationism to preemptive war, from fiscal responsibility to “let’s spend the grandkids money” – but one thing that has remained fixed like a constellation above is fear of any medical help from the government. Any government medical program, Medicare, Medicaid, SCHIP, you name it, will inevitably lead to (all together now) socialized medicine. You have to give them credit for consistency, if not intellectual depth or human decency.
The question arises, less than four months from Super Duper Tuesday, what to make of these guys? I may not be the best judge of what Republican voters will decide – but the fact is, the Republican Party has not had this kind of wide open race in anyone’s memory. I think you have to go back to Wendell Willkie to find their last nominee who wasn’t either obvious or the end result of a head-to-head battle, so no one really knows anything here. Looking at this group, it’s hard to find the clear leader. Rudy clearly has a goodly amount of popularity, but just as clearly has many problems with the base. Mitt Romney has been the Washington insider pick for months but he creeps me out and I suspect I’m not alone, even on the right. His religious problems in the South may not be transitory and while he has made some progress in the polls, at least in Rasmussen where he’s in the mid-teens, he’s spent a lot of cash to do it. Add in his horrible Gallup poll numbers (9% in the latest survey) and he looks like a far less formidable candidate than the insiders claim. Thompson, while knowledgeable, is really dull and his numbers have stalled. Ron Paul isn’t getting the nomination, but he has more money than McCain (which is why McCain isn’t winning anything) and could get a surprisingly large share of early primary votes from the outvoted but still existent libertarian wing of the party. Hunter, Brownback, and Tancredo are irrelevant. Which leaves us with Huckabee – solidly conservative, very religious, totally comfortable with himself, not a Mormon, an altogether pleasant fellow. His poll numbers are low – 6% in Rasmussen, 7% in Gallup (although Gallup posits that he could be on the verge of passing Romney) – but I would not be surprised to see him emerge in January as the real conservative standard bearer. I think the nominee comes from Rudy, Romney, or Huckabee, with Huckabee on the ticket in any case.

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