Friday, November 30, 2007

Republicans Went to Florida and All We Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt

For me, watching a Republican debate is almost an anthropological quest, observing a strange culture, similar to ours, yet with a set of values all its own. It is a culture which has child-like faith in the markets, knows its enemies (and wants to kill them), and cares more about unborn babies than small children. They like guns and Jesus, and feel they are misunderstood by minority groups. They hate taxes but, for the most part, have no problem spending money. Although they did promise to veto any bill containing “pork” – defined, I assume, as any project or program advanced by a Democrat.
Assessing these exotics isn’t easy for me, but since I figure it is important for our future to try and understand what motivates those who do not agree with us, I shall try. I do feel optimistic about my ability to grade them because I seem to have done a pretty good job of predicting the current state of affairs in my debate wrap-up of two months ago.
It was an interesting debate, reminding me more of the 20 minute fight scene at the end of John Ford’s “The Quiet Man”, than of Lincoln-Douglas. Romney attacked Rudy, Rudy attacked Romney, Thompson attacked Romney and Huckabee, McCain attacked Romney and Paul, Paul attacked pretty much everyone, and everyone ignored Tancredo and Hunter. Huckabee didn’t directly attack anyone, unless it was employees of the IRS, although his YouTube ad sort of attacked Rudy and Romney.
The YouTube ads varied between dreary and scary, with two exceptions. Rudy’s actually was funny, talking up the great job he did as Mayor, including fighting NYC’s great enemy, King Kong, and reducing snowfall. Fred Thomson used his 30 seconds to run a blatant attack ad against Romney and Huckabee, using old speeches to show how they weren’t conservative. It shocked the house and resulted in CNN allowing them to respond. This was good for Romney, as he got to assert his anti-abortion position and describe the moment of his conversion to that.
McCain was strong, forceful, authoritative, and really ripped Romney on his refusal to come out against waterboarding. He pointed out his first-hand knowledge of the world, and how, unlike the current President when he took office (and by extension, most of the others on stage), he is already prepared to deal with the tough foreign policy issues. He kept dropping the phrase “my friends” into his answers. I think his use of the phrase was less a statement of kinship than the desperate hope that those listening really were friendly toward him. Unfortunately, they aren’t – they just don’t trust him, and unlike Democrats, they aren’t nominating someone they don’t trust.
Rudy got off to a shaky start in his battle with Romney over “sanctuary cities”, but looked good the rest of the way. Oddly, I think his greatest strength is that Republicans do trust him. Even though they don’t always agree with him, they know what he’s about. Which is something they really aren’t sure of with Romney, who seems panicked over Huckabee – and rightly so. Rasmussen actually has Huckabee edging ahead of Mitt in Iowa and should he manage to upset Romney there, there is an excellent chance Mitt’s campaign falls apart.
Thompson had some moments, seems better than he was earlier in the campaign, yet his video attack on Huckabee reveals his problem – he hasn’t won the hearts of conservatives. Every position he took was very conservative and his answer to “how many guns do you own and what kind?” (seriously, this is the kind of questions Republicans consider important) was “I’m not telling you what guns I have or where I keep them”, which got a big laugh from the crowd. He hasn’t caught fire and probably is running out of time.
So what do we make of the fast-charging Huckabee? As my loyal readers might remember, I predicted this rise two months ago, when Huck was at about 7%. Now that he is poised to do something big, what do we have here? He is an odd mix – a social conservative with a man who believes government can do things to help the poor. He is a Christian in the best sense of the word, with a belief in helping those who cannot help themselves. Still, he is very pro-war, very anti-choice, very pro-gun, and wants to abolish the income tax. His charm and wit are endearing, yet he is a little scary. Folks, he is a Southern Baptist minister. Haven’t we had enough of religious fundamentalists in power? Do we really need to go this far?
I think Rudy is the favorite for the nomination, as much because there isn’t a strong enough challenger as through any strength of his own. I expect Huckabee to seriously wound Romney in Iowa, with Romney eking out a small win in NH, and Rudy winning in Florida. Someone wins an indecisive victory in SC, then Rudy rolls on February 5th, as much because there is no one opponent strong enough to go head-to-head with him as through his own popularity. Barring some scandalous revelation about him (and boy, is that a real possibility), Rudy gets the nomination by taking Huckabee as his running-mate. Now...if Hillary’s campaign nose-dives early, all bets are off.

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