Topic: 2008 election
The New Hampshire primary is tomorrow, and I will be extremely surprised if Obama and McCain don't win. I agree with those who say that Clinton is in serious trouble if she loses tomorrow; Obama WILL win South Carolina, so even if Clinton wins Nevada, Obama will have won three of the first four and have all the momentum heading into February 5. Obama's surge and Clinton's subsequent fall doesn't surprise me too much. After all, Hillary wasn't a Clinton, she'd be an unremarkable second term junior senator who, let's face it, seems to be just a bit of a calculating asshole. Look past the name: she's NOT a remarkable candidate (and Joe Biden and Chris Dodd probably wanted to stab their brains with a screwdriver every time she touted herself as the "experience" candidate). Obama, on the otherhand - superficial or not - is overflowing with charisma.
More interesting right now, in my opinion, are the Republicans. I stand by my prediction that Huckabee will win (see my previous blog), but it's really up in the air. What I can't believe is that, recently, I've started re-asking myself a question to which I thought I knew the answer: can McCain win the nomination?
For a long, long, time, I though the answer was a resounding "no." Here's my logic: if there's one thing I know about the Republican party, it's that moderates don't run it. And John McCain is unquestionably a moderate (he calls himself a "conservative Republican," but his record says otherwise). And his record SINCE his last Presidental run is more moderate than his record before it. He's dissented with Republicans on seminal conservative issues including taxes, immigration, and lobbying reform. Republicans feel about him the way Democrats feel about Joe Lieberman. Many conservatives view him as a traitor, and maybe a bit disingenuous (a "RINO" - Republican In Name Only). So, for a long time, I've menally ruled him out. But his resurgence in New Hampshire has reminded me: Northeast Republicans do exist.
The Northeast Republican - identified by their aversions to taxation and foreign entanglements - used to be quite common. George HW Bush was a Northeast Republican, as was - to a lesser extent - Bob Dole (in ideology, if not in geography). But the Dole candidacy was probably the last sighting of the Northeast Republican on the national stage; since then, the most prominent Republicans at the national level have been George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Newt Gingrich (he was speaker for two more years after '96), Trent Lott, Mitch McConnell, and Tom Delay. The Republican Party has developed a definite southern accent. Social issues - such as abortion, gay marriage, and immigration - are much more important. Foreign policy has been simplified to "with us or against us" (actually, "again' us"). Bush won exactly zero Northeastern states in his two elections, and there are only five senators from Northeastern states out of a possible 22 (Collins, Snowe, Spector, Sununu, & Gregg, who are all liberal by Republican standards). At the national level, it's easy to forget that Northeast Republicans exist.
And I had. BUT, in the Republican primaries, they're suddenly a factor again. And that's what I had forgotten: John McCain could conceivably win the Republican nomination by focusing almost exclusively on states that Bush lost in both elections. The fact that the Republican field is more fractured makes this even more possible; he doens't need a majority, but only a plurality. It remains true: hardcore conservatives hat McCain and always will. But he may be able to win the nomination by winning over the long-forgotten MODERATE conservatives.
There's one more factor working in his favor: the country, as a whole, is moving to the left at the moment. Bush is polling in the low-30s (which is about where Nixon was post-Watergate), and people seem ready for a change after 7 years of a conservative presidency (which was accompanied by 5 and 1/2 years of a conservative congress). Moreover, people are looking for "change" candidates (such as Obama), and that plays to McCain's strengths. I'm sure that many Republicans are questioning whether another social conservative (such as Huckabee) or a seriously flawed candidate (such as Romney or Guliani) can win. And as the Democrats get closer to a nominee, the Republicans - who will then start to seriously contemplate a world in which the Democratic candidate is president - are likely to become more pragmatic.
So, do I now think McCain will win? No. He is still vulnerable to being painted as soft on what seems to be THE only issue on the Republican side: immigration. He can also be painted as an insufficiently agressive tax-cutter (another cardinal sin for a Republican). Also, he doesn't seem to enjoy torture for some reason, which will cost him.
There's also this to consider: Guliani and Romney might pick up enough Northern and Western states to screw McCain in the end. Thompson is dead in the water, which leaves Huckabee as the clear choice for evangelicals. Huckabee still faces a lot of challenges - mostly, the fact that he doens't have any money - but a strategy of focusing on the Southern and plains states might work well for him. Of course, a strategy like that requires a lot of money. So, basically, anything could happen.
But McCain is in the mix, which is more than I would have granted him a month ago. I won't read too much into his win in New Hampshire; he won there in 2000, and independents can vote in New Hampshire, which isn't the case in most other primaries. And I won't make the mistake that I made in 2000; that year, part of me wanted Bush to win the nomination because I thought McCain would be tougher to beat in the general election. And, of course, we ended up with eight years of Bush, which have been terrible, instead of eight years of McCain, which probably would have been okay. So, I'm going to root for McCain to win the nomination this time around.
Even though he won't.