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.)
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
The delegate total today: 620 for McCain, 270 for Mitt Romney and 176 for Mike Huckabee. (The McCain total will increase once California is fully counted.) By some calculations McCain won the overall popular vote last night by 650,000 votes over Romney (40% to 32%). McCain did win among self-identified Republicans (but just barely, 38-37%) as well as moderates and “somewhat conservative” voters. He came in a poor third among “very conservative” voters.
McCain sounded serious today about binding up the party’s wounds. Some of the most fervent Romney supporters are chiming in with responsible advice and reminding conservatives of the stakes in 2008–including six potential Supreme Court Justices. Larry Kudlow seems encouraged that McCain will meet the concerns of fiscal conservatives. But some are not happy and will not be mollified. I think the former will outweigh the latter, but as we saw last night it is the voters, not the pundits, that get counted on election day.
Meanwhile, Romney mulls his options while GOP veteran and McCain advisor Charlie Black gives the businessman, who loves data, some data to consider which suggests that the nomination is mathematically improbable, if not impossible, for Romney.
Most commentators gave McCain a hard time last time for his decision to go campaign in Romney’s home state of Massachusetts. However, the final “score” shows that he lost the state only 51-41 percent, an impressive showing in the his opponent’s backyard. (Despite a ludicrously inaccurate exit poll showing a tied race, McCain won his own state 48-34 percent.) The notion that California had tightened or that McCain’s lead there was ever in peril appears to have been nothing more than wishful thinking by the Romney forces. McCain, with over 90 percent of the vote counted, leads there 42 percent – 33 percent. (At some point for fun look at the state pre-election polling and see how awful some of it was. Zogby, for example, had Romney up 7 percent in California in its last poll. Other polling outfits, like Mason-Dixon, lived up to their good reputations.)
The magnitude of the California victory is startling. This map shows that in a closed primary, all Republican contest in the country’s largest state, where Romney poured in millions of dollars (perhaps his last), McCain won big, and won everywhere.
Now, there is a good argument that McCain should have spent more time in the South and that he vastly underestimated Huckabee’s ability to win states. It may have been that McCain lacked the internal polling that Romney enjoyed. If so, he now will have plenty of resources to get himself a decent pollster and plan his time accordingly.
John McCain has won California, and probably by a huge margin in the popular vote. Mitt Romney will withdraw tomorrow or Thursday. Mike Huckabee will stay in for another couple of weeks just in case McCain melts down.
…Looks like Mike Huckabee might have been inspired by Tom Petty’s halftime performance. If his speech in Arkansas is sincere, he “won’t back down.”
So much for my theory that Huckabee would turn his Super Tuesday successes over Romney into a face-saving, vice-presidential-nomination-pursuing, exit-in-strength strategy. That is, unless he’s waiting for Romney to exit first, thereby remaining in the race to block for McCain until California likely determines Romney’s fate.
Mike Huckabee has just riffed on songs representing all the states in which he is still competitive tonight. It was a pure improv, and very impressive, even if corny.
If this is Mike Huckabee’s last night as a presidential candidate, it looks like he’ll go out in a position of strength. Huckabee has already won West Virginia and Arkansas; is leading in Georgia; and is running second to John McCain in Alabama, Oklahoma, and Tennessee. In these conservative states, Huckabee has asserted himself over Mitt Romney as the conservative choice for the nomination. This should enhance his attractiveness as a vice-presidential candidate should McCain seal the nomination tonight.
Of course, California remains the wild card. Stay tuned.
Jen, what if the talk-show attacks on John McCain, all of which have been intended to benefit Mitt Romney, have instead given new life to Mike Huckabee’s campaign? After all, the talkers have been talking about the need for conservative purity. Under those terms, the Christian-identity candidate doubtless seems more authentic than the former moderate-turned-conservative from Massachusetts.
If Mike Huckabee, as yours truly suggested might happen, beats all the odds and gets more delegates than Romney tonight will the talk radio anti-McCain voices holler for Romney to drop out and get out of Huckabee’s way? If it comes down to Huckabee and McCain, what’s a conservative talk show host to do?
It took two ballots, but Mike Huckabee beat out Mitt Romney in the West Virginia caucus. Both candidates spoke there and Romney did his usual expert organizing. Is this a sign of things to come? Well, this is what news hounds ask during Election Day afternoon when no other returns are available. To put it in context: McCain lost in the first round and his voters switched over to Romney. The Huckabee-McCain alliance finally amounts to something. And the impact of talk radio is evidently, as far as I can tell, nil in West Virginia.
McCain builds momentum as we head into the weekend. He gains former Rudy backer and ex-Massachusetts Governor Paul Cellucci (and decides to make Romney sweat in his home state) and also nabs former Rudy advisor Steve Forbes. (Fiscal conservatives can argue whether Forbes or McCain advisor Phil Gramm would make a better Treasury Secretary.) Finally, the McCain team advises the media that in the excruciatingly complicated Louisiana caucuses (in which an uncommitted pro-life slate initially won), the delegates have now selected McCain. He nabs 41 of 47 of the state’s delegates.
Little by little the pieces fall into place. Looking at the latest polling I see Mitt Romney leading only in Massachusetts, Colorado and Utah. In many Red states he runs third to MIke Huckabee. It is quite possible Huckabee will gain more delegates than Romney on Tuesday.
The latest Fox poll showing John McCain at 48%, Mitt Romney at 20% and Mike Huckabee with 19% is interesting for more than just the confirmation of the frontrunner bounce McCain has received. If Huckabee were not in the race McCain would lead 62% to 29%. (Yes, 62%.) So much for the theory that Huckabee hurts Romney.
On the head-to-head match ups, McCain leads Hillary Clinton by one point and trails Barack Obama by one point. (Both, obviously, are a statistical tie.) Romney trails Clinton by 14 points and by Obama by 18 points. But Romney has Ann Coulter in his corner. (By the way, in the most delicate way possible, Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom said in response to my question whether Romney agreed with Coulter’s comments that conservatives should vote for Clinton if McCain were the nominee, “She has her opinion. Mitt Romney has a different opinion.”)
The breakdown on how much the presidential candidates spent on TV ads is stunning. Mitt Romney ran 34,281 ads costing $29M. John McCain ran 10,830 ads costing $8M. Mike Huckabee ran 5831 ads at a cost of $2.6M. What did it get them? McCain has 93 delegates (that is approximately $86,000 in ad expenditure per delegate), Romney has 59 delegates (a little more than $490,000 per delegate), and Huckabee has 40 delegates (just $65,000 per delegate).
Some commentators questioned McCain’s management skills when his campaign spent too much and ran aground last year, but he appears to have been the turnaround artist here, operating with extreme frugality and getting an excellent return on his investment (with a bank loan to assist him). He did not run an operation which was staffed to the hilt and sent out e-mails every time the candidate sneezed. There’s a lesson or two in there.
What a depressing night for Republicans! Whatever the Democratic debate lacked in substance, it made up for in sheer exuberance. With the writers strike sucking the fun out of Hollywood society, the Obama-Clinton debate felt like an opening night gala. And what a show! The rallies outside, the opening photo-op, the cheers, the friendly banter, the applause, the movie stars, the booing of Wolf Blitzer’s editorializing, the glamour of the Kodak Theater. It was an orgy of Democratic chest-pounding and self-congratulation worthy of Oscar night, John. Who couldn’t enjoy this after last night’s somber and often angry snipe-fest at the mausoleum that is the Reagan library?
What ought to haunt the GOP the most is that this Democratic contest might not be settled until April 22, the Pennsylvania primary. That means another 10 weeks of this remarkable Democratic road show while McCain continues to debate Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul on Fox News.
A McCain-Clinton or McCain-Obama debate might make all this look very different, especially if any serious discussion of taxes or foreign policy emerges. But at the moment, it looks like the Democrats are hosting a much better frat-house rush party.
Before the debate last night, I speculated that Mike Huckabee might play the role of McCain’s attack dog. He did not, preferring instead to bolster his appeal with social conservatives and perhaps to avoid a brushback accusation from Mitt Romney that he was, well, playing the role of McCain’s attack dog.
This morning on the increasingly newsworthy Morning Joe Huckabee let it rip. He started with this about Romney:
Here’s a man who didn’t hit political puberty in the conservative ranks until 60 years old. . . Here’s a guy who just ten years ago was saying, look, I’m an independent. I’m not for that Reagan-Bush legacy. And now he wraps himself in it. Here’s a guy who, despite what he says, his record in Massachusetts was significant increases in fees. And the numbers, you know, I’m going to the independent objective reports of those, and they were more like $700 million. He’s a recent convert to pro life. He still doesn’t have a solid stance on the second amendment. He believes that Brady and banning assault weapons, which they’re so-called, which is not a conservative position. He’s a recent convert to traditional marriage view. He at one time said he would do more for the gay community than Ted Kennedy. That’s not a conservative position. So I just don’t understand this whole thing about so many people, whether it’s Rush Limbaugh or anyone else, saying he’s the conservative in the race. He may be saying conservative things now, but he certainly wasn’t saying them until he ran for president, and his record is not one of being consistent. When you have an abortion bill in your state as part of your health package that for $50 you guarantee a government-funded abortion within your health plan to any person who’s truly pro life, that is not conservative.
Then he explained why this matters:
It’s about the credibility of the candidacy and whether or not there’s authenticity. And for me, give me a guy that I disagree with but at least I know he’s speaking from his convictions, and it’s not just a convenient political view that he’s taking because today I’m talking to a women’s group, so I’m pro woman. But tomorrow I’m talking to a men’s group, so I’m not. That’s what disturbs me, and I think it’s the kind of politics that just really turns people off.
The full performance is here. Well, I suppose he is still in the running for McCain’s VP. However, it also does explain why the “rally around Romney” phenomenon has not occured. The anti-McCain sentiment is real among staunch conservative opinion makers, but conservative voters just have not rallied to Romney enthusiastically because he really has not been a movement conservative. It is politically difficult from the perspective of disgruntled conservatives just to be against McCain; they would have to stir a groundswell of support for the alternative. That simply hasn’t happened, for many of the reasons Huckabee identified.
In an effort to sound caring, Mitt Romney and John McCain couldn’t bring themselves to say yes. Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul said no. This is ridiculous. Our economy is $3.2 trillion larger than it was in 2000 (in constant dollars, up 20 percent). Per capita income has risen from $34,000 to $44,000 (in constant dollars, up by 10 percent). Inflation has been historically low — at least until the last two quarters. Of course America is better off.