Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 7, 2008

What Romney Got Right

Everyone will be writing about the mistakes the Romney team made (e.g. ducking South Carolina, his wholesale position revisions). However, the Romney campaign got a few things very right. First, the early primaries do matter. His losses in Iowa and New Hampshire and McCain’s revival in the latter really set the course for the race. We were all distracted by McCain’s defeat in Michigan, but that was, after all, a home state win for Romney. With that sole deviation, it was largely McCain’s race after New Hampshire.

Second, there was an opening on the Right when the race started which Romney recognized as an opportunity. George Allen had fallen out of contention with his Senate loss and there was room to run to the right of McCain and Rudy. However, neither Romney nor anyone else saw Mike Huckabee coming. He denied Romney an Iowa win and from then on deprived Romney of social conservative votes. (The contrary argument is that these voters would never have gone for Romney, and, had it not been for Huckabee, would have been in McCain’s camp all along.)

Third, the economy is increasingly becoming the key issue of the campaign (in no small part, due to the success of the surge which McCain helped promote). With his business background Romney was well positioned to talk about the issue voters cared most about. However, voters who considered this the principle issue in New Hampshire, Florida and on Super Tuesday did not think he was the one best able to handle it. It is a mystery, perhaps a sign of lingering class envy and perhaps a sign that sole reliance on tax cuts as the bread and butter Republican message is running its course.

Finally, he left at the right moment, before he was looked upon as a spoiler. In a significant way, he made McCain’s job easier at CPAC and no doubt contributed to the warmer than expected reception McCain received. On one hand, you could say that he mathematically had lost and had no choice, but we all have choices to behave well or poorly. He wisely chose the former.

Everyone will be writing about the mistakes the Romney team made (e.g. ducking South Carolina, his wholesale position revisions). However, the Romney campaign got a few things very right. First, the early primaries do matter. His losses in Iowa and New Hampshire and McCain’s revival in the latter really set the course for the race. We were all distracted by McCain’s defeat in Michigan, but that was, after all, a home state win for Romney. With that sole deviation, it was largely McCain’s race after New Hampshire.

Second, there was an opening on the Right when the race started which Romney recognized as an opportunity. George Allen had fallen out of contention with his Senate loss and there was room to run to the right of McCain and Rudy. However, neither Romney nor anyone else saw Mike Huckabee coming. He denied Romney an Iowa win and from then on deprived Romney of social conservative votes. (The contrary argument is that these voters would never have gone for Romney, and, had it not been for Huckabee, would have been in McCain’s camp all along.)

Third, the economy is increasingly becoming the key issue of the campaign (in no small part, due to the success of the surge which McCain helped promote). With his business background Romney was well positioned to talk about the issue voters cared most about. However, voters who considered this the principle issue in New Hampshire, Florida and on Super Tuesday did not think he was the one best able to handle it. It is a mystery, perhaps a sign of lingering class envy and perhaps a sign that sole reliance on tax cuts as the bread and butter Republican message is running its course.

Finally, he left at the right moment, before he was looked upon as a spoiler. In a significant way, he made McCain’s job easier at CPAC and no doubt contributed to the warmer than expected reception McCain received. On one hand, you could say that he mathematically had lost and had no choice, but we all have choices to behave well or poorly. He wisely chose the former.

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World War IV: Powerline’s Book of the Year

Powerline has just announced that Norman Podhoretz’s World War IV is the winner of its first Book of the Year Award. Podhoretz is, of course, COMMENTARY’S Editor at Large, and the articles that formed the basis of the book first appeared in COMMENTARY. As Scott Johnson, one of the three proprietors of Powerline, writes:

We judge Podhoretz’s book perhaps the most important published last year. It is an elegantly written assessment of the long war in which we are engaged, and a passionate defense of the Bush Doctrine. As Podhoretz notes in the book, we have occasionally expressed our own second thoughts about the Bush Doctrine and do not necessarily agree with every tenet of his argument. We are nevertheless quite sure that it is a book, not just for this season, but for the foreseeable future during which the United States will confront the Islamist enemy that is at war with us.

The $25,000 prize, funded by an anonymous benefactor and to be donated in Podhoretz’s honor to Soldier’s Angels, makes it the most financially substantial award in American publishing. “With this award,” Johnson writes, “it is our intention to raise awareness of one of the several outstanding books published by conservative authors last year that have been or will be given short shrift by the Pulitzer and NBCC judges.” The award will be presented Monday night at a dinner in New York featuring Henry Kissinger and Mark Steyn.

Powerline has just announced that Norman Podhoretz’s World War IV is the winner of its first Book of the Year Award. Podhoretz is, of course, COMMENTARY’S Editor at Large, and the articles that formed the basis of the book first appeared in COMMENTARY. As Scott Johnson, one of the three proprietors of Powerline, writes:

We judge Podhoretz’s book perhaps the most important published last year. It is an elegantly written assessment of the long war in which we are engaged, and a passionate defense of the Bush Doctrine. As Podhoretz notes in the book, we have occasionally expressed our own second thoughts about the Bush Doctrine and do not necessarily agree with every tenet of his argument. We are nevertheless quite sure that it is a book, not just for this season, but for the foreseeable future during which the United States will confront the Islamist enemy that is at war with us.

The $25,000 prize, funded by an anonymous benefactor and to be donated in Podhoretz’s honor to Soldier’s Angels, makes it the most financially substantial award in American publishing. “With this award,” Johnson writes, “it is our intention to raise awareness of one of the several outstanding books published by conservative authors last year that have been or will be given short shrift by the Pulitzer and NBCC judges.” The award will be presented Monday night at a dinner in New York featuring Henry Kissinger and Mark Steyn.

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The Reviews: Lots of Thumbs Up

The conservative reviews are in and virtually everyone shares John and my view: it was outstanding. That take comes from the most loyal Romney supporters to a wide array of conservative voices. The “We’ll take Hillary” view is clearly out of fashion. One speech a reconciliation does not make, but realistically there is only one way forward now for former McCain critics: take credit and make the most of it.

The conservative reviews are in and virtually everyone shares John and my view: it was outstanding. That take comes from the most loyal Romney supporters to a wide array of conservative voices. The “We’ll take Hillary” view is clearly out of fashion. One speech a reconciliation does not make, but realistically there is only one way forward now for former McCain critics: take credit and make the most of it.

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Why Are We Funding Bushehr?

Yesterday, John Dingell, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, charged that a Department of Energy program is financially supporting two Russian institutes helping to build the Bushehr reactor in Iran, the country’s first nuclear generating station. The Bush administration has worked hard—and unsuccessfully—to stop Bushehr, which could be operating in a few months. “What policy logic justifies DOE funding Russian institutes which are providing nuclear technology to Iran?” Dingell asked in a letter to Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman. “How does this advance our non-proliferation goals?”

Good questions, Mr. Dingell. The program in question, the Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention, was created in 1994 to employ Russian scientists laid off after the end of the Cold War so they wouldn’t work for terrorist organizations or rogue states. Dingell cited two institutes funded by the program, Scientific Research Institute of Measuring Systems and the Federal Scientific and Industrial Center of Nuclear Machine Building.

The Department of Energy, through a spokesman for the National Nuclear Security Administration, denied the charges. “We are confident that none of the projects cited by the House committee, or any of the department’s scientist engagement projects with Russia, support nuclear work in Iran,” the NNSA stated. “In coordination with other U.S. government agencies, we take all measures necessary to ensure that neither money nor technology falls into the hands of countries of concern.”

Unfortunately, these days Washington and Moscow are not concerned about the same countries. We may think that Iran is exceedingly dangerous, but Russians apparently view that country as just another customer wanting to harness the atom for the good of humankind. Russia’s commercial relations with Iran, especially those involving the Bushehr plant, are one reason that Moscow is not willing to back meaningful sanctions in the United Nations Security Council.

There is another principal concern. It does not matter whether American funds are specifically earmarked for Iranian projects at those institutes. There is a problem if our money is going to those institutes for any purpose. Why? Because cash is fungible—any dollar that goes to an institute permits that organization to free up resources to help Iran. Moreover, Russian institutes seem to be thriving these days, so it’s high time to consider whether we should curtail our support of Russian nuclear scientists. “How many other Russian institutes funded by DOE are also performing work on the Iranian nuclear program?” Dingell’s letter asks. At present, we are paying for more than a hundred projects.

As Dingell noted this week, Federal law sanctions U.S. companies that develop Iranian oil. If we sanction our own companies, how can we assist Russian businesses that are hard at work furthering Tehran’s nuclear ambitions?

Yesterday, John Dingell, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, charged that a Department of Energy program is financially supporting two Russian institutes helping to build the Bushehr reactor in Iran, the country’s first nuclear generating station. The Bush administration has worked hard—and unsuccessfully—to stop Bushehr, which could be operating in a few months. “What policy logic justifies DOE funding Russian institutes which are providing nuclear technology to Iran?” Dingell asked in a letter to Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman. “How does this advance our non-proliferation goals?”

Good questions, Mr. Dingell. The program in question, the Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention, was created in 1994 to employ Russian scientists laid off after the end of the Cold War so they wouldn’t work for terrorist organizations or rogue states. Dingell cited two institutes funded by the program, Scientific Research Institute of Measuring Systems and the Federal Scientific and Industrial Center of Nuclear Machine Building.

The Department of Energy, through a spokesman for the National Nuclear Security Administration, denied the charges. “We are confident that none of the projects cited by the House committee, or any of the department’s scientist engagement projects with Russia, support nuclear work in Iran,” the NNSA stated. “In coordination with other U.S. government agencies, we take all measures necessary to ensure that neither money nor technology falls into the hands of countries of concern.”

Unfortunately, these days Washington and Moscow are not concerned about the same countries. We may think that Iran is exceedingly dangerous, but Russians apparently view that country as just another customer wanting to harness the atom for the good of humankind. Russia’s commercial relations with Iran, especially those involving the Bushehr plant, are one reason that Moscow is not willing to back meaningful sanctions in the United Nations Security Council.

There is another principal concern. It does not matter whether American funds are specifically earmarked for Iranian projects at those institutes. There is a problem if our money is going to those institutes for any purpose. Why? Because cash is fungible—any dollar that goes to an institute permits that organization to free up resources to help Iran. Moreover, Russian institutes seem to be thriving these days, so it’s high time to consider whether we should curtail our support of Russian nuclear scientists. “How many other Russian institutes funded by DOE are also performing work on the Iranian nuclear program?” Dingell’s letter asks. At present, we are paying for more than a hundred projects.

As Dingell noted this week, Federal law sanctions U.S. companies that develop Iranian oil. If we sanction our own companies, how can we assist Russian businesses that are hard at work furthering Tehran’s nuclear ambitions?

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McCain’s Triumph Today

What John McCain delivered at the Conservative Political Action Conference was a nearly perfect political speech in a nearly perfect setting. The rhetorical dynamic was to present McCain as an “imperfect servant” — first of his party and then of his country. This had the effect, first, of creating a mood of rueful modesty, which are the necessary critical grace notes for any speaker trying to make a case before a partly hostile audience. Any hostility shown him by the audience — and there was some — seemed unreasonable and ugly-spirited given the outstretched hand of the speaker.

The purpose of the speech was for McCain to make the case that he is a conservative, and indeed, it was a speech rooted in conservative philosophy, featuring two (count-‘em) quotes from Burke on the nature of liberty and the threats to it. But he did far more. He outlined the substance of his campaign against the Democratic nominee, whichever of the two it might be, as a consequential contest:

Often elections in this country are fought within the margins of small differences. This one will not be. We are arguing about hugely consequential things. Whomever the Democrats nominate, they would govern this country in a way that will, in my opinion, take this country backward to the days when government felt empowered to take from us our freedom to decide for ourselves the course and quality of our lives; to substitute the muddled judgment of large and expanding federal bureaucracies for the common sense and values of the American people; to the timidity and wishful thinking of a time when we averted our eyes from terrible threats to our security that were so plainly gathering strength abroad. It is shameful and dangerous that Senate Democrats are blocking an extension of surveillance powers that enable our intelligence and law enforcement to defend our country against radical Islamic extremists. This election is going to be about big things, not small things. And I intend to fight as hard as I can to ensure that our principles prevail over theirs.

No candidate in this race could have made the case against the Democrats so plainly, or presented the choice in November in terms more direct and clear. McCain may not have been Barack Obama, summoning his flock to the mountaintop for a hope-in, but this was catnip for conservative Republicans. He began in a mild spirit of abashment, moved to conciliation, then to polemic, and concluded with high patriotism:

You have heard me say before that for all my reputation as a maverick, I have only found true happiness in serving a cause greater than my self-interest. For me, that cause has always been our country, and the ideals that have made us great. I have been her imperfect servant for many years, and I have made many mistakes. You can attest to that, but need not. For I know them well myself. But I love her deeply and I will never, never tire of the honor of serving her.

If he can do half as well at the Republican Convention in August, McCain will prove himself as formidable a foe as the Democrats could fear and as Republicans could wish for.

What John McCain delivered at the Conservative Political Action Conference was a nearly perfect political speech in a nearly perfect setting. The rhetorical dynamic was to present McCain as an “imperfect servant” — first of his party and then of his country. This had the effect, first, of creating a mood of rueful modesty, which are the necessary critical grace notes for any speaker trying to make a case before a partly hostile audience. Any hostility shown him by the audience — and there was some — seemed unreasonable and ugly-spirited given the outstretched hand of the speaker.

The purpose of the speech was for McCain to make the case that he is a conservative, and indeed, it was a speech rooted in conservative philosophy, featuring two (count-‘em) quotes from Burke on the nature of liberty and the threats to it. But he did far more. He outlined the substance of his campaign against the Democratic nominee, whichever of the two it might be, as a consequential contest:

Often elections in this country are fought within the margins of small differences. This one will not be. We are arguing about hugely consequential things. Whomever the Democrats nominate, they would govern this country in a way that will, in my opinion, take this country backward to the days when government felt empowered to take from us our freedom to decide for ourselves the course and quality of our lives; to substitute the muddled judgment of large and expanding federal bureaucracies for the common sense and values of the American people; to the timidity and wishful thinking of a time when we averted our eyes from terrible threats to our security that were so plainly gathering strength abroad. It is shameful and dangerous that Senate Democrats are blocking an extension of surveillance powers that enable our intelligence and law enforcement to defend our country against radical Islamic extremists. This election is going to be about big things, not small things. And I intend to fight as hard as I can to ensure that our principles prevail over theirs.

No candidate in this race could have made the case against the Democrats so plainly, or presented the choice in November in terms more direct and clear. McCain may not have been Barack Obama, summoning his flock to the mountaintop for a hope-in, but this was catnip for conservative Republicans. He began in a mild spirit of abashment, moved to conciliation, then to polemic, and concluded with high patriotism:

You have heard me say before that for all my reputation as a maverick, I have only found true happiness in serving a cause greater than my self-interest. For me, that cause has always been our country, and the ideals that have made us great. I have been her imperfect servant for many years, and I have made many mistakes. You can attest to that, but need not. For I know them well myself. But I love her deeply and I will never, never tire of the honor of serving her.

If he can do half as well at the Republican Convention in August, McCain will prove himself as formidable a foe as the Democrats could fear and as Republicans could wish for.

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One Word Review of McCain’s Speech.

Wow.

Wow.

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McCain’s Speech: A Solid Start

McCain did himself a lot of good in his CPAC speech. The crowd gave him a very friendly welcome. The only boos I could discern came during his discussion of immigration reform. Throughout the speech he was interrupted several times by healthy applause. Specifically, he did six smart things:

First, he did not deny there are real differences between him and the assembled. He said : “Many of you have disagreed strongly with some positions I have taken in recent years. I understand that. I might not agree with it, but I respect it for the principled position it is. And it is my sincere hope that even if you believe I have occasionally erred in my reasoning as a fellow conservative, you will still allow that I have, in many ways important to all of us, maintained the record of a conservative. Further, I hope you will grant that I have defended many positions we share just as ardently as I have made my case for positions that have provoked your opposition. If not, thank you for this opportunity to make my case today.”

Second, he essentially said “No hard feelings. I will listen to you.” He explained: “We have had a few disagreements, and none of us will pretend that we won’t continue to have a few. But even in disagreement, especially in disagreement, I will seek the counsel of my fellow conservatives. If I am convinced my judgment is in error, I will correct it. And if I stand by my position, even after benefit of your counsel, I hope you will not lose sight of the far more numerous occasions when we are in complete accord.”

Third, he reviewed both his record and his campaign, making the point that he has and will stick by basic conservative principles including low taxes, fiscal discipline, Second Amendment rights, appointment of conservative judges and vigilance on the war on terror. (He cleverly reviewed the non-pandering he did in Iowa [on subsidies], in Michigan[on an auto bailout] and in Florida[on catastrophic insurance] which his opponents did not resist.)

Fourth, he stuck to his guns. He explained he learned that comprehensive immigration reform was a non-starter and would pursue border security first. The crowd greeted that pledge with applause. However, he made clear that there will be a point at which “we address other aspects of the problem in a way that defends the rule of law and does not encourage another wave of illegal immigration.” Even that drew a smattering of applause.

Fifth, he explained the gaping differences between the Democrats and him on taxes, judges, the Iraq war and health care.

Finally, he was gracious toward Romney, revealed the two had agreed to sit down and talk and reached out to his supporters. McCain is learning the necessity and importance of magnanimity. He even took up the smart Andy McCarthy’s suggestion on FISA.

In short, McCain did himself no harm in the general election and began the process of mending fences. He showed good humor and grace. If conservatives choose to snub him, they at least will not be able to say he did not try.

McCain did himself a lot of good in his CPAC speech. The crowd gave him a very friendly welcome. The only boos I could discern came during his discussion of immigration reform. Throughout the speech he was interrupted several times by healthy applause. Specifically, he did six smart things:

First, he did not deny there are real differences between him and the assembled. He said : “Many of you have disagreed strongly with some positions I have taken in recent years. I understand that. I might not agree with it, but I respect it for the principled position it is. And it is my sincere hope that even if you believe I have occasionally erred in my reasoning as a fellow conservative, you will still allow that I have, in many ways important to all of us, maintained the record of a conservative. Further, I hope you will grant that I have defended many positions we share just as ardently as I have made my case for positions that have provoked your opposition. If not, thank you for this opportunity to make my case today.”

Second, he essentially said “No hard feelings. I will listen to you.” He explained: “We have had a few disagreements, and none of us will pretend that we won’t continue to have a few. But even in disagreement, especially in disagreement, I will seek the counsel of my fellow conservatives. If I am convinced my judgment is in error, I will correct it. And if I stand by my position, even after benefit of your counsel, I hope you will not lose sight of the far more numerous occasions when we are in complete accord.”

Third, he reviewed both his record and his campaign, making the point that he has and will stick by basic conservative principles including low taxes, fiscal discipline, Second Amendment rights, appointment of conservative judges and vigilance on the war on terror. (He cleverly reviewed the non-pandering he did in Iowa [on subsidies], in Michigan[on an auto bailout] and in Florida[on catastrophic insurance] which his opponents did not resist.)

Fourth, he stuck to his guns. He explained he learned that comprehensive immigration reform was a non-starter and would pursue border security first. The crowd greeted that pledge with applause. However, he made clear that there will be a point at which “we address other aspects of the problem in a way that defends the rule of law and does not encourage another wave of illegal immigration.” Even that drew a smattering of applause.

Fifth, he explained the gaping differences between the Democrats and him on taxes, judges, the Iraq war and health care.

Finally, he was gracious toward Romney, revealed the two had agreed to sit down and talk and reached out to his supporters. McCain is learning the necessity and importance of magnanimity. He even took up the smart Andy McCarthy’s suggestion on FISA.

In short, McCain did himself no harm in the general election and began the process of mending fences. He showed good humor and grace. If conservatives choose to snub him, they at least will not be able to say he did not try.

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The Creeping Cult of Obama

On his blog at ABC News, Jake Tapper has a great round-up of the messianism of Obama supporters (and to some extent that of the candidate himself). Tapper cites Obama fan Kathleen Geier, who writes of conversations with her fellow travelers:

Excuse me, but this sounds more like a cult than a political campaign. The language used here is the language of evangelical Christianity – the Obama volunteers speak of ‘coming to Obama’ in the same way born-again Christians talk about ‘coming to Jesus.’

Then there’s Joe Klein at Time:

Rather than focusing on any specific issue or cause — other than an amorphous desire for change — the message is becoming dangerously self-referential. The Obama campaign all too often is about how wonderful the Obama campaign is.

Here’s Chris Matthews:

I’ve been following politics since I was about 5. I’ve never seen anything like this. This is bigger than Kennedy. [Obama] comes along, and he seems to have the answers. This is the New Testament.

If level-headed observers are beginning to re-employ critical judgement as they consider Obama, we may see a split between acolytes and the participants of a backlash. The Obama enthusiasm seems to have become so gigantic that it suddenly has to answer for itself. This is precisely Hillary’s dream come true.

On his blog at ABC News, Jake Tapper has a great round-up of the messianism of Obama supporters (and to some extent that of the candidate himself). Tapper cites Obama fan Kathleen Geier, who writes of conversations with her fellow travelers:

Excuse me, but this sounds more like a cult than a political campaign. The language used here is the language of evangelical Christianity – the Obama volunteers speak of ‘coming to Obama’ in the same way born-again Christians talk about ‘coming to Jesus.’

Then there’s Joe Klein at Time:

Rather than focusing on any specific issue or cause — other than an amorphous desire for change — the message is becoming dangerously self-referential. The Obama campaign all too often is about how wonderful the Obama campaign is.

Here’s Chris Matthews:

I’ve been following politics since I was about 5. I’ve never seen anything like this. This is bigger than Kennedy. [Obama] comes along, and he seems to have the answers. This is the New Testament.

If level-headed observers are beginning to re-employ critical judgement as they consider Obama, we may see a split between acolytes and the participants of a backlash. The Obama enthusiasm seems to have become so gigantic that it suddenly has to answer for itself. This is precisely Hillary’s dream come true.

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Odierno’s Departure

Nadia Schadlow has an excellent article in the Wall Street Journal pointing out why it would be folly to move General Petraeus out of Iraq prematurely. This is a point that others, including me, have previously made, but Nadia adds an important historical dimension by noting all of the major generals, from George Washington to Creighton Abrams, who have spent years overseas directing American war efforts. By those standards, Petraeus’s deployment abroad, while lengthy and strenuous (counting a tour in the Balkans, since 2001 he has spent 50 months, or more than four years, overseas), is not out of the norm.

What is abnormal, as Schadlow shows, is the American military’s current penchant for rotating almost everyone in the war zone after six, twelve, or, at most, eighteen months. (The State Department and CIA operate under similar policies.) That rotation policy is understandable when it comes to grunts who have to deal with combat and all its stresses. It makes less sense for headquarters staffers who serve in relative comfort and safety. (I stress relative, since life in Iraq or Afghanistan will always be a lot less safe and less comfortable than being stateside.) Turning over personnel constantly can lead to a loss of invaluable experience. Newcomers can take months to get up to speed, and in the meantime momentum may be lost.

That is a real concern because right now the entire headquarters staff of Multi-National Corps-Iraq is leaving Iraq along with its commander, Lieutenant General Ray Odierno. They are being replaced by an entirely new group of staff officers led by Lieutenant General Lloyd Austin. While Austin arrives to positive publicity, he has not wracked up the kind of invaluable experience that Odierno has during the past year while working with General Petraeus to direct the successful surge. Odierno arrived to some negative notices (in particular from Tom Ricks, author of Fiasco) but he is leaving to almost universal acclaim. The changeover will probably go smoothly, but there is a real risk of friction and loss of momentum.

The Defense Department should rethink its rotation policies. After Vietnam, the military rebelled against the policy of replacing individuals rather than entire units. The individual-rotation policy meant that often combat formations were made up of strangers—a deadly handicap in the heat of battle when esprit de corps is all-important. But while the unit rotation policy and 12- to 18-month tours make sense for combat units, they make less sense for staff officers, who could be deployed for longer periods and whose departures could be staggered to avoid a vast loss of experience such as the one we are now facing in Iraq.

Already General Petraeus and his predecessor, General George Casey, have served for longer than a year at a time, and so have a few of their key subordinates. It would make sense to extend that policy a bit more broadly.

Nadia Schadlow has an excellent article in the Wall Street Journal pointing out why it would be folly to move General Petraeus out of Iraq prematurely. This is a point that others, including me, have previously made, but Nadia adds an important historical dimension by noting all of the major generals, from George Washington to Creighton Abrams, who have spent years overseas directing American war efforts. By those standards, Petraeus’s deployment abroad, while lengthy and strenuous (counting a tour in the Balkans, since 2001 he has spent 50 months, or more than four years, overseas), is not out of the norm.

What is abnormal, as Schadlow shows, is the American military’s current penchant for rotating almost everyone in the war zone after six, twelve, or, at most, eighteen months. (The State Department and CIA operate under similar policies.) That rotation policy is understandable when it comes to grunts who have to deal with combat and all its stresses. It makes less sense for headquarters staffers who serve in relative comfort and safety. (I stress relative, since life in Iraq or Afghanistan will always be a lot less safe and less comfortable than being stateside.) Turning over personnel constantly can lead to a loss of invaluable experience. Newcomers can take months to get up to speed, and in the meantime momentum may be lost.

That is a real concern because right now the entire headquarters staff of Multi-National Corps-Iraq is leaving Iraq along with its commander, Lieutenant General Ray Odierno. They are being replaced by an entirely new group of staff officers led by Lieutenant General Lloyd Austin. While Austin arrives to positive publicity, he has not wracked up the kind of invaluable experience that Odierno has during the past year while working with General Petraeus to direct the successful surge. Odierno arrived to some negative notices (in particular from Tom Ricks, author of Fiasco) but he is leaving to almost universal acclaim. The changeover will probably go smoothly, but there is a real risk of friction and loss of momentum.

The Defense Department should rethink its rotation policies. After Vietnam, the military rebelled against the policy of replacing individuals rather than entire units. The individual-rotation policy meant that often combat formations were made up of strangers—a deadly handicap in the heat of battle when esprit de corps is all-important. But while the unit rotation policy and 12- to 18-month tours make sense for combat units, they make less sense for staff officers, who could be deployed for longer periods and whose departures could be staggered to avoid a vast loss of experience such as the one we are now facing in Iraq.

Already General Petraeus and his predecessor, General George Casey, have served for longer than a year at a time, and so have a few of their key subordinates. It would make sense to extend that policy a bit more broadly.

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Maybe He’s Busy Publishing Newsletters

Here’s a question: Just where, exactly, is all that money Ron Paul raised? In all, he garnered more than $28 million. He’s spent nearly $21 million. On what? A few web commercials? What happened to his frugal libertarianism?

Here’s a question: Just where, exactly, is all that money Ron Paul raised? In all, he garnered more than $28 million. He’s spent nearly $21 million. On what? A few web commercials? What happened to his frugal libertarianism?

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McCain Is Not The Only Possible Beneficiary

How does Mitt Romney’s departure affect the Democratic race? Let’s look at next Tuesday. In my home state of Virginia we do not register by party, so on Tuesday Independents and Republicans can vote in either race and many will choose to vote in the Democratic contest, the only active primary. Barack Obama would seem to be the natural beneficiary of this. Independents who want to “turn the page” and Republicans who want to dispense with the Clintons may find common cause with the “Yes we can ” crowd. Wisconsin, Ohio, and Texas are also “open” primaries for the Democrats. In a race which is now utterly deadlocked (Clinton leads with 1045 delegate to 906 for Obama) some small addition to Obama’s base of support may make a difference. I’m betting we will soon see “Republicans for Obama” groups “spontaneously” pop up around the country.

How does Mitt Romney’s departure affect the Democratic race? Let’s look at next Tuesday. In my home state of Virginia we do not register by party, so on Tuesday Independents and Republicans can vote in either race and many will choose to vote in the Democratic contest, the only active primary. Barack Obama would seem to be the natural beneficiary of this. Independents who want to “turn the page” and Republicans who want to dispense with the Clintons may find common cause with the “Yes we can ” crowd. Wisconsin, Ohio, and Texas are also “open” primaries for the Democrats. In a race which is now utterly deadlocked (Clinton leads with 1045 delegate to 906 for Obama) some small addition to Obama’s base of support may make a difference. I’m betting we will soon see “Republicans for Obama” groups “spontaneously” pop up around the country.

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Re: Romney’s Future

John, I see the chances of Romney on the ticket as very small. McCain loathes him and Romney does little to solve his problem with social conservatives, particularly in the South (Romney came in third in the Deep South states on Tuesday). I would suspect that Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour or South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford would be higher on the list. Romney never had success at the ballot box: he merely was the anti-McCain. The best he might do would be to be a loyal Republican and hope for the best in 2012 or 2016.

John, I see the chances of Romney on the ticket as very small. McCain loathes him and Romney does little to solve his problem with social conservatives, particularly in the South (Romney came in third in the Deep South states on Tuesday). I would suspect that Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour or South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford would be higher on the list. Romney never had success at the ballot box: he merely was the anti-McCain. The best he might do would be to be a loyal Republican and hope for the best in 2012 or 2016.

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Romney’s Future

The former Massachusetts governor explains his decision to drop out of the race:

I hate to lose. My family, my friends and our supporters… many of you right here in this room… have given a great deal to get me where I have a shot at becoming President. If this were only about me, I would go on. But I entered this race because I love America, and because I love America, I feel I must now stand aside, for our party and for our country.

Over the next few months, there will be a subtle dance between John McCain and Mitt Romney on the subject of the vice presidency. Romney must and should want it, since being the vice presidential nominee of the GOP will instantly make whoever is chosen one of the party’s leaders no matter what happens in the election (unless he embarrasses himself). But McCain seems not to like Romney, and he is an unusually personal politician — I suspect it will be difficult for him to choose someone whom he won’t consider a friend. Still, Romney does have strengths McCain does not, particularly on economic issues. But there is that big, overhanging, difficult-to-answer question: How many votes would his being a Mormon cost the ticket? Condemn me for raising it if you like, but you can be sure it will be part of any deliberation involving the selection of Romney for the Republican ticket.

The former Massachusetts governor explains his decision to drop out of the race:

I hate to lose. My family, my friends and our supporters… many of you right here in this room… have given a great deal to get me where I have a shot at becoming President. If this were only about me, I would go on. But I entered this race because I love America, and because I love America, I feel I must now stand aside, for our party and for our country.

Over the next few months, there will be a subtle dance between John McCain and Mitt Romney on the subject of the vice presidency. Romney must and should want it, since being the vice presidential nominee of the GOP will instantly make whoever is chosen one of the party’s leaders no matter what happens in the election (unless he embarrasses himself). But McCain seems not to like Romney, and he is an unusually personal politician — I suspect it will be difficult for him to choose someone whom he won’t consider a friend. Still, Romney does have strengths McCain does not, particularly on economic issues. But there is that big, overhanging, difficult-to-answer question: How many votes would his being a Mormon cost the ticket? Condemn me for raising it if you like, but you can be sure it will be part of any deliberation involving the selection of Romney for the Republican ticket.

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Romney Pulls Out

Mitt Romney is nothing if not a savvy businessman. We and others have calculated the nomination slipped out of grasp as the Super Tuesday votes were counted. He, smartly for himself, the Party and the country, pulled out.

Romney starts by giving a red meat, well received speech celebrating conservative values. He is, in front of the crowd, back to the Iowa Romney, stressing family and American traditional culture. He is energetic and polished, yet the speech strikes one as entirely ordinary. (That perhaps is part of his problem: offering oneself up as the conventional conservative is simply not enough, especially when not combined with a compelling messenger.) He then veers into energy independence and entitlement reform. Next, he addresses the threat of radical jihadism, whacking the Clinton presidency for cutting defense spending and reciting his litany of proposals to increase defense spending.
He warns that either Clinton or Obama would result in higher taxes and defeat in the war on terror. He says the crowd would be willing to fight on to the convention but that unlike 1976, this is a nation at war. This is both a clever and deeply reasonable basis for distinguishing between himself and Reagan and letting his followers down easy. He continues that it is not an easy decision and he “hates to lose,” but says it has “never been just about me.” All in all, a very classy way to go out. If he has ambitions for the future, he helped himself today.

Mitt Romney is nothing if not a savvy businessman. We and others have calculated the nomination slipped out of grasp as the Super Tuesday votes were counted. He, smartly for himself, the Party and the country, pulled out.

Romney starts by giving a red meat, well received speech celebrating conservative values. He is, in front of the crowd, back to the Iowa Romney, stressing family and American traditional culture. He is energetic and polished, yet the speech strikes one as entirely ordinary. (That perhaps is part of his problem: offering oneself up as the conventional conservative is simply not enough, especially when not combined with a compelling messenger.) He then veers into energy independence and entitlement reform. Next, he addresses the threat of radical jihadism, whacking the Clinton presidency for cutting defense spending and reciting his litany of proposals to increase defense spending.
He warns that either Clinton or Obama would result in higher taxes and defeat in the war on terror. He says the crowd would be willing to fight on to the convention but that unlike 1976, this is a nation at war. This is both a clever and deeply reasonable basis for distinguishing between himself and Reagan and letting his followers down easy. He continues that it is not an easy decision and he “hates to lose,” but says it has “never been just about me.” All in all, a very classy way to go out. If he has ambitions for the future, he helped himself today.

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Obama Secures Tie-Dye Vote

Reuters reports that three surviving members of the Grateful Dead reunited in San Francisco on Monday to perform in support of Barak Obama. The baby-boomer house band (whose album about aging “Touch of Grey” is now a mid-career work) clearly has no problem with the candidate who said:

“So, when I think of Baby Boomers, I think of my mother’s generation. And you know, I was too young for the formative period of the ’60s—civil rights, sexual revolution, Vietnam War. Those all sort of passed me by.”

Undoubtedly, those things sort of passed the band by, too. Here’s Reuters:

The concert started with a short video from Obama, filmed on an airplane, thanking the band. A thick cloud of marijuana smoke wafted through the air then and throughout the concert, and some fans engaged in free-style dance as though magically transported from 1968.

Magical transportation is a familiar theme in Obamaland. As best I can tell, it’s the mode of travel that’s brought him within striking distance of the presidency.

It should be no surprise that the first post-boomer candidate has support amongst boomers. To this generational enclave, in perpetual mid-life crisis, Obama is the Corvette convertible purchased at fifty years old or the new young girlfriend. (Which makes Hillary. . .) And on Obama’s end of the equation, it should be understood: boomers begat boomers-on-steroids. If baby-boomers are defined by self-importance, what greater fulfillment of their sensibility is there than a man who wants into the White House simply because he is who he is?

However, it seems this endorsement won’t give Obama much of a boost.

“Long live the Dead!” said Ron Svetlik, 51, who said he had attended more than 200 Grateful Dead concerts, starting in 1974.

The home builder said he had already voted by mail for the Green Party candidate, but added: “If I had to cast a write-in ballot, I’d put Jerry Garcia.”

WWJD? You know, What Would Jerry Do? Well, in a 1985 interview he sounded a bit like a psychedelic neocon:

“The weirdest thing lately for me was that thing of the Ayatollah and the mine-sweeping children. In the war between Iran and Iraq, he used kids and had them line up like a human chain, holding hands, and walk across the mine fields because it was cheaper than mine detectors…It’s amazingly inhuman. And people complained about the Shah – a few fingernails and stuff – but this is kids walking across mine fields. It’s absolutely surreal. How could people go for that?”

Frankly, that’s a clearer statement of foreign policy inclinations than anything we’ve been able to yank out of Obama.

Reuters reports that three surviving members of the Grateful Dead reunited in San Francisco on Monday to perform in support of Barak Obama. The baby-boomer house band (whose album about aging “Touch of Grey” is now a mid-career work) clearly has no problem with the candidate who said:

“So, when I think of Baby Boomers, I think of my mother’s generation. And you know, I was too young for the formative period of the ’60s—civil rights, sexual revolution, Vietnam War. Those all sort of passed me by.”

Undoubtedly, those things sort of passed the band by, too. Here’s Reuters:

The concert started with a short video from Obama, filmed on an airplane, thanking the band. A thick cloud of marijuana smoke wafted through the air then and throughout the concert, and some fans engaged in free-style dance as though magically transported from 1968.

Magical transportation is a familiar theme in Obamaland. As best I can tell, it’s the mode of travel that’s brought him within striking distance of the presidency.

It should be no surprise that the first post-boomer candidate has support amongst boomers. To this generational enclave, in perpetual mid-life crisis, Obama is the Corvette convertible purchased at fifty years old or the new young girlfriend. (Which makes Hillary. . .) And on Obama’s end of the equation, it should be understood: boomers begat boomers-on-steroids. If baby-boomers are defined by self-importance, what greater fulfillment of their sensibility is there than a man who wants into the White House simply because he is who he is?

However, it seems this endorsement won’t give Obama much of a boost.

“Long live the Dead!” said Ron Svetlik, 51, who said he had attended more than 200 Grateful Dead concerts, starting in 1974.

The home builder said he had already voted by mail for the Green Party candidate, but added: “If I had to cast a write-in ballot, I’d put Jerry Garcia.”

WWJD? You know, What Would Jerry Do? Well, in a 1985 interview he sounded a bit like a psychedelic neocon:

“The weirdest thing lately for me was that thing of the Ayatollah and the mine-sweeping children. In the war between Iran and Iraq, he used kids and had them line up like a human chain, holding hands, and walk across the mine fields because it was cheaper than mine detectors…It’s amazingly inhuman. And people complained about the Shah – a few fingernails and stuff – but this is kids walking across mine fields. It’s absolutely surreal. How could people go for that?”

Frankly, that’s a clearer statement of foreign policy inclinations than anything we’ve been able to yank out of Obama.

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No Immigration Litmus Tests

Some conservatives, such as Al Regnery, continue to claim that John McCain has to somehow appease the right for his apostasy on the immigration issue. But since when did being rabidly anti-immigrant—even rabidly anti-illegal immigrant—become a litmus test of conservatism? If that were the case, Ronald Reagan, who signed what many now denounce as an “amnesty bill” in 1986, would have flunked.

Moreover, this year’s voting results confirm what was already evident: that while immigration may be a hot-button issue for some conservatives (including, it seems, many talk radio hosts), it is hardly of paramount importance to most Republican voters, much less to the electorate as a whole. Mitt Romney, who had veered into the anti-immigrant camp, hoped to win votes because of his stance. No doubt he did, but it wasn’t enough, not even in states like California and Arizona that are supposedly the most anti-immigrant.

Early on Tuesday evening, right-wing pundits were pointing to exit polls showing McCain struggling in his home state as evidence that the immigration issue was catching up with him. Turns out those polls were off-base. McCain wound up winning Arizona with a bigger margin over Romney than Romney had over McCain in his home state of Massachusetts. Then McCain went on to clobber Romney in California, winning almost every congressional district, including those in southern California that were allegedly hotbeds of anti-immigrant sentiment. Far from hurting him, McCain’s more moderate stance on the issue is a plus. For one thing, it is reeling in Latino voters; Cuban-Americans may have made the margin of difference for McCain in the crucial state of Florida.

Anti-immigration sentiment is a fool’s gold issue. It looks alluring from a distance but up close it is revealed as nothing but dross. Just ask President Tancredo.

Some conservatives, such as Al Regnery, continue to claim that John McCain has to somehow appease the right for his apostasy on the immigration issue. But since when did being rabidly anti-immigrant—even rabidly anti-illegal immigrant—become a litmus test of conservatism? If that were the case, Ronald Reagan, who signed what many now denounce as an “amnesty bill” in 1986, would have flunked.

Moreover, this year’s voting results confirm what was already evident: that while immigration may be a hot-button issue for some conservatives (including, it seems, many talk radio hosts), it is hardly of paramount importance to most Republican voters, much less to the electorate as a whole. Mitt Romney, who had veered into the anti-immigrant camp, hoped to win votes because of his stance. No doubt he did, but it wasn’t enough, not even in states like California and Arizona that are supposedly the most anti-immigrant.

Early on Tuesday evening, right-wing pundits were pointing to exit polls showing McCain struggling in his home state as evidence that the immigration issue was catching up with him. Turns out those polls were off-base. McCain wound up winning Arizona with a bigger margin over Romney than Romney had over McCain in his home state of Massachusetts. Then McCain went on to clobber Romney in California, winning almost every congressional district, including those in southern California that were allegedly hotbeds of anti-immigrant sentiment. Far from hurting him, McCain’s more moderate stance on the issue is a plus. For one thing, it is reeling in Latino voters; Cuban-Americans may have made the margin of difference for McCain in the crucial state of Florida.

Anti-immigration sentiment is a fool’s gold issue. It looks alluring from a distance but up close it is revealed as nothing but dross. Just ask President Tancredo.

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Was Mike McConnell Asleep at the Switch?

The big news story coming out of the testimony of Mike McConnell, Director of National Intelligence, seems to be the admission that three al Qaeda suspects were indeed subjected to waterboarding in 2002 and 2003. Evidently it hurt. The three men talked.

But far more significant were the DNI’s comments about the Iran National Intelligence Estimate. As summarized by the Washington Post,

McConnell said that, in retrospect, “I probably would have changed a thing or two” in the public presentation two months ago of a National Intelligence Estimate that concluded that Iran had stopped work on the design of a nuclear weapon. The estimate appeared to conflict with Bush administration rhetoric and undermined Washington’s effort to win support for tough sanctions against Iran.

McConnell said yesterday that the halt in the design work was the “least important part” of the program and “the only thing halted.” He said Iran had continued its production of fissile material, although he noted that it faces “significant technical problems” operating centrifuges. He also disclosed differences within the community about when Tehran could get enough highly enriched uranium for a weapon, with some saying 2009, others 2010 to 2015, but all recognizing the possibility that it could not come “until after 2015.”

This admission is of course a step in the right direction, but there is something immensely galling about it. The NIE was issued in November. Here we are, two months later, after an immense amount of confusion has set in around the world about America’s policy toward Iran. Why did McConnell wait until now to set the record straight?

What is more, he is correcting the record in the most insouciant and understated manner: “I probably would have changed a thing or two,” hardly addresses the fact that the NIE was so profoundly misleading about the real state of the Iranian nuclear project.

Why is McConnell acting in this way? Connecting the Dots has a theory. When the National Intelligence Council released the declassified summary of the NIE, McConnell was asleep at the switch, unaware of what his subordinates were up to, and gave his approval without realizing its import. But to admit the full gravity of the mistake, and to take corrective action, including in the realm of personnel shifts, would have been a bureaucratic and political shot in his own foot. Far better to soft-pedal things all around.

Of course, Connecting the Dots finds it difficult to believe that McConnell, who has a lifetime of outstanding and highly professional public service behind him, would put the preservation of his own image ahead of the public weal. But perhaps human nature set in and the two became confused in his own mind. If so, it would not be the first time in history that that particular human frailty set in.

The big news story coming out of the testimony of Mike McConnell, Director of National Intelligence, seems to be the admission that three al Qaeda suspects were indeed subjected to waterboarding in 2002 and 2003. Evidently it hurt. The three men talked.

But far more significant were the DNI’s comments about the Iran National Intelligence Estimate. As summarized by the Washington Post,

McConnell said that, in retrospect, “I probably would have changed a thing or two” in the public presentation two months ago of a National Intelligence Estimate that concluded that Iran had stopped work on the design of a nuclear weapon. The estimate appeared to conflict with Bush administration rhetoric and undermined Washington’s effort to win support for tough sanctions against Iran.

McConnell said yesterday that the halt in the design work was the “least important part” of the program and “the only thing halted.” He said Iran had continued its production of fissile material, although he noted that it faces “significant technical problems” operating centrifuges. He also disclosed differences within the community about when Tehran could get enough highly enriched uranium for a weapon, with some saying 2009, others 2010 to 2015, but all recognizing the possibility that it could not come “until after 2015.”

This admission is of course a step in the right direction, but there is something immensely galling about it. The NIE was issued in November. Here we are, two months later, after an immense amount of confusion has set in around the world about America’s policy toward Iran. Why did McConnell wait until now to set the record straight?

What is more, he is correcting the record in the most insouciant and understated manner: “I probably would have changed a thing or two,” hardly addresses the fact that the NIE was so profoundly misleading about the real state of the Iranian nuclear project.

Why is McConnell acting in this way? Connecting the Dots has a theory. When the National Intelligence Council released the declassified summary of the NIE, McConnell was asleep at the switch, unaware of what his subordinates were up to, and gave his approval without realizing its import. But to admit the full gravity of the mistake, and to take corrective action, including in the realm of personnel shifts, would have been a bureaucratic and political shot in his own foot. Far better to soft-pedal things all around.

Of course, Connecting the Dots finds it difficult to believe that McConnell, who has a lifetime of outstanding and highly professional public service behind him, would put the preservation of his own image ahead of the public weal. But perhaps human nature set in and the two became confused in his own mind. If so, it would not be the first time in history that that particular human frailty set in.

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Huckabee an Unlikely VP

Since Mike Huckabee’s surprise showing on Tuesday, talk about a McCain-Huckabee ticket has neared the level of legitimate speculation. The thinking is that Huckabee victories in southern states like Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas, and Georgia, demonstrate the value of an Evangelical-friendly name on a GOP ticket.

When this idea was floated on Fox News Tuesday night, Karl Rove, in his new talking head role, dismissed it immediately—with good reason. Christianity Today reports that evangelical voters are now more concerned with national security than with social issues such as abortion. (Pat Robertson’s endorsement of Giuliani made that clear.) John McCain’s vision of the enemy as a threat to the American way of life is comfortably close to the Evangelical vision of jihad as a threat to Christianity. Somewhat shockingly, unlike some of the conservative media, Evangelicals can prioritize. John McCain has said many times (including, once, to me) that he’s looking for a strong national security vice president. He’d have an impossible time defending his choice of the man who didn’t know of the existence of the NIE on Iran. The compulsion to over-strategize in speculating about the McCain campaign has grown directly out of the Limbaugh-right’s insistence that McCain is embattled within the party. And in a national election, few evangelicals are going to pull the lever for Hillary or Obama over him. But if, after running almost entirely on national security, he hitched himself to a foreign policy ignoramus like Huckabee, he may first face detractors en masse.

Since Mike Huckabee’s surprise showing on Tuesday, talk about a McCain-Huckabee ticket has neared the level of legitimate speculation. The thinking is that Huckabee victories in southern states like Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas, and Georgia, demonstrate the value of an Evangelical-friendly name on a GOP ticket.

When this idea was floated on Fox News Tuesday night, Karl Rove, in his new talking head role, dismissed it immediately—with good reason. Christianity Today reports that evangelical voters are now more concerned with national security than with social issues such as abortion. (Pat Robertson’s endorsement of Giuliani made that clear.) John McCain’s vision of the enemy as a threat to the American way of life is comfortably close to the Evangelical vision of jihad as a threat to Christianity. Somewhat shockingly, unlike some of the conservative media, Evangelicals can prioritize. John McCain has said many times (including, once, to me) that he’s looking for a strong national security vice president. He’d have an impossible time defending his choice of the man who didn’t know of the existence of the NIE on Iran. The compulsion to over-strategize in speculating about the McCain campaign has grown directly out of the Limbaugh-right’s insistence that McCain is embattled within the party. And in a national election, few evangelicals are going to pull the lever for Hillary or Obama over him. But if, after running almost entirely on national security, he hitched himself to a foreign policy ignoramus like Huckabee, he may first face detractors en masse.

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Who Is Kidding Whom?

As of last night, John McCain had at least 707 delegates, Mitt Romney had 294 and Mike Huckabee had 195. A candidate needs 1191 delegates to win. McCain’s total will go up as the California delegates are parceled out. By my math, there are 1147 delegates yet to be awarded (again, some of these are actually already in McCain’s column from California). This means:

McCain needs 487 484 of 1147

Romney needs 897 of 1147

Huckabee needs 996 of 1147

Whatever Romney is up to, it cannot realistically be about winning. It only prevents some from getting over the “sit in the wilderness” fixation.

As of last night, John McCain had at least 707 delegates, Mitt Romney had 294 and Mike Huckabee had 195. A candidate needs 1191 delegates to win. McCain’s total will go up as the California delegates are parceled out. By my math, there are 1147 delegates yet to be awarded (again, some of these are actually already in McCain’s column from California). This means:

McCain needs 487 484 of 1147

Romney needs 897 of 1147

Huckabee needs 996 of 1147

Whatever Romney is up to, it cannot realistically be about winning. It only prevents some from getting over the “sit in the wilderness” fixation.

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