Commentary Magazine


Topic: Fred Thompson

Is Schweitzer the Dems’ Chris Christie?

At a 2007 event in Jacksonville, Florida for his presidential primary campaign, Fred Thompson offered a version of a line he used repeatedly when campaigning in the South: “I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it to be back somewhere that they don’t think I talk with a funny accent.” (I vaguely remember hearing an even better version, in which he responded to a question about who his constituency was supposed to be by quipping that to many Republican voters, he was the only candidate in the race who spoke without an accent.)

The line worked because that year the better-known GOP candidates were from Massachusetts (Mitt Romney), New York (Rudy Giuliani), and Arizona (John McCain). But it would strike a chord in either party; in 2007, the three most recent Democratic presidents were Bill Clinton (Arkansas), Jimmy Carter (Georgia), and Lyndon Johnson (Texas). Yet beyond the specific issue of accents, politicians from coastal enclaves often struggle to relate to Middle America. And that’s why former Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer might just make some trouble for Hillary Clinton in 2016–in part because of the possible presence in the race of, as Jonathan noted earlier, the California gadfly Jerry Brown.

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At a 2007 event in Jacksonville, Florida for his presidential primary campaign, Fred Thompson offered a version of a line he used repeatedly when campaigning in the South: “I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it to be back somewhere that they don’t think I talk with a funny accent.” (I vaguely remember hearing an even better version, in which he responded to a question about who his constituency was supposed to be by quipping that to many Republican voters, he was the only candidate in the race who spoke without an accent.)

The line worked because that year the better-known GOP candidates were from Massachusetts (Mitt Romney), New York (Rudy Giuliani), and Arizona (John McCain). But it would strike a chord in either party; in 2007, the three most recent Democratic presidents were Bill Clinton (Arkansas), Jimmy Carter (Georgia), and Lyndon Johnson (Texas). Yet beyond the specific issue of accents, politicians from coastal enclaves often struggle to relate to Middle America. And that’s why former Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer might just make some trouble for Hillary Clinton in 2016–in part because of the possible presence in the race of, as Jonathan noted earlier, the California gadfly Jerry Brown.

I say “make some trouble” because it’s not as though Schweitzer would be a juggernaut in a primary. He doesn’t have the name recognition of the others, and it’s doubtful his fundraising could keep pace with well-known candidates from California and New York. Additionally, in the Democratic Party coastal elitism sells, so Schweitzer may not have an advantage even if he can come across as the “normal” candidate. (And let’s be honest: if your opponent is known as “Moonbeam” Brown, you’d better come across as the normal candidate.)

In fact, the case can be made that Schweitzer would be more like the Democratic version of Chris Christie: perhaps too moderate for the base despite that crossover appeal’s advantage in a general election. Schweitzer’s moderation comes on an issue of new resonance to the Democratic Party’s base but on which they stand opposed to public opinion: gun rights.

Schweitzer’s support for gun rights was, once upon a time, part of what made him seem a dream candidate for Democrats–that combined with the fact that after Al Gore and John Kerry, the Democrats were worried they had nothing but self-serious, humorless, and completely unlikeable candidates to offer in national elections. In 2006, the New York Times’s profile of Schweitzer captured this dynamic perfectly. It began:

It’s fun being governor of Montana. Just watch Brian Schweitzer bouncing around the streets of Helena in the passenger seat of the state’s official S.U.V., fumbling with wires, trying to stick the flashing police light on the roof. When he spots some legislators on the sidewalk, he blasts them with the siren, then summons them by name on the loudspeaker. The men jump, and the governor tumbles out of the car, doubled in laughter, giving everyone a bear hug or a high-five or a soft slap on the cheek. Schweitzer, a Democrat in his first term, marches into a barroom in blue jeans and cowboy boots and a beaded bolo tie, and his border collie, Jag, leaps out of the vehicle and follows him in. The governor throws back a few pints of the local brew and introduces himself to everyone in the place, down to the servers and a small girl stuck there with her parents. He takes time from the backslapping to poach cubes of cheese from the snack platter and sneak them to the girl, who is now chasing his dog around the bar. “This is how you make friends with Jag,” he advises her. “Just hold it in your hand and let him take it.”

As soon as Schweitzer was elected in 2004 — the same night that George W. Bush carried Montana by 20 percentage points — pundits began declaring him the future of the Democratic Party. Never mind that it was his first elected office: the 51-year-old farmer and irrigation contractor had folksy charm and true-grit swagger. He shot guns, rode horses, took his dog to work and decimated his opponents with off-the-cuff one-liners heavy on the bull-and-horse metaphors. He didn’t act like a Democrat, in other words, and to many Democrats, reeling from consecutive losses to Bush, that seemed like a pretty good thing.

Schweitzer himself seems to view his support for gun rights as not just cultural, but ideological: National Journal calls his worldview a “brand of libertarian populism.” This certainly overstates the case: the same article even starts off with a riff on Schweitzer’s support for single-payer health care. But this does get at why Schweitzer would be a reasonably effective general-election candidate. In today’s Democratic Party, he is considered “libertarian,” underlining just how far to the left the Democrats have shifted as a national party.

That ideology would be a pleasant contrast with Hillary Clinton’s baldly statist impulses (“there isn’t really any such thing as someone else’s child,” etc.), and with Moonbeam Brown’s failed-state bureaucracy. And to many voters, he’d also be the only one without an accent.

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LIVE BLOG: Will There Be Any Surprises?

In past “wave” elections, weird things happen in Senate races no one expects. In ’80, it was the victory of Jeremiah Denton in Alabama. In ’94, it was Fred Thompson winning in a landslide in a race everyone thought would be close. In 2008, it was the bouncing of Elizabeth Dole in North Carolina. What about this year? There may not be one, because everything has been so closely watched. It may be that the presumed victory of Ron Johnson in Wisconsin over Russ Feingold would have been the surprise in an earlier election cycle, before the news cycle became constant and political news sources became so incredibly numerous.

In past “wave” elections, weird things happen in Senate races no one expects. In ’80, it was the victory of Jeremiah Denton in Alabama. In ’94, it was Fred Thompson winning in a landslide in a race everyone thought would be close. In 2008, it was the bouncing of Elizabeth Dole in North Carolina. What about this year? There may not be one, because everything has been so closely watched. It may be that the presumed victory of Ron Johnson in Wisconsin over Russ Feingold would have been the surprise in an earlier election cycle, before the news cycle became constant and political news sources became so incredibly numerous.

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In Brief

One liners are no substitute for a well-thought-out argument or sound judgment. But sometimes they do hit home, summing up months of political debate. Two today caught my eye.

From Sarah Palin: “There is a light at the end of the tunnel and I can see it from my house. It’s the midterm elections in November.” She scores double points for the self-deprecating humor (notice how much better that works than complaining about the media).

And a friend points out to me Fred Thompson’s Facebook comment: “President Obama said that the U.S. and Israel share an ‘unbreakable’ bond. Obama should know. He’s been trying to break it for months.” If only American Jewry were as savvy — and as candid.

If conservatives can maintain their humor and their focus as well as these two, they — and the country — will do just fine.

One liners are no substitute for a well-thought-out argument or sound judgment. But sometimes they do hit home, summing up months of political debate. Two today caught my eye.

From Sarah Palin: “There is a light at the end of the tunnel and I can see it from my house. It’s the midterm elections in November.” She scores double points for the self-deprecating humor (notice how much better that works than complaining about the media).

And a friend points out to me Fred Thompson’s Facebook comment: “President Obama said that the U.S. and Israel share an ‘unbreakable’ bond. Obama should know. He’s been trying to break it for months.” If only American Jewry were as savvy — and as candid.

If conservatives can maintain their humor and their focus as well as these two, they — and the country — will do just fine.

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RE: Obama Strikes Out

Pete, Obama certainly has been butting into nearly every major sporting event since he’s been president. Last summer, we had to “listen to him blathering on with the moron twins, Joe Buck and Tim McCarver” during the all-star game. He insisted on dragging health-care reform into the Super Bowl. And, as you and others have pointed out, it doesn’t appear that he’s really all that devoted to some of the sports in which he has feigned interest.

It is pure ego, one suspects, that keeps him forever on the air. And yet it has, by all accounts, not helped him communicate effectively with the public. He has not persuaded the public of the merits of his key initiatives, and they simply don’t buy his arguments on health care. Despite all the face time, there’s no real benefit, other than the self-satisfaction he seems to derive from showing up and yucking it up with sportscasters who wouldn’t dream of asking him a tough policy question. To the contrary, he’s lost, perhaps faster than most presidents, the aura of the office, which is frittered away when the president is overexposed and, frankly, becomes a bore.

In contrast, one can’t help but remember perhaps the greatest presidential baseball moment in history– the narration (beginning at 5:13) by Fred Thompson is unforgettable. Now that’s a presidential appearance.

Pete, Obama certainly has been butting into nearly every major sporting event since he’s been president. Last summer, we had to “listen to him blathering on with the moron twins, Joe Buck and Tim McCarver” during the all-star game. He insisted on dragging health-care reform into the Super Bowl. And, as you and others have pointed out, it doesn’t appear that he’s really all that devoted to some of the sports in which he has feigned interest.

It is pure ego, one suspects, that keeps him forever on the air. And yet it has, by all accounts, not helped him communicate effectively with the public. He has not persuaded the public of the merits of his key initiatives, and they simply don’t buy his arguments on health care. Despite all the face time, there’s no real benefit, other than the self-satisfaction he seems to derive from showing up and yucking it up with sportscasters who wouldn’t dream of asking him a tough policy question. To the contrary, he’s lost, perhaps faster than most presidents, the aura of the office, which is frittered away when the president is overexposed and, frankly, becomes a bore.

In contrast, one can’t help but remember perhaps the greatest presidential baseball moment in history– the narration (beginning at 5:13) by Fred Thompson is unforgettable. Now that’s a presidential appearance.

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Bayh Gets Caught

Dan Coats in an interview on Fred Thompson’s radio show explained his argument to the voters as to why Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh should not be re-elected:

“He talked a good game back at home, but when push came to shove, he was there with the liberals, there with Obama every time,” Coats said. On health care, Bayh was “catering to the liberals that he needed to cater to and he wasn’t listening to people in Indiana.”

Coats has a good deal of material to work with. Bayh voted for the stimulus, the Obama budget, and ObamaCare. He’s voted to confirm every nominee, from Sonia Sotomayor to the legal extremist Dawn Johnsen (for head of the Office of Legal Counsel) to Craig Becker for the National Labor Relations Board. He was a previous sponsor of card-check legislation, although he managed to stay noncommittal last year. In sum, Bayh was unwilling to oppose the liberal troika of Reid-Pelosi-Obama on a single meaningful domestic-policy item.

It is an argument that is likely to be repeated in states like Arkansas, Nevada, and Colorado, where challengers will make the case that the Democratic incumbent has facilitated the policies that voters back home oppose by large numbers. (In Colorado, for example, Michael Bennet is getting slammed by his opponent for his vote to confirm Becker: “Former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton, the Republican front-runner, said that while other Democrats were willing to buck President Obama’s choice, Bennet’s vote demonstrates he would provide ‘a rubber stamp’ for legislation commonly referred to as ‘card check.'”)

Recall that in Virginia, Bob McDonnell, running against a Democrat who had never cast a single vote in Congress in favor of an Obama agenda item, was able to win by a huge margin by making the case that Washington had strayed too far to the Left and that cap-and-trade, ObamaCare, card check, and takes hikes would be disastrous for his state’s economy. Scott Brown was able to make a similar argument against an opponent who similarly was not burdened by a congressional voting record in favor of the Obama agenda.

How much more effective will that argument be against Democratic incumbents like Bayh who are burdened not only by the “D” next to their name but also a voting record that fits the Republicans’ narrative? Incumbents like Bayh have a choice: start voting against the liberal agenda or hope voters lose their antipathy to the Reid-Pelosi-Obama agenda. The latter sounds like wishful thinking; the former will require a quick about-face. You can see why the Bayh seat and those of many other Democrats are now in play.

Dan Coats in an interview on Fred Thompson’s radio show explained his argument to the voters as to why Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh should not be re-elected:

“He talked a good game back at home, but when push came to shove, he was there with the liberals, there with Obama every time,” Coats said. On health care, Bayh was “catering to the liberals that he needed to cater to and he wasn’t listening to people in Indiana.”

Coats has a good deal of material to work with. Bayh voted for the stimulus, the Obama budget, and ObamaCare. He’s voted to confirm every nominee, from Sonia Sotomayor to the legal extremist Dawn Johnsen (for head of the Office of Legal Counsel) to Craig Becker for the National Labor Relations Board. He was a previous sponsor of card-check legislation, although he managed to stay noncommittal last year. In sum, Bayh was unwilling to oppose the liberal troika of Reid-Pelosi-Obama on a single meaningful domestic-policy item.

It is an argument that is likely to be repeated in states like Arkansas, Nevada, and Colorado, where challengers will make the case that the Democratic incumbent has facilitated the policies that voters back home oppose by large numbers. (In Colorado, for example, Michael Bennet is getting slammed by his opponent for his vote to confirm Becker: “Former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton, the Republican front-runner, said that while other Democrats were willing to buck President Obama’s choice, Bennet’s vote demonstrates he would provide ‘a rubber stamp’ for legislation commonly referred to as ‘card check.'”)

Recall that in Virginia, Bob McDonnell, running against a Democrat who had never cast a single vote in Congress in favor of an Obama agenda item, was able to win by a huge margin by making the case that Washington had strayed too far to the Left and that cap-and-trade, ObamaCare, card check, and takes hikes would be disastrous for his state’s economy. Scott Brown was able to make a similar argument against an opponent who similarly was not burdened by a congressional voting record in favor of the Obama agenda.

How much more effective will that argument be against Democratic incumbents like Bayh who are burdened not only by the “D” next to their name but also a voting record that fits the Republicans’ narrative? Incumbents like Bayh have a choice: start voting against the liberal agenda or hope voters lose their antipathy to the Reid-Pelosi-Obama agenda. The latter sounds like wishful thinking; the former will require a quick about-face. You can see why the Bayh seat and those of many other Democrats are now in play.

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Romney for Veep?

A month removed from his presidential campaign, Mitt Romney is back on the airwaves. Last night, Romney told Fox News that he would be “honored” to serve as John McCain’s vice-presidential nominee-a suggestion that has to leave just about anyone who followed the Republican nomination battle utterly perplexed.

After all, by all appearances, Romney and McCain detest each other, with the vitriol increasing as the two emerged as leading candidates in the run-up to Super Tuesday. Romney expended much of his personal wealth on attack ads, seeking to paint McCain as liberal. Meanwhile, McCain accused Romney of flip-flopping on key political positions, referring to him as the “candidate of change” during the New Hampshire debate. For those who have wondered how Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton could possibly coexist on the same ticket given their own heated nomination contest, a McCain-Romney ticket should be no less of a head-scratcher.

Of course, the obvious choice for McCain’s running mate is Mike Huckabee. During the nomination contest, Huckabee emerged as the consensus conservative candidate, assuming the place that was to be filled by Fred Thompson (remember him?) and directly challenging the original argument for Romney’s candidacy. Then, as the campaigns approached Super Tuesday, Huckabee teamed with McCain against Romney: Huckabee defended McCain against Romney’s barbs, while McCain urged his supporters in West Virginia to back Huckabee–critically thwarting an early Super Tuesday victory for Romney. Most importantly, Huckabee extended his campaign despite nearly impossible odds of victory, affording McCain the opportunity to appeal to voters in key states, including Virginia and Ohio.

Or, if McCain desires to maintain the moderate flavor of his campaign, Florida Governor Charlie Crist is another strong option. Crist is viewed as a truly moderate Republican and as an environmentalist, and his endorsement of McCain was viewed as critical to McCain’s defeat of Romney in the January 29th primary. Moreover, his nomination would boost the Republicans’ odds of maintaining Florida’s red-state status, given Crist’s incredible 71% approval rating.

Ultimately, the Democrats’ decision regarding whether they will re-run primary elections in Florida and Michigan should determine whether McCain chooses Crist or Huckabee. Indeed, if the DNC fails to seat Floridian delegates at the convention, McCain would hardly need Crist to win Florida, and his attention might therefore turn to solidifying the conservative base via Huckabee. Meanwhile, previous bad blood would require McCain and Romney to defend their partnership, which would become a total distraction.

A month removed from his presidential campaign, Mitt Romney is back on the airwaves. Last night, Romney told Fox News that he would be “honored” to serve as John McCain’s vice-presidential nominee-a suggestion that has to leave just about anyone who followed the Republican nomination battle utterly perplexed.

After all, by all appearances, Romney and McCain detest each other, with the vitriol increasing as the two emerged as leading candidates in the run-up to Super Tuesday. Romney expended much of his personal wealth on attack ads, seeking to paint McCain as liberal. Meanwhile, McCain accused Romney of flip-flopping on key political positions, referring to him as the “candidate of change” during the New Hampshire debate. For those who have wondered how Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton could possibly coexist on the same ticket given their own heated nomination contest, a McCain-Romney ticket should be no less of a head-scratcher.

Of course, the obvious choice for McCain’s running mate is Mike Huckabee. During the nomination contest, Huckabee emerged as the consensus conservative candidate, assuming the place that was to be filled by Fred Thompson (remember him?) and directly challenging the original argument for Romney’s candidacy. Then, as the campaigns approached Super Tuesday, Huckabee teamed with McCain against Romney: Huckabee defended McCain against Romney’s barbs, while McCain urged his supporters in West Virginia to back Huckabee–critically thwarting an early Super Tuesday victory for Romney. Most importantly, Huckabee extended his campaign despite nearly impossible odds of victory, affording McCain the opportunity to appeal to voters in key states, including Virginia and Ohio.

Or, if McCain desires to maintain the moderate flavor of his campaign, Florida Governor Charlie Crist is another strong option. Crist is viewed as a truly moderate Republican and as an environmentalist, and his endorsement of McCain was viewed as critical to McCain’s defeat of Romney in the January 29th primary. Moreover, his nomination would boost the Republicans’ odds of maintaining Florida’s red-state status, given Crist’s incredible 71% approval rating.

Ultimately, the Democrats’ decision regarding whether they will re-run primary elections in Florida and Michigan should determine whether McCain chooses Crist or Huckabee. Indeed, if the DNC fails to seat Floridian delegates at the convention, McCain would hardly need Crist to win Florida, and his attention might therefore turn to solidifying the conservative base via Huckabee. Meanwhile, previous bad blood would require McCain and Romney to defend their partnership, which would become a total distraction.

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How the Left Lacks Humor

One of the most telling differences between the Left and the Right–at least among political journalists–is that the Left lacks a sense of humor. Case in point: the wickedly funny piece by Christopher Buckley–author of Thank You For Smoking–in yesterday’s New York Times, which seeks to explain why some conservatives are uneasy with a McCain presidency. In discussing McCain’s alleged lack of conservative bona fides, Buckley writes:

And—true, again—Mr. McCain is a bit of a girlie-man when it comes to waterboarding high-value detainees; but that’s a tricky one, even for macho, red-meat conservative chest-thumpers. You get a pass on that one if you’ve spent five-and-a-half years being bastinadoed by North Vietnamese.

This earned the following reaction from the oh-so-serious folks at ThinkProgress, blog of the Center for American Progress, which categorizes Buckley’s column as yet another example of the “Radical Right-Wing Agenda”:

Buckley’s description of McCain as a “girlie-man” reveals a couple of things. The first is Buckley’s belief that one’s “manliness” can be deduced from his support for torture. The second, and more important, is that the state of American conservatism is such that McCain requires “forgiveness” for opposing torture.

Aside from the fact that the author of this post totally misses the point in that Buckley is lampooning McCain’s conservative critics, he also seems like a total party pooper. Observe that, in the column, Buckley refers to the “the Archfiend, Ted Kennedy” and notes that Fred Thompson “could barely manage to stay awake during his own announcement speech.” Indeed, Buckley opens the piece with an anecdote about a New Yorker cartoon. The problem with the liberals at ThinkProgress is that, since they themselves have no sense of humor, they cannot recognize a joke when it hits them square between the eyes.

I may not agree with Christopher Buckley or Mark Steyn about everything, but I’d sooner share a drink with them than with Paul Krugman, Joe Conason, or any other of the multitude of sober, boring, hectoring liberal writers who populate the nation’s newspapers and magazines.

One of the most telling differences between the Left and the Right–at least among political journalists–is that the Left lacks a sense of humor. Case in point: the wickedly funny piece by Christopher Buckley–author of Thank You For Smoking–in yesterday’s New York Times, which seeks to explain why some conservatives are uneasy with a McCain presidency. In discussing McCain’s alleged lack of conservative bona fides, Buckley writes:

And—true, again—Mr. McCain is a bit of a girlie-man when it comes to waterboarding high-value detainees; but that’s a tricky one, even for macho, red-meat conservative chest-thumpers. You get a pass on that one if you’ve spent five-and-a-half years being bastinadoed by North Vietnamese.

This earned the following reaction from the oh-so-serious folks at ThinkProgress, blog of the Center for American Progress, which categorizes Buckley’s column as yet another example of the “Radical Right-Wing Agenda”:

Buckley’s description of McCain as a “girlie-man” reveals a couple of things. The first is Buckley’s belief that one’s “manliness” can be deduced from his support for torture. The second, and more important, is that the state of American conservatism is such that McCain requires “forgiveness” for opposing torture.

Aside from the fact that the author of this post totally misses the point in that Buckley is lampooning McCain’s conservative critics, he also seems like a total party pooper. Observe that, in the column, Buckley refers to the “the Archfiend, Ted Kennedy” and notes that Fred Thompson “could barely manage to stay awake during his own announcement speech.” Indeed, Buckley opens the piece with an anecdote about a New Yorker cartoon. The problem with the liberals at ThinkProgress is that, since they themselves have no sense of humor, they cannot recognize a joke when it hits them square between the eyes.

I may not agree with Christopher Buckley or Mark Steyn about everything, but I’d sooner share a drink with them than with Paul Krugman, Joe Conason, or any other of the multitude of sober, boring, hectoring liberal writers who populate the nation’s newspapers and magazines.

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Things Were Going Just Fine

John McCain had been on a roll going into Saturday’s elections, but his loss in Kansas and the close races in Louisiana and Washington stopped that short.

On Friday at CPAC, former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton sung McCain’s praises and then heartily endorsed him on Saturday. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Fred Thompson got on the McCain bandwagon too. The Wall Street Journal’s editors disparaged the notion that social conservatives should sit home or vote for Hillary Clinton ( “What they can’t do with any credibility is claim that helping to elect a liberal President will further the causes that these conservatives claim to believe most deeply in”) while President Reagan’s National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane doesn’t think much of the talk show critics’ suggestion that we hand management of the war over to one of the Democrats. Newt Gingrich recognizes the obvious ( “He’s had a lifetime voting record that’s dramatically more conservative than Clinton and Obama”) and Larry Kudlow voices support as well.

Bill Kristol thinks the anti-McCain sentiment among conservatives is exaggerated, and a simple account from the campaign trail reveals a obvious truth: lots of conservatives have supported McCain all along. Otherwise he wouldn’t be closing in on the magic delegate number of 1191. (A Newsweek poll shows 75% of conservatives and 69% of conservatives would be “happy” with McCain as the nominee.)

Nevertheless, the best thing McCain can do now is win the trio of primaries on Tuesday and Wisconsin the following week. I suspect that he won’t have any luck chasing Huckabee out of the race until he hits the winning total of 1191 delegates.

John McCain had been on a roll going into Saturday’s elections, but his loss in Kansas and the close races in Louisiana and Washington stopped that short.

On Friday at CPAC, former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton sung McCain’s praises and then heartily endorsed him on Saturday. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Fred Thompson got on the McCain bandwagon too. The Wall Street Journal’s editors disparaged the notion that social conservatives should sit home or vote for Hillary Clinton ( “What they can’t do with any credibility is claim that helping to elect a liberal President will further the causes that these conservatives claim to believe most deeply in”) while President Reagan’s National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane doesn’t think much of the talk show critics’ suggestion that we hand management of the war over to one of the Democrats. Newt Gingrich recognizes the obvious ( “He’s had a lifetime voting record that’s dramatically more conservative than Clinton and Obama”) and Larry Kudlow voices support as well.

Bill Kristol thinks the anti-McCain sentiment among conservatives is exaggerated, and a simple account from the campaign trail reveals a obvious truth: lots of conservatives have supported McCain all along. Otherwise he wouldn’t be closing in on the magic delegate number of 1191. (A Newsweek poll shows 75% of conservatives and 69% of conservatives would be “happy” with McCain as the nominee.)

Nevertheless, the best thing McCain can do now is win the trio of primaries on Tuesday and Wisconsin the following week. I suspect that he won’t have any luck chasing Huckabee out of the race until he hits the winning total of 1191 delegates.

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Some Thoughts on Last Night

1. John McCain has ended up where, at the start of this process, he was supposed to be: as the presumptive nominee of his party. But what a wild, strange journey it’s been. He was the frontrunner in late 2006 and early 2007 — and then lost altitude at a speed that could induce the bends. Broke and with his campaign barely on life support, McCain headed to New Hampshire, the site of his greatest political moment in 2000. He won the New Hampshire primary on January 8 — and that was enough to propel him to where he is today.

2. McCain’s victory is a tribute to his grit and skill — but his wins have not been overwhelming. According to the Washington Post, exit polling showed that among self-described conservatives voting yesterday, McCain lost to Romney or Huckabee in many states. And McCain didn’t do well in the South, which underscores his continuing weakness with the GOP base.

McCain benefited enormously from a fractured field which generated little enthusiasm. No conservative alternative to McCain ever emerged. Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson tried to rewrite the rules of politics and flamed out. Mike Huckabee received strong support from evangelical Christians–but his support, while intense, was also narrow. Mitt Romney never caught on. An impressive man in many ways, he presented himself in a manner that seemed contrived and artificial–and the support he did receive seemed tepid and qualified. Out of all this John McCain emerged. He was able to cobble together the support he needed–just barely.

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1. John McCain has ended up where, at the start of this process, he was supposed to be: as the presumptive nominee of his party. But what a wild, strange journey it’s been. He was the frontrunner in late 2006 and early 2007 — and then lost altitude at a speed that could induce the bends. Broke and with his campaign barely on life support, McCain headed to New Hampshire, the site of his greatest political moment in 2000. He won the New Hampshire primary on January 8 — and that was enough to propel him to where he is today.

2. McCain’s victory is a tribute to his grit and skill — but his wins have not been overwhelming. According to the Washington Post, exit polling showed that among self-described conservatives voting yesterday, McCain lost to Romney or Huckabee in many states. And McCain didn’t do well in the South, which underscores his continuing weakness with the GOP base.

McCain benefited enormously from a fractured field which generated little enthusiasm. No conservative alternative to McCain ever emerged. Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson tried to rewrite the rules of politics and flamed out. Mike Huckabee received strong support from evangelical Christians–but his support, while intense, was also narrow. Mitt Romney never caught on. An impressive man in many ways, he presented himself in a manner that seemed contrived and artificial–and the support he did receive seemed tepid and qualified. Out of all this John McCain emerged. He was able to cobble together the support he needed–just barely.

3. If McCain becomes the nominee of the party, as it appears he will, the burden is on him to unite it. We’ll see how well he does. Some conservatives are very wary or outright hostile to him. This is due not simply to his stand on the issues, from opposing the Bush tax cuts to McCain-Feingold to federal funding for embryonic stem cell research to illegal immigration to conferring constitutional rights to terrorists. It is that over the years McCain has seemed to take great delight in antagonizing conservatives. He seemed more taken with his image as a maverick than his loyalty to his party or the conservative movement. The fact that he seriously considered bolting the party after his loss to George W. Bush in 2000 and that a top aide reportedly spoke to John Kerry about the possibility of McCain running as Kerry’s vice presidential running mate tells one a great deal.

McCain’s voting record and American Conservative Union rating look good on paper — but his passions and energy have often been directed in ways that did not advance conservatism, and sometimes impeded it. He often showed a graciousness toward liberals and Democrats that he didn’t demonstrate to fellow Republicans and conservatives. Hillary Clinton and John Kerry were good friends who would make fine presidents – while leaders of the religious right were “agents of intolerance.” And so, not surprisingly, there is considerable opposition to him from some important quarters.

4. The overwhelming thing McCain has in his favor is that he was both principled and right on the surge of U.S. forces in Iraq — and he took his stand when it was deeply unpopular. In a match-up between McCain and either Senator Obama or Senator Clinton, we know this: if he is elected president, we have a good shot at a decent outcome in Iraq. And if Obama or Clinton is elected president, the war will almost surely be lost. Both Democratic candidates have made is perfectly clear that their goal is to end America’s involvement in Iraq rather than to prevail there. The Iraq war and its broader implications remain the most important issue before us — and McCain is the best our side can offer.

5. Illegal immigration remains a puzzling political issue. It is clearly near the top of concerns for many conservatives – and fierce opposition to illegal immigration defeated immigration reform legislation last year. There is a passion surrounding this issue that cannot be denied; its advocates see it in terms of upholding the law and assimilation. On the other hand, those who carry high the Tancredo banner on illegal immigration don’t do well in congressional or presidential primary elections. The GOP candidates who made illegal immigration a cornerstone of their campaign, including Romney and Thompson, never took flight. And the two candidates in this year’s GOP race whose governing records were most sympathetic to illegal immigration have done the best. The issue of illegal immigration isn’t as potent as some believe – but it’s not as irrelevant as some insist.

6. The Republican race is nearing its denouement; the Democratic contest is not. And a bitter race between Obama and Clinton, now essentially tied for the lead, is almost guaranteed. The love-fest we witnessed during last week’s debate will soon be a distant memory; because this contest involves the Clintons, baseball bats and billy clubs will soon be swinging. This will help Republicans in a year that looks very challenging.

Democrats are better positioned by many metrics: voter turnout and enthusiasm, fundraising for the presidential candidates (Obama hauled in more than $30 million in January alone), party identification, public support on key issues, and much else.

I’ve been struck in my conversations with Republicans over the months by how dispirited and unenthusiastic they have been — about the candidates specifically and politics more generally. That has to change, and quickly, if Republicans hope to retain the presidency.

It’s a long way to November and America remains, in important respects, a center-right country. Senators Obama and Clinton are completely conventional liberals – and Mrs. Clinton is radioactive when it comes to Republicans. Nevertheless John McCain, who continues to win but in a manner that does not inspire much love or loyalty, has his work cut out for him.

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The Romney Factor

The vehemence of the opposition to John McCain in many conservative quarters this past week naturally raises the question of where these folks were before McCain gained momentum. Why wait until after Florida, when McCain seems well on his way, to roll out the most forceful criticism? Why wait until a few days before Super Tuesday to endorse Romney? The objections to McCain were always there, after all.

Looking over the dynamics of the past several months, and especially January, once the voting got going, I think you have to conclude that Romney’s negative charisma was the key reason. For months, many conservatives understood that a Giuliani or McCain candidacy could be a disaster, yet somehow there was never a serious coalescing around Romney. I don’t think his religion was to blame. Something about Romney just didn’t have the right ring to it; there was a sense that he would say anything and do anything, and that beneath the veneer might be another veneer, and another. It was—in a lesser dose, to be sure—something like the feeling so many Americans had about John Kerry in 2004.

So for months conservatives held out hope for Fred Thompson—the potential generic conservative mascot, acceptable to all—keeping an open mind about Romney but withholding serious support. Thompson, unfortunately, thoroughly failed to capitalize on the immense opportunity handed to him, and so throughout the summer and fall and into the winter the Republican race was held in a peculiar kind of limbo: the money wasn’t flowing, normally decisive opinion-shapers on the right remained uncommitted, and everyone seemed to be waiting to see what would happen (“maybe in this debate Thompson will show some energy”) rather than assertively making something happen. This created a race without any stable conservative presence, and opened the door for Huckabee’s temporary rise—which made any establishment conservative coalescence even less likely. Meanwhile Rudy Giuliani committed a kind of strategic suicide, and John McCain was left as the only simultaneously likeable and serious candidate running.

This was beginning to become apparent in the wake of Iowa, was reasonably clear after New Hampshire, and became crystal clear after South Carolina. But still many conservative heavyweights who were very eager to avoid a McCain candidacy did not line up behind Romney. Only after Florida, with his fate almost sealed, did a good number earnestly make his cause theirs. Why take so long? Why resist? Many conservatives seemed unable to get over a persistent concern about Romney, which naturally translated into distress about his electability in the general election. Once Thompson turned out to be a dud and the generic conservative slot was left empty, the nomination was Romney’s to lose. He seems very likely to have lost it.

Conservatives have serious reasons to worry about a McCain candidacy, to be sure. But if Mitt Romney couldn’t even win their votes all this time, shouldn’t we assume he would have had a lot of trouble winning other people’s votes in November?

The vehemence of the opposition to John McCain in many conservative quarters this past week naturally raises the question of where these folks were before McCain gained momentum. Why wait until after Florida, when McCain seems well on his way, to roll out the most forceful criticism? Why wait until a few days before Super Tuesday to endorse Romney? The objections to McCain were always there, after all.

Looking over the dynamics of the past several months, and especially January, once the voting got going, I think you have to conclude that Romney’s negative charisma was the key reason. For months, many conservatives understood that a Giuliani or McCain candidacy could be a disaster, yet somehow there was never a serious coalescing around Romney. I don’t think his religion was to blame. Something about Romney just didn’t have the right ring to it; there was a sense that he would say anything and do anything, and that beneath the veneer might be another veneer, and another. It was—in a lesser dose, to be sure—something like the feeling so many Americans had about John Kerry in 2004.

So for months conservatives held out hope for Fred Thompson—the potential generic conservative mascot, acceptable to all—keeping an open mind about Romney but withholding serious support. Thompson, unfortunately, thoroughly failed to capitalize on the immense opportunity handed to him, and so throughout the summer and fall and into the winter the Republican race was held in a peculiar kind of limbo: the money wasn’t flowing, normally decisive opinion-shapers on the right remained uncommitted, and everyone seemed to be waiting to see what would happen (“maybe in this debate Thompson will show some energy”) rather than assertively making something happen. This created a race without any stable conservative presence, and opened the door for Huckabee’s temporary rise—which made any establishment conservative coalescence even less likely. Meanwhile Rudy Giuliani committed a kind of strategic suicide, and John McCain was left as the only simultaneously likeable and serious candidate running.

This was beginning to become apparent in the wake of Iowa, was reasonably clear after New Hampshire, and became crystal clear after South Carolina. But still many conservative heavyweights who were very eager to avoid a McCain candidacy did not line up behind Romney. Only after Florida, with his fate almost sealed, did a good number earnestly make his cause theirs. Why take so long? Why resist? Many conservatives seemed unable to get over a persistent concern about Romney, which naturally translated into distress about his electability in the general election. Once Thompson turned out to be a dud and the generic conservative slot was left empty, the nomination was Romney’s to lose. He seems very likely to have lost it.

Conservatives have serious reasons to worry about a McCain candidacy, to be sure. But if Mitt Romney couldn’t even win their votes all this time, shouldn’t we assume he would have had a lot of trouble winning other people’s votes in November?

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Ridiculous Early Analysis

If the Florida results remain as close as the exit polls make it appear, nothing is going to be resolved tonight on the Republican side with the frontrunners. If John McCain wins it by a point or two, he gets all the delegates and the headlines that he is the winner of Florida — which helps going into Super Tuesday. But Mitt Romney has no reason to back off, even though he will have lost four of the five real contests so far. He’s worked successfully now to establish himself as the McCain alternative, and there appears to be enough anger and suspicion of McCain among Republicans to make a Romney win plausible if McCain does something to injure himself.

And if Romney wins by a point or two, McCain just keeps going the same way he has. We’re going into a 21-state vote a week from now, and Romney’s money isn’t going to help him much because even he doesn’t have enough to flood the airwaves everywhere on his own behalf.
The question, now, is how long before Rudy Giuliani and Mike Huckabee decide to drop out. Unless something extraordinary happens in the next two hours, Giuliani stands revealed as a strong candidate who made a clever and compelling effort to game the system and failed. And despite the idea that he was the Next Big Populist Thing, Huckabee can’t buy a non-Christian-identity vote.

What may help McCain is the prospect that Giuliani and Huckabee will both endorse him this week before Super Tuesday, which will allow McCain to argue that he is unifying the party by unifying his rivals behind him. If McCain could pull off getting Fred Thompson this week as well, he will have the best answer to the increasingly agitated conservative rage radiating toward him from the radio speakers and a browser near you.

If the Florida results remain as close as the exit polls make it appear, nothing is going to be resolved tonight on the Republican side with the frontrunners. If John McCain wins it by a point or two, he gets all the delegates and the headlines that he is the winner of Florida — which helps going into Super Tuesday. But Mitt Romney has no reason to back off, even though he will have lost four of the five real contests so far. He’s worked successfully now to establish himself as the McCain alternative, and there appears to be enough anger and suspicion of McCain among Republicans to make a Romney win plausible if McCain does something to injure himself.

And if Romney wins by a point or two, McCain just keeps going the same way he has. We’re going into a 21-state vote a week from now, and Romney’s money isn’t going to help him much because even he doesn’t have enough to flood the airwaves everywhere on his own behalf.
The question, now, is how long before Rudy Giuliani and Mike Huckabee decide to drop out. Unless something extraordinary happens in the next two hours, Giuliani stands revealed as a strong candidate who made a clever and compelling effort to game the system and failed. And despite the idea that he was the Next Big Populist Thing, Huckabee can’t buy a non-Christian-identity vote.

What may help McCain is the prospect that Giuliani and Huckabee will both endorse him this week before Super Tuesday, which will allow McCain to argue that he is unifying the party by unifying his rivals behind him. If McCain could pull off getting Fred Thompson this week as well, he will have the best answer to the increasingly agitated conservative rage radiating toward him from the radio speakers and a browser near you.

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McCain’s Busy Day

John McCain snagged the biggest endorsement in Florida (and aside from Nancy Reagan, arguably the biggest in the race as a whole) tonight as Charlie Crist have him the nod, and a hug too boot. Crist has a 65 percent approval rating and this will help, if nothing else, by monopolizing local media coverage for the last day or so of the race. Why did Crist wait so long? He might have preferred another candidate, but waited to see if he might play a decisive role. Not to be overlooked: McCain endorsed Crist in his primary and certainly had a favor to call in. (In the category of gathering in the GOP establishment, Howard Baker who had backed Fred Thompson, also endorsed McCain today. No word yet on the popular, moderate Tennessee Senator Bob Corker.)

Until the Crist news broke, most of the day was spent in a heated argument between McCain and Mitt Romney. McCain pointed to an interview Romney gave earlier in the year on Good Morning America in which he suggested that “the president and Prime Minister al-Maliki have to have a series of timetables and milestones that they speak about. But those shouldn’t be for public pronouncement. You don’t want the enemy to understand how long they have to wait in the weeds until you’re going to be gone. You want to have a series of things you want to see accomplished in terms of the strength of the Iraqi military and the Iraqi police, and the leadership of the Iraqi government.”

McCain contends this shows that Romney supported a secret deadline for withdrawal. Romney vehemently denied this and pointed to a number of his statements supportive of the surge and Bush’s policy. McCain shot back and later added statements from Lawrence Eagleburger and James Woolsey attacking Romney’s resoluteness.

Who’s right and does it matter? I think the best that can be said for McCain is that Romney played his cards very close to his vest until late last fall on the surge. You may recall the New Hampshire debate in which Romney would only say that the surge “apparently” was working. McCain pounced at the time and this left some conservatives speculating that Romney was prepared to distance himself from Bush. But the point of McCain’s attack today, I suspect, was to highlight in flashier terms the argument McCain has been trying to make for some time: Romney lacks national security experience, never spoke up about the Rumsfeld policy’s failings and didn’t advocate for the surge before it became obvious it was succeeding. If that is the discussion for the next couple of days, and not the two candidates’ relative economic expertise, that benefits McCain. On the merits of this particular fight, the usually supportive media are a skeptical of McCain’s charge.

John McCain snagged the biggest endorsement in Florida (and aside from Nancy Reagan, arguably the biggest in the race as a whole) tonight as Charlie Crist have him the nod, and a hug too boot. Crist has a 65 percent approval rating and this will help, if nothing else, by monopolizing local media coverage for the last day or so of the race. Why did Crist wait so long? He might have preferred another candidate, but waited to see if he might play a decisive role. Not to be overlooked: McCain endorsed Crist in his primary and certainly had a favor to call in. (In the category of gathering in the GOP establishment, Howard Baker who had backed Fred Thompson, also endorsed McCain today. No word yet on the popular, moderate Tennessee Senator Bob Corker.)

Until the Crist news broke, most of the day was spent in a heated argument between McCain and Mitt Romney. McCain pointed to an interview Romney gave earlier in the year on Good Morning America in which he suggested that “the president and Prime Minister al-Maliki have to have a series of timetables and milestones that they speak about. But those shouldn’t be for public pronouncement. You don’t want the enemy to understand how long they have to wait in the weeds until you’re going to be gone. You want to have a series of things you want to see accomplished in terms of the strength of the Iraqi military and the Iraqi police, and the leadership of the Iraqi government.”

McCain contends this shows that Romney supported a secret deadline for withdrawal. Romney vehemently denied this and pointed to a number of his statements supportive of the surge and Bush’s policy. McCain shot back and later added statements from Lawrence Eagleburger and James Woolsey attacking Romney’s resoluteness.

Who’s right and does it matter? I think the best that can be said for McCain is that Romney played his cards very close to his vest until late last fall on the surge. You may recall the New Hampshire debate in which Romney would only say that the surge “apparently” was working. McCain pounced at the time and this left some conservatives speculating that Romney was prepared to distance himself from Bush. But the point of McCain’s attack today, I suspect, was to highlight in flashier terms the argument McCain has been trying to make for some time: Romney lacks national security experience, never spoke up about the Rumsfeld policy’s failings and didn’t advocate for the surge before it became obvious it was succeeding. If that is the discussion for the next couple of days, and not the two candidates’ relative economic expertise, that benefits McCain. On the merits of this particular fight, the usually supportive media are a skeptical of McCain’s charge.

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Now They Get Feisty

The day after the exquisitely polite debate, an nice old fashioned political food fight has broken out between McCain and Romney. McCain says Romney is a mere manager and not a leader. He also criticizes RomneyCare in a new web ad. Romney reads the oppo talking points to the media gaggle and tries to hang the New York Times endorsement around McCain’s neck and remind voters that McCain is cozy with Democrats. (The final point seems at odds with Romney’s assertion that only he comes to Washington free from animosity that prevents the parties from working to solve problems, but don’t look for consistency fours days before a critical election.) The public polling shows a dead heat, although some in the Romney camp are claiming they have this in the bag.

I tend to think that rather than these now predictable arguments, close elections turn on more mundane matters. Is McCain making progress with evangelicals? Does Mel Martinez’ endorsement monopolize local coverage going into the final weekend? Will Rudy sustain his support, cutting into McCain’s potential pool of voters, or will it slip away as the media picks up on the “what went wrong” theme?

Finally, it’s always a good idea to keep in mind that older voters turn out to vote in disproportionately high numbers. There are a lot of them in Florida and McCain in South Carolina and in some Florida polling has been doing well with his contemporaries. Despite Romney’s effort to woo back the over 65 set with an exemption from social security taxes (If Fred Thompson were around he’d be happy to point out how irresponsible this is given our entitlement crunch), they may be the deciding factor.

The day after the exquisitely polite debate, an nice old fashioned political food fight has broken out between McCain and Romney. McCain says Romney is a mere manager and not a leader. He also criticizes RomneyCare in a new web ad. Romney reads the oppo talking points to the media gaggle and tries to hang the New York Times endorsement around McCain’s neck and remind voters that McCain is cozy with Democrats. (The final point seems at odds with Romney’s assertion that only he comes to Washington free from animosity that prevents the parties from working to solve problems, but don’t look for consistency fours days before a critical election.) The public polling shows a dead heat, although some in the Romney camp are claiming they have this in the bag.

I tend to think that rather than these now predictable arguments, close elections turn on more mundane matters. Is McCain making progress with evangelicals? Does Mel Martinez’ endorsement monopolize local coverage going into the final weekend? Will Rudy sustain his support, cutting into McCain’s potential pool of voters, or will it slip away as the media picks up on the “what went wrong” theme?

Finally, it’s always a good idea to keep in mind that older voters turn out to vote in disproportionately high numbers. There are a lot of them in Florida and McCain in South Carolina and in some Florida polling has been doing well with his contemporaries. Despite Romney’s effort to woo back the over 65 set with an exemption from social security taxes (If Fred Thompson were around he’d be happy to point out how irresponsible this is given our entitlement crunch), they may be the deciding factor.

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What Are They Up To?

Many people are looking for clues as to what impact Fred Thompson’s departure will have on the race. Mitt Romney fans, not surprisingly, are collecting scraps of evidence that these voters will turn to their guy. The reality appears, however, to be that his absence will be a wash. This indicates that local Florida politicians are dividing up among the remaining candidates. The Louisiana caucus yesterday, which some believed Romney would win (after organizing with only Ron Paul in opposition), yielded unintelligible results. Bottom line: Thompson was on average in single digits in Florida and barely at 10% nationally, so there frankly aren’t that many votes to divide. I think the mostly likely answer is that his absence won’t matter.

Meanwhile, McCain and Romney go at it just like they did in New Hampshire, with Romney claiming McCain’s positions on issues are insufficiently conservative and McCain claiming Romney has no fixed positions. (A McCain spokesman’s on the record quote declares that Romney deserves the “Olympic gold medal for flip-flopping” and proceeds to list the now-familiar litany of Romney’s position changes.) I suspect there are few voters who are yet to be swayed by this back-and-forth, but in a race the polls still show as close no allegation will be left without a response. (Unlike McCain-Rudy disagreements, Romney-McCain spats always suggest a degree of mutual personal animosity and disdain.)

Many people are looking for clues as to what impact Fred Thompson’s departure will have on the race. Mitt Romney fans, not surprisingly, are collecting scraps of evidence that these voters will turn to their guy. The reality appears, however, to be that his absence will be a wash. This indicates that local Florida politicians are dividing up among the remaining candidates. The Louisiana caucus yesterday, which some believed Romney would win (after organizing with only Ron Paul in opposition), yielded unintelligible results. Bottom line: Thompson was on average in single digits in Florida and barely at 10% nationally, so there frankly aren’t that many votes to divide. I think the mostly likely answer is that his absence won’t matter.

Meanwhile, McCain and Romney go at it just like they did in New Hampshire, with Romney claiming McCain’s positions on issues are insufficiently conservative and McCain claiming Romney has no fixed positions. (A McCain spokesman’s on the record quote declares that Romney deserves the “Olympic gold medal for flip-flopping” and proceeds to list the now-familiar litany of Romney’s position changes.) I suspect there are few voters who are yet to be swayed by this back-and-forth, but in a race the polls still show as close no allegation will be left without a response. (Unlike McCain-Rudy disagreements, Romney-McCain spats always suggest a degree of mutual personal animosity and disdain.)

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Fred Thompson As Vice President?

A few hours ago, Fred Thompson withdrew from the Republican presidential race, having attempted one of the most mystifying bids for high office in modern times. He refused to enter the contest when his name was on everyone’s lips last spring. Over the summer, his undeclared bid featured the hirings and firings of several staffers who clashed with his wife, Jeri. He waited until September, building up a high degree of expectation, and then spent his first couple of weeks talking obsessively about the need for Social Security and entitlement reform — which are, I think it’s safe to say, not high on the public’s to-do list. He would go several days without campaigning, would disappear, and then would show up to debates and barely stir himself into life. Only once, in the debate in South Carolina, did he rouse himself to perform — and he did brilliantly. Then he did nothing to capitalize on his triumphant performance and finished a weak third.

Given this record, Thompson has effectively proved what skeptics have been saying all along. He didn’t want to be president. He doesn’t like running for office. He doesn’t have either a killer instinct or a ravenous hunger. And he really doesn’t have a sense of mission.
With all this in evidence, no Republican presidential nominee in his right mind would choose Thompson for his running mate. This isn’t his game or his field or his love. We won’t see Thompson with his arm raised at the nominee’s side at the Minneapolis convention.

A few hours ago, Fred Thompson withdrew from the Republican presidential race, having attempted one of the most mystifying bids for high office in modern times. He refused to enter the contest when his name was on everyone’s lips last spring. Over the summer, his undeclared bid featured the hirings and firings of several staffers who clashed with his wife, Jeri. He waited until September, building up a high degree of expectation, and then spent his first couple of weeks talking obsessively about the need for Social Security and entitlement reform — which are, I think it’s safe to say, not high on the public’s to-do list. He would go several days without campaigning, would disappear, and then would show up to debates and barely stir himself into life. Only once, in the debate in South Carolina, did he rouse himself to perform — and he did brilliantly. Then he did nothing to capitalize on his triumphant performance and finished a weak third.

Given this record, Thompson has effectively proved what skeptics have been saying all along. He didn’t want to be president. He doesn’t like running for office. He doesn’t have either a killer instinct or a ravenous hunger. And he really doesn’t have a sense of mission.
With all this in evidence, no Republican presidential nominee in his right mind would choose Thompson for his running mate. This isn’t his game or his field or his love. We won’t see Thompson with his arm raised at the nominee’s side at the Minneapolis convention.

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What Hath Talk Radio Wrought?

Michael Medved, the polymathic conservative writer, has worked for the past dozen years as a radio talk-show host. Unlike many of his fellow conservative talk-show hosts, he has not spent the past year and a half in a toxic rage against immigration. Nor has he concluded that John McCain represents a dagger aimed at the heart of the Right.

In a brave post on his blog, Medved posits that McCain’s victory in South Carolina (along with the strong showing of Mike Huckabee) represents a threat not to conservatism but rather to the viability and influence of talk radio, and that the wound is self-inflicted:

For more than a month, the leading conservative talkers in the country have broadcast identical messages in an effort to demonize Mike Huckabee and John McCain. If you’ve tuned in at all to Rush, Sean, Savage, Glenn Beck, Laura Ingraham, Mark Levin, Hugh Hewitt, Dennis Prager, and two dozen others you’ve heard a consistent drum beat of hostility toward Mac and Huck.

As always, led by Rush Limbaugh (who because of talent and seniority continues to dominate the medium) the talk radio herd has ridden in precisely the same direction, insisting that McCain and Huckabee deserve no support because they’re not “real conservatives.”

A month ago, the angry right launched the slogan that Mike Huckabee is a “pro-life liberal.” More recently, after McCain’s energizing victory in New Hampshire, they trotted out the mantra that the Arizona Senator (with a lifetime rating for his Congressional voting record of 83 percent from the American Conservative Union) is a “pro-war liberal.”

Well, the two alleged “liberals,” McCain and Huckabee, just swept a total of 63 percent of the Republican vote in deeply conservative South Carolina. Meanwhile, the two darlings of talk radio — Mitt Romney and, to a lesser extent, Fred Thompson—combined for an anemic 31 percent of the vote….In other words, even among the most right wing segment of the South Carolina electorate, talk radio failed – and failed miserably – in efforts to destroy and discredit Huckabee and McCain.

As the campaign moves forward, my colleagues in talk radio (along with program directors, general managers, advertisers and the other segments of our industry) ought to reconsider the one-sided, embittered negativity toward two of our four surviving candidates for President….

South Carolina demonstrates the utter ineffectiveness of concerted efforts by the conservative media elite to derail the campaigns of two popular candidates. Continued efforts in that direction will prove no more effective, and will hurt both our industry and the Republican Party.

In other words, the talk radio jihad against Mac and Huck hasn’t destroyed or even visibly damaged those candidates. But it has damaged, and may help destroy, talk radio.

Michael Medved, the polymathic conservative writer, has worked for the past dozen years as a radio talk-show host. Unlike many of his fellow conservative talk-show hosts, he has not spent the past year and a half in a toxic rage against immigration. Nor has he concluded that John McCain represents a dagger aimed at the heart of the Right.

In a brave post on his blog, Medved posits that McCain’s victory in South Carolina (along with the strong showing of Mike Huckabee) represents a threat not to conservatism but rather to the viability and influence of talk radio, and that the wound is self-inflicted:

For more than a month, the leading conservative talkers in the country have broadcast identical messages in an effort to demonize Mike Huckabee and John McCain. If you’ve tuned in at all to Rush, Sean, Savage, Glenn Beck, Laura Ingraham, Mark Levin, Hugh Hewitt, Dennis Prager, and two dozen others you’ve heard a consistent drum beat of hostility toward Mac and Huck.

As always, led by Rush Limbaugh (who because of talent and seniority continues to dominate the medium) the talk radio herd has ridden in precisely the same direction, insisting that McCain and Huckabee deserve no support because they’re not “real conservatives.”

A month ago, the angry right launched the slogan that Mike Huckabee is a “pro-life liberal.” More recently, after McCain’s energizing victory in New Hampshire, they trotted out the mantra that the Arizona Senator (with a lifetime rating for his Congressional voting record of 83 percent from the American Conservative Union) is a “pro-war liberal.”

Well, the two alleged “liberals,” McCain and Huckabee, just swept a total of 63 percent of the Republican vote in deeply conservative South Carolina. Meanwhile, the two darlings of talk radio — Mitt Romney and, to a lesser extent, Fred Thompson—combined for an anemic 31 percent of the vote….In other words, even among the most right wing segment of the South Carolina electorate, talk radio failed – and failed miserably – in efforts to destroy and discredit Huckabee and McCain.

As the campaign moves forward, my colleagues in talk radio (along with program directors, general managers, advertisers and the other segments of our industry) ought to reconsider the one-sided, embittered negativity toward two of our four surviving candidates for President….

South Carolina demonstrates the utter ineffectiveness of concerted efforts by the conservative media elite to derail the campaigns of two popular candidates. Continued efforts in that direction will prove no more effective, and will hurt both our industry and the Republican Party.

In other words, the talk radio jihad against Mac and Huck hasn’t destroyed or even visibly damaged those candidates. But it has damaged, and may help destroy, talk radio.

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SOUTH CAROLINA: Fred Thompson’s Odd Speech

Fred Thompson’s speech was a little heavy on the civics lesson, but, stylistically, he maintained the hearth-and-home magnetism responsible for at least half of his appeal. He also maintained a baffling mix of endurance and sacrifice that leaves us wondering what in the world the point of the speech was. Everything about the man’s demeanor, and most things about his words, suggested a noble drop-out from the race. But it’s a very strange choice to do so in subtle code. He spoke of those who “deserve to lead,” yet gave no clear indication that he should or shouldn’t be numbered amongst them. Any comparisons between Thompson and Reagan as the great communicator are non-starters from this point on.

Fred Thompson’s speech was a little heavy on the civics lesson, but, stylistically, he maintained the hearth-and-home magnetism responsible for at least half of his appeal. He also maintained a baffling mix of endurance and sacrifice that leaves us wondering what in the world the point of the speech was. Everything about the man’s demeanor, and most things about his words, suggested a noble drop-out from the race. But it’s a very strange choice to do so in subtle code. He spoke of those who “deserve to lead,” yet gave no clear indication that he should or shouldn’t be numbered amongst them. Any comparisons between Thompson and Reagan as the great communicator are non-starters from this point on.

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Huckabee’s Further Flip-Flopping

According to The Hill,

Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee has reversed his position on a federal ban aimed at workplace smoking and now believes the issue should be addressed by state and local governments. The about-face is apparent in a Huckabee campaign statement, sent to The Hill Tuesday evening in response to questions about the smoking ban proposal. It clashes with the stance Huckabee has taken during his race for the White House and with his record as governor of Arkansas, when he signed into law a measure prohibiting smoking in most indoor public places. At an August 2007 forum on cancer hosted by cyclist and activist Lance Armstrong and moderated by MSNBC host Chris Matthews, Huckabee said he supported a federal smoking ban. “If you are president in 2009 and Congress brings you a bill to outlaw smoking nationwide in public places, would you sign it?” Matthews asked. “I would, certainly would. In fact, I would, just like I did as governor of Arkansas, I think there should be no smoking in any indoor area where people have to work,” Huckabee responded, triggering applause from the crowd.

This comes in the aftermath of Huckabee’s head-snapping change on immigration. Only a few weeks after he lectured the other candidates about the virtues of providing student loans to children of illegal immigrants, he proudly accepted the endorsement of Jim Gilchrist, the founder of the Minuteman Project, a group fiercely critical of illegal immigrants. Huckabee then adapted an immigration plan that is very much at odds with his past position.

It also comes in the wake of Huckabee’s declaration that his conscience would not allow him to run advertisements critical of Mitt Romney in Iowa—a declaration, it’s worth pointing out, he made at a press conference in which he revealed to reporters the ad he refused to run, thereby ensuring it would get widespread attention. But Huckabee’s conscience seems to have gone on sabbatical the other day, when he responded to Fred Thompson’s substantive criticisms of his record this way: “Fred Thompson talks about putting America first, and yet he’s the one who is a registered foreign agent, lobbied for foreign countries, was in a law firm that did lobbying work for Libya. I certainly wouldn’t put my name on something like that.”

Such things might be dismissed as par for the political course, except that Huckabee, who once favored quarantining AIDS patients but now denies it, has made a virtue out of his supposed steadfastness. “You are not going to find moments on YouTube of me saying something different about the sanctity of life today than I said ten years ago, ten minutes ago, or fifty years ago,” Huckabee has said, referring to footage of Governor Romney declaring his support for abortion rights, a position he later changed. “You are not going to find something in YouTube where I said something completely different about gun ownership and the second amendment than I did last week, ten weeks ago, ten years go.”

Those words seem far less compelling than they once did. What we are finding is that Huckabee, who has long believed in religious conversions, appears to have a new-found affinity for political ones.

According to The Hill,

Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee has reversed his position on a federal ban aimed at workplace smoking and now believes the issue should be addressed by state and local governments. The about-face is apparent in a Huckabee campaign statement, sent to The Hill Tuesday evening in response to questions about the smoking ban proposal. It clashes with the stance Huckabee has taken during his race for the White House and with his record as governor of Arkansas, when he signed into law a measure prohibiting smoking in most indoor public places. At an August 2007 forum on cancer hosted by cyclist and activist Lance Armstrong and moderated by MSNBC host Chris Matthews, Huckabee said he supported a federal smoking ban. “If you are president in 2009 and Congress brings you a bill to outlaw smoking nationwide in public places, would you sign it?” Matthews asked. “I would, certainly would. In fact, I would, just like I did as governor of Arkansas, I think there should be no smoking in any indoor area where people have to work,” Huckabee responded, triggering applause from the crowd.

This comes in the aftermath of Huckabee’s head-snapping change on immigration. Only a few weeks after he lectured the other candidates about the virtues of providing student loans to children of illegal immigrants, he proudly accepted the endorsement of Jim Gilchrist, the founder of the Minuteman Project, a group fiercely critical of illegal immigrants. Huckabee then adapted an immigration plan that is very much at odds with his past position.

It also comes in the wake of Huckabee’s declaration that his conscience would not allow him to run advertisements critical of Mitt Romney in Iowa—a declaration, it’s worth pointing out, he made at a press conference in which he revealed to reporters the ad he refused to run, thereby ensuring it would get widespread attention. But Huckabee’s conscience seems to have gone on sabbatical the other day, when he responded to Fred Thompson’s substantive criticisms of his record this way: “Fred Thompson talks about putting America first, and yet he’s the one who is a registered foreign agent, lobbied for foreign countries, was in a law firm that did lobbying work for Libya. I certainly wouldn’t put my name on something like that.”

Such things might be dismissed as par for the political course, except that Huckabee, who once favored quarantining AIDS patients but now denies it, has made a virtue out of his supposed steadfastness. “You are not going to find moments on YouTube of me saying something different about the sanctity of life today than I said ten years ago, ten minutes ago, or fifty years ago,” Huckabee has said, referring to footage of Governor Romney declaring his support for abortion rights, a position he later changed. “You are not going to find something in YouTube where I said something completely different about gun ownership and the second amendment than I did last week, ten weeks ago, ten years go.”

Those words seem far less compelling than they once did. What we are finding is that Huckabee, who has long believed in religious conversions, appears to have a new-found affinity for political ones.

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The Michigan Primary and the Nevada Debate

We will be live-blogging the results in the Michigan Republican primary tonight, and simultaneously writing about the Democratic presidential candidate debate in Nevada, starting at 9 pm eastern time. Two quick thoughts.

1) If the exit polls hold up and Mitt Romney wins, that will mean three different Republicans have won the first genuinely contested state contests — Huckabee in Iowa, McCain in New Hampshire, Romney in Michigan. It is possible Fred Thompson will win South Carolina next week. And all these results make it even more plausible that Rudy Giuliani will hold on to win Florida two weeks from now, because there will be no frontrunner and therefore no one will benefit from momentum in the effort to prevail in Florida.

Five contests. Five different winners. All going into Super Tuesday. It sounds like chaos, but maybe it’s the best thing for the GOP, because the party is going to have to generate some kind of news excitement if its candidate is to have a chance in November.

2) Expect a ridiculous amount of discussion in Nevada tonight about strange issues that seem to be about nothing — maybe like the taxation of gratuities. The main voting bloc in the Democratic party in the state consists of people who work in hotels, and Hillary needs to peel part of it away from Obama, who secured the endorsement of its union.

We will be live-blogging the results in the Michigan Republican primary tonight, and simultaneously writing about the Democratic presidential candidate debate in Nevada, starting at 9 pm eastern time. Two quick thoughts.

1) If the exit polls hold up and Mitt Romney wins, that will mean three different Republicans have won the first genuinely contested state contests — Huckabee in Iowa, McCain in New Hampshire, Romney in Michigan. It is possible Fred Thompson will win South Carolina next week. And all these results make it even more plausible that Rudy Giuliani will hold on to win Florida two weeks from now, because there will be no frontrunner and therefore no one will benefit from momentum in the effort to prevail in Florida.

Five contests. Five different winners. All going into Super Tuesday. It sounds like chaos, but maybe it’s the best thing for the GOP, because the party is going to have to generate some kind of news excitement if its candidate is to have a chance in November.

2) Expect a ridiculous amount of discussion in Nevada tonight about strange issues that seem to be about nothing — maybe like the taxation of gratuities. The main voting bloc in the Democratic party in the state consists of people who work in hotels, and Hillary needs to peel part of it away from Obama, who secured the endorsement of its union.

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Thompson Squares off Against McCain

At Hotair, Allahpundit can’t decide whether Fred Thompson’s latest shot at John McCain is a “good straight jab” or an uppercut, but in any case the punch landed flush. Glenn Reynolds asked Thompson about McCain’s support amongst conservative voters. Thompson struck where McCain’s guard will always be down: taxes, immigration, and global warming. Thompson wraps up:

You know, he has his strong suits and his weak suits. But I think that the direction that he and Huckabee and others really, I think Giuliani and where Romney has been in the past all are going in a so-called moderate direction, which is going to lead to, you know, so-called big government conservativism or bigger government conservativism anyway.

There’s no question that a Reagan coalition conservative can compile a quick and tidy anti-McCain checklist. But as David Brooks put it in his much praised, but not at all heeded, January 1 piece on Mitt Romney, “If any Republican candidate is going to win this year, he will have to offer a new brand of Republicanism.” Which kind of takes the sting out of Thompson’s shot.

Additionally, McCain has a unique ability to instill trust in those who disagree with him. As the most pro-Iraq War politician in the country polls show he swept up New Hampshire’s anti-war voters. No one should be shocked if he finds support amongst those who resent his “big government conservativism,” too. Call this mysterious trait character.

At Hotair, Allahpundit can’t decide whether Fred Thompson’s latest shot at John McCain is a “good straight jab” or an uppercut, but in any case the punch landed flush. Glenn Reynolds asked Thompson about McCain’s support amongst conservative voters. Thompson struck where McCain’s guard will always be down: taxes, immigration, and global warming. Thompson wraps up:

You know, he has his strong suits and his weak suits. But I think that the direction that he and Huckabee and others really, I think Giuliani and where Romney has been in the past all are going in a so-called moderate direction, which is going to lead to, you know, so-called big government conservativism or bigger government conservativism anyway.

There’s no question that a Reagan coalition conservative can compile a quick and tidy anti-McCain checklist. But as David Brooks put it in his much praised, but not at all heeded, January 1 piece on Mitt Romney, “If any Republican candidate is going to win this year, he will have to offer a new brand of Republicanism.” Which kind of takes the sting out of Thompson’s shot.

Additionally, McCain has a unique ability to instill trust in those who disagree with him. As the most pro-Iraq War politician in the country polls show he swept up New Hampshire’s anti-war voters. No one should be shocked if he finds support amongst those who resent his “big government conservativism,” too. Call this mysterious trait character.

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