As John pointed out, it is not a very productive exercise to speculate about John McCain’s VP picks this far in advance. But journalists run out of things to write about and it’s an easy topic. The other easy one: finding aggrieved anti-McCain conservatives. Or ones who aren’t all that aggrieved, but who won’t say they are perfectly satisfied with McCain.
Stories like this only require a phone call to James Dobson, who is always good for some anti-McCain quotes (though he apparently is inching closer to McCain, according to another outlet), and to others, whose encouraging comments about McCain’s outreach to conservatives (“the process has begun”) are construed as somehow indicating disapproval. The relevance and king-making importance of Dobson’s opinion is never questioned, of course. Yet hasn’t the candidate he despises won the nomination?
The fact that a large number of Democrats indicate in polls they will defect to McCain if their choice doesn’t get the nomination and that McCain enjoys greater support among his party’s voters than do either of his opponents doesn’t quite jibe with the storyline. Nevermind. It would be a non-story to report that Republicans are unifying behind McCain just as they did with other nominees in prior elections. It’s newsier to find conservatives who would like McCain to do “more” for them–no matter how much this skews the picture.
Focus on the Family’s James Dobson has decided to endorse Mike Huckabee in a truly senseless gesture, the timing of which can only be compared to the Battle of New Orleans. (Didn’t he hear the war is over?) Just to be clear: Huckabee has 196 delegates of a required 1191. There are approximately 1165 delegates (actually fewer since California and Illinois delegates are not yet fully allocated) still outstanding. (Huckabee is not likely to get more than 85% of the remaining delegates, you think?) Coming after McCain’s remarkably successful CPAC speech and just before President Bush’s expected nod to the new nominee, the decision to endorse a man perhaps even less beloved than McCain among the conservative base will, I think, be largely ignored, if not mocked. (The anti-Coulter chorus is growing so he will have stiff competition in the voting for “least sensible conservative in a comedy” category.)
As with the anti-McCain talk show hatred-fest, the decision reveals far more about the intentions and priorities of the aggrieved McCain opponent than of the relative merits of either Huckabee or McCain. A Dobson-Coulter ticket is the next logical step. (I will leave for others to explain why Dobson, who played footsie with Romney for months on a possible endorsement, did not give support months ago to the one candidate who could have beaten McCain. On this score Romney has every right to be peeved.)
Mitt Romney’s campaign would love nothing better than for the Republican base to follow the direction of many of the talk show hosts and conservative opinion makers who despise McCain. But not really. The trap he is in is this: the McCain haters (like Ann Coulter) say that McCain is so bad Republicans should not support him if he is the nominee. Romney can’t and won’t say that. So he winds up having to disavow his new best friends.
It happened again today. The Romney team sent around a clip of James Dobson, the leader of Focus on the Family, being interviewed by Laura Ingraham (she also has been tearing into McCain for, among other things, changing his position on embryonic stem cell research). Dobson ripped into McCain on stem cell research, the Gang of 14, and the like and concluded : “Given these and many other concerns, a spoonful of sugar does not make the medicine go down. I cannot, and I will not vote for Sen. John McCain, as a matter of conscience.” (He clarifies that he would simply not vote, rather than vote for the Democratic nominee.)
I asked Romney spokesman Kevin Madden if by sending the email around he was encouraging others to follow Dobson’s lead. Apparently not. He responded: “Gov. Romney has said he will support the Republican nominee.” So what really is the point? It is fairly plain: to scare conservatives and to ingratiate himself with his base, the angry talk show set.
And on the other Romney gaffe of the day, he apparently did try to call Bob Dole. I assume it was to apologize and not to say ” And I really meant you’re the last guy I’d want supporting me!”
Broadly speaking, the political mood of the public can be gauged in terms of its shifting calculation of risk and reward. If, as in the period from about 1980 to 2004, the promise of new rewards outweighs the fears of accompanying risk, the market-oriented Republicans will be the beneficiaries. But if, as in the period from 1932 to 1966, the fear of risk is more salient than the hope of enhanced rewards, the result will be movement away from free-market policies and towards the presumed protections of government regulation.
For all its benefits, globalization (and the accompanying issues of massive illegal immigration) has brought to an end the period that privileged risk over reward. The Republican Party seems unable to face up to this shift. Some of my GOP friends blame it all on Bush. They rail at the failings of the Bush administration with the kind of vitriol usually reserved for leftists. Others, taken aback by the plunge in Republican party identification, trot out consoling ploys along the lines of “You should have seen the other guy!” Take, for example, Congressman Tom Cole of Oklahoma. While he acknowledges the unpopularity of the GOP, after a wave of scandals, the setbacks in Iraq, etc., he also emphasizes the misfortunes of the Democrat-controlled Congress.
Cole sees the 2008 election as shaping up like the one in 1992, when incumbents of both parties had a hard time. It’s true that Congress as a whole has only a 29 percent approval rating, lower than that of President Bush. But the problem for the GOP is that, as Washington Post columnist David Broder notes, half of the voters blame Bush and the Republicans; only 25 percent place the onus on the Democrats.
Another excuse Republicans are likely to make is that America is still, largely, a center-Right country. That’s true—but the center has shifted towards the Left. On a range of key issues, from trade to health care to economic inequality, the number of Americans who share some classic Democratic concerns has risen, notes the Wall Street Journal. A recent Pew poll found that “Three-quarters of the population is worried about growing income inequality. Pew also showed that two-thirds of those polled favor government-funded health care for all.” At the same time, Pew reports that “Support for a government safety net for the poor is at its highest level since 1987.”
How serious a candidate for the GOP presidential nomination is Fred Thompson?
Apparently quite serious indeed. Last week GOP insider pundit Robert Novak assured readers that Thompson isn’t just toying with running—he will declare his candidacy early next month. This rumor has generated outsized buzz, including a highly negative column by George Will. But a great many conservatives, dissatisfied with a field in which none of the three leading contenders is a down-the-line conservative, seem to be fans.
The former Senator’s most salient attribute is his persona. He has a large, comforting, commanding presence that Hollywood directors have seen fit to cast as an admiral, the director of the CIA, and even the President. His slow drawl, big eyes, and wrinkles make him the very image of the respected Southern lawyer. He is an excellent communicator, sympathetic, easy to watch, and never grating (which is not true of, say, Rudy). Some go so far as to call his qualities “Reaganesque.”
But what about substance?