Commentary Magazine


Topic: Mike Huckabee

No More Mr. Nice Guy

Well, Mike Huckabee has not had a good couple of days. First, came the Cayman Islands speech making jaunt. Then there was the nasty rejoinder to Mitt Romney’s endorsement (and to Romney himself) followed by the defensive press release yesterday declaring: “I know all about the rumors swirling around. [Ed: What rumors?] That’s why I just went on national news show this afternoon, to knock those rumors down. I am still in this race. As I have said all along, I am in this race until someone gets to 1,191 delegates. That has not happened yet, and so I will keep campaigning for the Republican nomination. Period. That’s my ironclad commitment to my supporters.” Next came the fundraising letter pleading for more money to continue the fight. (“Before we get to a brokered convention however we will need to win Texas and seize the momentum. For this to happen however, we must have your immediate financial support. We are laying it all on the field in Texas and we need you to join us.”)
So far he is not impressing pundits or making more conservative friends. But he apparently is trying to make the most of his financial opportunities.
Well, Mike Huckabee has not had a good couple of days. First, came the Cayman Islands speech making jaunt. Then there was the nasty rejoinder to Mitt Romney’s endorsement (and to Romney himself) followed by the defensive press release yesterday declaring: “I know all about the rumors swirling around. [Ed: What rumors?] That’s why I just went on national news show this afternoon, to knock those rumors down. I am still in this race. As I have said all along, I am in this race until someone gets to 1,191 delegates. That has not happened yet, and so I will keep campaigning for the Republican nomination. Period. That’s my ironclad commitment to my supporters.” Next came the fundraising letter pleading for more money to continue the fight. (“Before we get to a brokered convention however we will need to win Texas and seize the momentum. For this to happen however, we must have your immediate financial support. We are laying it all on the field in Texas and we need you to join us.”)
So far he is not impressing pundits or making more conservative friends. But he apparently is trying to make the most of his financial opportunities.

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The Romney Endorsement

A short time ago Mitt Romney endorsed John McCain, asking his delegates to support his former rival. Although it is unclear whether the delegates can legally be transferred to McCain (the rules vary by state), the combined total of Romney’s delegates (286) and McCain’s (843) would put him close to the 1191 needed for the nomination. Romney spoke in especially gracious terms, making clear his abiding belief that McCain is the best-qualified person to serve as commander in chief. McCain took the opportunity to note that although they differed on issues, they shared a common conservative philosophy and that McCain would draw sharp distinctions between himself and his Democratic opponent. It was the picture of party unity McCain was seeking. (Romney seemed genuinely at peace with his new role as conservative surrogate.)

On one level, Romney is making good on his pledge to unite the GOP and prevent the Democrats from taking the White House in perilous times. However, he is also amplifying the contrast between himself (high-minded GOP loyalist) with the man who may be his competition in 2012 or 2016, Mike Huckabee. Huckabee seems bent on pursuing his quixotic campaign, perhaps to build a political base or perhaps to enhance his speaking fees. And as if the contrast were not stark enough, Huckabee gives a bitter interview following the Romney endorsement.

A short time ago Mitt Romney endorsed John McCain, asking his delegates to support his former rival. Although it is unclear whether the delegates can legally be transferred to McCain (the rules vary by state), the combined total of Romney’s delegates (286) and McCain’s (843) would put him close to the 1191 needed for the nomination. Romney spoke in especially gracious terms, making clear his abiding belief that McCain is the best-qualified person to serve as commander in chief. McCain took the opportunity to note that although they differed on issues, they shared a common conservative philosophy and that McCain would draw sharp distinctions between himself and his Democratic opponent. It was the picture of party unity McCain was seeking. (Romney seemed genuinely at peace with his new role as conservative surrogate.)

On one level, Romney is making good on his pledge to unite the GOP and prevent the Democrats from taking the White House in perilous times. However, he is also amplifying the contrast between himself (high-minded GOP loyalist) with the man who may be his competition in 2012 or 2016, Mike Huckabee. Huckabee seems bent on pursuing his quixotic campaign, perhaps to build a political base or perhaps to enhance his speaking fees. And as if the contrast were not stark enough, Huckabee gives a bitter interview following the Romney endorsement.

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Consensus Wherever You Look

I think we can all agree that leaving the campaign trail to give a paid speech in the Cayman Islands to an “unnamed organization” (h/t The Page) does not exactly increase Mike Huckabee’s stature. (Sounds a bit like a John Grisham novel, in fact.)

The pundits are unanimous: Hillary Clinton is in free fall. (Indeed, she is so desperate to get Barack Obama to debate and possibly slip up that she has shelved her indignation over the comment by MSNBC’s David Shuster about her daughter.) Things are so bad the RNC focuses its attacks now on her opponent. (Ah, remember the good old days when Rudy mocked her at every turn?) Perhaps it is a form of political Stockholm Syndrome, but it seems almost unimaginable that she could lose, or at least lose without a bitter, legal fight over seating Michigan and Florida delegates. In the end, however, the delegate math will prevail.

John McCain is making progress rallying the GOP troops and pundits, in large part because the success of the surge and his role in championing it trumps most other issues. Considering that CPAC was just one week ago, it is hard to deny that he has made considerable progress unifying the party, even though “Republicans divided” remains a favorite media storyline.

Finally, even Barack Obama agrees that less chanting and more details would be a good idea.

I think we can all agree that leaving the campaign trail to give a paid speech in the Cayman Islands to an “unnamed organization” (h/t The Page) does not exactly increase Mike Huckabee’s stature. (Sounds a bit like a John Grisham novel, in fact.)

The pundits are unanimous: Hillary Clinton is in free fall. (Indeed, she is so desperate to get Barack Obama to debate and possibly slip up that she has shelved her indignation over the comment by MSNBC’s David Shuster about her daughter.) Things are so bad the RNC focuses its attacks now on her opponent. (Ah, remember the good old days when Rudy mocked her at every turn?) Perhaps it is a form of political Stockholm Syndrome, but it seems almost unimaginable that she could lose, or at least lose without a bitter, legal fight over seating Michigan and Florida delegates. In the end, however, the delegate math will prevail.

John McCain is making progress rallying the GOP troops and pundits, in large part because the success of the surge and his role in championing it trumps most other issues. Considering that CPAC was just one week ago, it is hard to deny that he has made considerable progress unifying the party, even though “Republicans divided” remains a favorite media storyline.

Finally, even Barack Obama agrees that less chanting and more details would be a good idea.

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Why So Nice?

John McCain in the blogger call today and in a press conference earlier in the week went to great pains to avoid saying Mike Huckabee should get out of the race. He repeatedly said that he “respected” Huckabee. (Meanwhile, McCain’s campaign manager sends around a fundraising e-mail pointing out that McCain only needs 35% of the remaining delegates while Huckabee needs 123%).

This seems to be the right tactic for McCain two reasons. Much of what seems to motivate Huckabee is a chip on the shoulder, a resentment toward the GOP establishment. His constant complaint in debates that he was not getting enough questions and his obvious delight in running against “Wall Street” suggests not just a political mindset, but a tempermental outlook. (He takes great delight in describing his modest beginnings and his ability to best those more wealthy and powerful than he.) Telling him to get lost won’t help matters, but allowing him gracefully to reach the conclusion in his own time might help hasten his departure.

In addition, McCain is trying out a new persona–the gracious frontrunner and healer of the party. Critics consider him too combative with his allies and inclined to hold grudges. He intends to prove them wrong. By offering to listen to former conservative opponents and by refusing to kick sand in the eyes of a faltering rival, he furthers that effort.

All in all, it shows a measure of restraint and political maturity that may surprise his critics.

John McCain in the blogger call today and in a press conference earlier in the week went to great pains to avoid saying Mike Huckabee should get out of the race. He repeatedly said that he “respected” Huckabee. (Meanwhile, McCain’s campaign manager sends around a fundraising e-mail pointing out that McCain only needs 35% of the remaining delegates while Huckabee needs 123%).

This seems to be the right tactic for McCain two reasons. Much of what seems to motivate Huckabee is a chip on the shoulder, a resentment toward the GOP establishment. His constant complaint in debates that he was not getting enough questions and his obvious delight in running against “Wall Street” suggests not just a political mindset, but a tempermental outlook. (He takes great delight in describing his modest beginnings and his ability to best those more wealthy and powerful than he.) Telling him to get lost won’t help matters, but allowing him gracefully to reach the conclusion in his own time might help hasten his departure.

In addition, McCain is trying out a new persona–the gracious frontrunner and healer of the party. Critics consider him too combative with his allies and inclined to hold grudges. He intends to prove them wrong. By offering to listen to former conservative opponents and by refusing to kick sand in the eyes of a faltering rival, he furthers that effort.

All in all, it shows a measure of restraint and political maturity that may surprise his critics.

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Garbage In, Garbage Out

Much of the TV punditry last night was based on exit polling from Virginia showing that it was a one-point race. Those exit polls (as were the ones in California, Arizona, Delaware and a number of other states this primary season) were wrong, really wrong. John McCain in fact won by 11 points and reached the 50% threshold. However, not only did TV commentators continue to refer to the race as “close” but they used those very same numbers as proof positive that McCain has an ongoing problem with evangelicals and conservatives. Perhaps he does, but faulty polls are not the starting part to make the case.

In fact, when you look at actual returns, McCain did remarkably well in key areas throughout the state — Norfolk and Newport News (military communities), northern suburbia (Loudon, Fairfax) and, as Karl Rove pointed out, the 7th Congressional District (Eric Cantor) in the middle of the state, which will be critical in the general election. All in all it was an impressive showing. (Beyond that, the conservative and evangelical “problem” seems illusory since Barack Obama, not Mike Huckabee, will be on the ballot in all likelihood and increasingly high percentages of all Republicans indicate they are satisfied with McCain as the nominee.)

One thing that the TV pundits got right: Huckabee has essentially been eliminated. While the McCain camp is apparently not too pleased by his continued presence in the race, so long as McCain racks up healthy wins, ignores the exit polls (and the wrongheaded commentary which flows from it) and begins, as he did last night, to formulate a general-election message, there seems to be little harm done in waiting several more weeks for Huckabee formally to leave the race.

Much of the TV punditry last night was based on exit polling from Virginia showing that it was a one-point race. Those exit polls (as were the ones in California, Arizona, Delaware and a number of other states this primary season) were wrong, really wrong. John McCain in fact won by 11 points and reached the 50% threshold. However, not only did TV commentators continue to refer to the race as “close” but they used those very same numbers as proof positive that McCain has an ongoing problem with evangelicals and conservatives. Perhaps he does, but faulty polls are not the starting part to make the case.

In fact, when you look at actual returns, McCain did remarkably well in key areas throughout the state — Norfolk and Newport News (military communities), northern suburbia (Loudon, Fairfax) and, as Karl Rove pointed out, the 7th Congressional District (Eric Cantor) in the middle of the state, which will be critical in the general election. All in all it was an impressive showing. (Beyond that, the conservative and evangelical “problem” seems illusory since Barack Obama, not Mike Huckabee, will be on the ballot in all likelihood and increasingly high percentages of all Republicans indicate they are satisfied with McCain as the nominee.)

One thing that the TV pundits got right: Huckabee has essentially been eliminated. While the McCain camp is apparently not too pleased by his continued presence in the race, so long as McCain racks up healthy wins, ignores the exit polls (and the wrongheaded commentary which flows from it) and begins, as he did last night, to formulate a general-election message, there seems to be little harm done in waiting several more weeks for Huckabee formally to leave the race.

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Huck-a-bore

Yes, Mike Huckabee is literally running out of gas. What is worse, the amusing and puckish Huckabee is being replaced by a surly and sniping character whose new signature attack appears to be that John McCain is not sufficiently pro-life. Based on this last week, I think Huckabee is losing badly to Mitt Romney in the “losing but endearing himself to many in the party” race. McCain, however, may be glad to have him still in the race.

Yes, Mike Huckabee is literally running out of gas. What is worse, the amusing and puckish Huckabee is being replaced by a surly and sniping character whose new signature attack appears to be that John McCain is not sufficiently pro-life. Based on this last week, I think Huckabee is losing badly to Mitt Romney in the “losing but endearing himself to many in the party” race. McCain, however, may be glad to have him still in the race.

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Huckabee: Less Is More

We can speculate as to why Mike Huckabee is remaining in the race. (He needs over 80% of the remaining delegates to win so the reason is not “to win.”) He might want to increase what bargaining power he thinks he has regarding John McCain’s VP slot or he may think he is laying the groundwork for 2012. However, there is a good argument that the longer he stays in the worse impression he makes and the more damage he does to his future political aspirations.

The low down on the tempest in a teapot in Washington is here. (More votes were counted and McCain remains in the lead, although it appears not to be binding or impact the state convention.) Huckabee’s “woe is me/the big guys are out to get me” tactic is not likely to make McCain or anyone else in the GOP feel kindly toward him.

He is also stepping up his rhetoric against McCain at a time when many conservatives are largely making peace with their almost-nominee. (Ironically, many in the conservative base who liked Huckabee and his populist rhetoric and fuzzy foreign policy notions even less than McCain may come to appreciate McCain’s many assets, if only in comparison to Huckabee.)

In the short run, all of this may help the GOP frontrunner. Currently, Huckabee poses no threat to McCain’s nomination. McCain is likely to cruise to victories tomorrow and in Wisconsin, leaving Huckabee close to mathematical elimination. As Huckabee turns from amusing sparring partner to annoying crank, McCain can focus his attention to more viable running mates who may help him both with conservatives and with the general electorate. It was clear that Huckabee loathed Mitt Romney, but for his own sake, he might have been better off to have followed the lead of his rival and left the stage at the right time. For McCain, Huckabee’s ongoing presence may strangely help him make the case to skeptics on the right that he is not so bad after all.

We can speculate as to why Mike Huckabee is remaining in the race. (He needs over 80% of the remaining delegates to win so the reason is not “to win.”) He might want to increase what bargaining power he thinks he has regarding John McCain’s VP slot or he may think he is laying the groundwork for 2012. However, there is a good argument that the longer he stays in the worse impression he makes and the more damage he does to his future political aspirations.

The low down on the tempest in a teapot in Washington is here. (More votes were counted and McCain remains in the lead, although it appears not to be binding or impact the state convention.) Huckabee’s “woe is me/the big guys are out to get me” tactic is not likely to make McCain or anyone else in the GOP feel kindly toward him.

He is also stepping up his rhetoric against McCain at a time when many conservatives are largely making peace with their almost-nominee. (Ironically, many in the conservative base who liked Huckabee and his populist rhetoric and fuzzy foreign policy notions even less than McCain may come to appreciate McCain’s many assets, if only in comparison to Huckabee.)

In the short run, all of this may help the GOP frontrunner. Currently, Huckabee poses no threat to McCain’s nomination. McCain is likely to cruise to victories tomorrow and in Wisconsin, leaving Huckabee close to mathematical elimination. As Huckabee turns from amusing sparring partner to annoying crank, McCain can focus his attention to more viable running mates who may help him both with conservatives and with the general electorate. It was clear that Huckabee loathed Mitt Romney, but for his own sake, he might have been better off to have followed the lead of his rival and left the stage at the right time. For McCain, Huckabee’s ongoing presence may strangely help him make the case to skeptics on the right that he is not so bad after all.

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And You Think The GOP Has Problems

Yes, John McCain has a pesky Mike Huckabee reminding him that his red-state appeal could use some improvement. Yes, there is some segment of the conservative base that will dog him to move right just when he should be clinging to the center in the general election. However, his — and in turn the GOP’s issues — pale in comparison right now to the Democrats’.

We know the Democratic race is knotted and may come down to a superdelegate buy-a-thon, arm-twist-a-thon to determine the nomination, an awful prospect for the party which has spent decades trying to escape the smoke-filled room brand of politics (and not just through smoking bans). There is a bigger problem, actually two problems: Michigan and Florida.

Michigan had 156 delegates and Florida had 185 delegates before the DNC stripped both states of their delegates for breaking DNC rules and jumping into the pre-February 5 time period. In a race this close these delegates could decide the winner. Would the Democrats really pick a nominee without counting votes from two populous states that will be critical in November?

Several ideas are circulating to deal with this increasingly critical problem. Hillary Clinton, of course, wants to seat the delegates based on the votes already cast, arguing 1.8 million Florida and 600,000 Michigan votes should not be thrown out. Barack Obama contends that unlike his opponent (silly him) he abided by the DNC rules and did not compete (or even list his name on the Michigan ballot), and the recorded votes are therefore meaningless. Other ideas include a convention or caucus “do over” in the spring or some combination of a “do over” and retention of the the original results.

For all their reform-minded zeal, the Democrats may have a good old fashioned rules fight over sitting the disputed delegates and a smoke-filled room or two might determine their nominee. Political junkies might think this would be grand fun, but for both Democratic candidates and the DNC this may be their worst nightmare. The bitter feelings and lawsuits resulting from such a titanic struggle could paralyze the party that many had predicted would sail into the White House. McCain and the GOP might finally have caught a break.

Yes, John McCain has a pesky Mike Huckabee reminding him that his red-state appeal could use some improvement. Yes, there is some segment of the conservative base that will dog him to move right just when he should be clinging to the center in the general election. However, his — and in turn the GOP’s issues — pale in comparison right now to the Democrats’.

We know the Democratic race is knotted and may come down to a superdelegate buy-a-thon, arm-twist-a-thon to determine the nomination, an awful prospect for the party which has spent decades trying to escape the smoke-filled room brand of politics (and not just through smoking bans). There is a bigger problem, actually two problems: Michigan and Florida.

Michigan had 156 delegates and Florida had 185 delegates before the DNC stripped both states of their delegates for breaking DNC rules and jumping into the pre-February 5 time period. In a race this close these delegates could decide the winner. Would the Democrats really pick a nominee without counting votes from two populous states that will be critical in November?

Several ideas are circulating to deal with this increasingly critical problem. Hillary Clinton, of course, wants to seat the delegates based on the votes already cast, arguing 1.8 million Florida and 600,000 Michigan votes should not be thrown out. Barack Obama contends that unlike his opponent (silly him) he abided by the DNC rules and did not compete (or even list his name on the Michigan ballot), and the recorded votes are therefore meaningless. Other ideas include a convention or caucus “do over” in the spring or some combination of a “do over” and retention of the the original results.

For all their reform-minded zeal, the Democrats may have a good old fashioned rules fight over sitting the disputed delegates and a smoke-filled room or two might determine their nominee. Political junkies might think this would be grand fun, but for both Democratic candidates and the DNC this may be their worst nightmare. The bitter feelings and lawsuits resulting from such a titanic struggle could paralyze the party that many had predicted would sail into the White House. McCain and the GOP might finally have caught a break.

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Saturday Votes

In voting today, Mike Huckabee won big with nearly 60% of the vote in the Kansas caucus. Huckabee barnstormed yesterday; John McCain did not campaign there. In early returns, McCain also is trailing Huckabee in Louisiana and, remarkably, in Washington as well, where it appears that very few votes are being cast. (There was an issue in which thosuands of ballots were invalidated due to voters’ failure to sign the ballot “oath” identifying themselves as either Democrat or Republican.) 
                                                                                                                              In the CPAC the straw poll, 24% of which occurred before Mitt Romney dropped out, McCain came in a point behind Romney (34-35%) while Mike Huckabee took 12%.(Once Romney dropped out McCain led in the straw poll voting 37%-32%.) McCain is likely pleased that  the result wasn’t far worse from a group in which 57% believe we should withdraw from the U.N. and 80% back a policy which says we should follow existing laws even if it means deporting illegal aliens. Looking ahead to Tuesday, McCain has 30+ point leads in Maryland and Virginia. It seems that, despite a poor Saturday showing, he is on track to reach his magic delegate number of 1191.

 

Meanwhile, on the Democratic side, Barack Obama won big in Nebraska, Washington and Louisiana. In both Red and Blue states he is racking up impressive wins. Once again, the saving grace for Hillary Clinton is the proportional voting system. Nevertheless, the ground may be shifting and Obama may lead in the delegate count after Tuesday. (He leads in Virginia and Maryland by 20 points.) It could be that the Democratic race has reached its tipping point.

UPDATE: Huckabee edged out McCain 43% to 42% in Louisiana. (Since neither candidate got 50% of the vote, no one receives the delegates that were at stake.) In Washington with 83% of the vote counted, McCain holds a narrow lead. McCain will no doubt hope to get back on track with Tuesday’s primaries.

In voting today, Mike Huckabee won big with nearly 60% of the vote in the Kansas caucus. Huckabee barnstormed yesterday; John McCain did not campaign there. In early returns, McCain also is trailing Huckabee in Louisiana and, remarkably, in Washington as well, where it appears that very few votes are being cast. (There was an issue in which thosuands of ballots were invalidated due to voters’ failure to sign the ballot “oath” identifying themselves as either Democrat or Republican.) 
                                                                                                                              In the CPAC the straw poll, 24% of which occurred before Mitt Romney dropped out, McCain came in a point behind Romney (34-35%) while Mike Huckabee took 12%.(Once Romney dropped out McCain led in the straw poll voting 37%-32%.) McCain is likely pleased that  the result wasn’t far worse from a group in which 57% believe we should withdraw from the U.N. and 80% back a policy which says we should follow existing laws even if it means deporting illegal aliens. Looking ahead to Tuesday, McCain has 30+ point leads in Maryland and Virginia. It seems that, despite a poor Saturday showing, he is on track to reach his magic delegate number of 1191.

 

Meanwhile, on the Democratic side, Barack Obama won big in Nebraska, Washington and Louisiana. In both Red and Blue states he is racking up impressive wins. Once again, the saving grace for Hillary Clinton is the proportional voting system. Nevertheless, the ground may be shifting and Obama may lead in the delegate count after Tuesday. (He leads in Virginia and Maryland by 20 points.) It could be that the Democratic race has reached its tipping point.

UPDATE: Huckabee edged out McCain 43% to 42% in Louisiana. (Since neither candidate got 50% of the vote, no one receives the delegates that were at stake.) In Washington with 83% of the vote counted, McCain holds a narrow lead. McCain will no doubt hope to get back on track with Tuesday’s primaries.

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This Takes The Cake

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.)

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.)

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What Romney Got Right

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Huckabee an Unlikely VP

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

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

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

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

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Who Is Kidding Whom?

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

McCain needs 487 484 of 1147

Romney needs 897 of 1147

Huckabee needs 996 of 1147

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

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

McCain needs 487 484 of 1147

Romney needs 897 of 1147

Huckabee needs 996 of 1147

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

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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 Day After

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.

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.

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Margins of Victory

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.

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.

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It’s All Over

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.

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.

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Speaking of the Super Bowl’s impact…

…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.

…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.

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Boy, He’s Good

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.

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.

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Huckabee’s Last Stand

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.

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.

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