The Republicans have a really fascinating field of candidates this time around. What makes them so interesting is that the top tier of candidates consists entirely of people that the GOP wouldn't normally nominate. The traditional conservatives are basically in the second tier. Weird year.
In 2000, this guy learned the nasty lesson that becoming America's favorite politician is not the way to win the Republican nomination. The parties, as I tell my students, work very hard to filter out the centrists, so that voters are forced to choose between extremists. It's not very satisfying for the bulk of moderate voters out there, but that's how it works. McCain never took my class so he had to learn this lesson the hard way.
So he's been steadily marching rightward, sucking up to the folks he derided as "agents of intolerance" a few years ago. Is it working? I'm not convinced. Political activists have very long memories. McCain is certainly saying all the right things to win over the party's hardcores, but I'm not sure they'll trust him. After all, if he gets in, he's in for four, possibly eight years, and he can do a lot of damage in that time - appointing centrists to the Supreme Court, putting limits on torture, balancing the budget, working with our allies overseas, etc. Who needs that?
So maybe, just maybe, McCain will convince the hardcores that he's with them, and will give them all sorts of pledges as to how he'd behave in office, and they can hold him to those. But it's still a struggle for him. And even if he does win them over, he's lost a lot of his cache with centrist voters. It's been hard not to notice his transformation lately. In the words of Jon Stewart, the Straight Talk Express has been re-routed through Bullshit Town.
I have a really hard time imagining him as the nominee. He's pro-choice, supportive of gay rights, okay with gun control, etc. He's committed adultery and is on his third marriage. My Republican friends keep telling me I understate his appeal among conservatives. That is, in Rudy's heart of hearts, he's really a conservative - in the words of Sideshow Bob, he wants to "lower taxes, brutalize criminals, and rule you like a king." He had to moderate to some extent because he was, well, mayor of New York, but he'd actually be good for the Republican cause in the White House.
I'm still amazed at how much Americans in general seem to like Rudy, and all because of 9/11. I mean, what did he really do? He gave an excellent press conference on 9/11 while Bush was running and hiding all day long. Don't get me wrong, it really was an excellent press conference. He was very much in control of the information flow - he communicated what he knew very effectively and tried to avoid speculation, he expressed the right combination of anger, remorse, professionalism, etc. These really are leadership qualities. But basically it was one day and one crisis. Most days are not like that.
And, of course, he wasn't much of a uniter prior to 9/11. Reviews of his leadership in New York were pretty mixed, with some folks being impressed by his ability to clean up Times Square and others terrified by the methods he used to do that.
On the whole, though, I'm guessing he'll win if he's nominated, but that his chances for nomination are very low.
I don't particularly care if the man's a Mormon. I know many devout Christians are bothered by some of the main claims of Mormonism - you know, the stuff about there being new tablets written by God that showed up in upstate New York in the 1830s, Jesus visiting North America and talking to the natives, etc. To me, this doesn't sound any crazier than the founding myths of any other major religion, except that it happened after the Constitution was written.
At any rate, I know that many Evangelical Christians within the Republican party do care about this stuff and are not inclined to vote for Romney as a result. Probably more important is that Romney was to Teddy Kennedy's left on several key issues - like gay marriage - until pretty recently. Suddenly he's a born again conservative. Hey, even Ann Coulter likes him now.
So, it probably helps Romney that he's the sort of Republican who can win in Massachusetts. But that's only if the Republicans are just thinking about electability. If they care about, you know, conservative principles, Romney's got to fall in the same category with McCain and Giuliani - "Sure, we like what he's saying now, but judging from his past, can we trust him in the future?"
Huckabee is probably the best of the second tier. He's more of a traditional conservative but knows how to communicate his beliefs in a way that doesn't terrify people. He came off as disturbingly sane during a recent Daily Show interview - I would even describe him as likeable. Perhaps he figures he has conservative enough credentials that he doesn't need to suck up to the right at this point in the game.
I don't know too much about his work as Arkansas' governor. I've heard decent things about his health initiative for children and about his policies in general. My Arkansan friends used to deride him as "that fat Baptist preacher," but this has lost its sting since he lost 100 lbs. Generally speaking, the absence of much of a record can be helpful, particularly when other opponents have problems with their records.
To me, Huckabee seems like a natural coordination point for Republican kingmakers. Three very big and very powerful candidates have to stumble for Huckabee to end up the nominee, but I still think he should be taken seriously.
He's in this for the immigration issue, which people in New Hampshire really don't care about, except for those damned Canadian tourists bringing in coins with Queen Elizabeth's face on them. This campaign will go nowhere quickly, but he'll be able to declare victory and go home.
He's pretty batshit, as I understand it.
I have a colleague that believes Newt will be the next nominee. I ain't buyin' it. He's never won an election outside of Cobb County, Georgia, and I've seen nothing to convince me he ever will. Sucking up to the right by confessing adultery is a novel campaign tactic, so I give him full points for that, but I really don't see this going anywhere.
I'd recommend him as a good ticket-balancing vice presidential candidate for Huckabee. After all, Huckabee is a DC outsider who can control his weight, while Gingrich....