Contrary to a lot of (quite respectable) opinion, I don't think that this next presidential election can already be called for the Democrats. To be sure, I agree entirely that the GOP is limping along, mainly because of self-inflicted wounds. (The behavior of the now past GOP majority in Congress was shocking -- and I don't shock that easily.)
Nonetheless, conventional wisdom suggested that Gore, not Bush, should have won the election in 2000. To be sure, Bush did not win a majority of the popular vote, but that misdirects our attention: Voting models, which are based on past voting behavior, predicted that Gore should win 55 percent or more of the popular vote. That Bush kept Gore within a few tenths of a percent of his own vote total means that voters were not voting as they had in the past. Plus, Bush won in 2004 while leading an unpopular war.
Further, we should remember that Bill Clinton never received a majority of the popular vote. (The Democrats have not received a majority of the popular vote in a presidential election since Jimmy Carter received 50.1 percent of the vote in 1976.) Hillary Clinton's support seems to have a ceiling at around 48 percent.
To be sure, the structure of Electoral votes seems to favor the Democrats; a shift of a few thousand votes in a few key states would presage a reversal of Bush v. Gore in 2008, in which the Democrats lose the popular vote but win the Electoral college.
Nonetheless, it seems to me that the 2008 election is far from over for the Republicans. But whom to nominate?
I have yet to figure out the popularity of Giuliani among Republicans. I saw a poll recently where even among "religious voters," Giuliani drew a large plurality of support. Maybe I wasn't paying attention, but I can't figure out what it is about his behavior during the 9-11 crisis that qualifies him to be president. I think I could pull the lever for Giuliana against Clinton, but that would be in an admittedly vain hope that he'd do as he says he'll do, and appoint judges like Roberts and Alito to the Supreme Court. While I recognize that there are a few politicians who are politically in favor of abortion, yet who oppose Roe v. Wade
as bad law, I don't see Giuliani being as principled as all that. Nonetheless, I'm sure of the justices that Clinton would appoint. (Although, truth be told, Bill Clinton's appointees tended to be more moderate than the justices they replaced, and tend to vote more moderately than Souter.)
So, too, I expect that Giuliani would be better on most domestic issues than Hillary Clinton.
Nonetheless, at bottom, I don't really trust Giuliani to do the right thing on foreign policy, which is supposed to be his big selling point, and I don't agree with his liberal social views. Further, I don't think that Giuliani can beat Hillary. While I doubt that a third-party candidate by social conservatives would gain more than a few percentage points (although those may be pivotal in a close election), I think the bigger threat is that rank-and-file conservatives would just abstain and stay at home.
I've liked what little I've of Huckabee, and have thought about sending him a campaign donation, but he's still definitely a second-tier candidate. I can imagine reasonable scenarios in which he could move up to the front tier, but it's still a long shot.
I was open to Fred Thompson, and still am for that matter. Still, Thompson ain't no Reagan. Sure, Thompson is genial, although he hasn't yet proven to be a particularly good communicator on the stump. But people who make this comparison tend to forget that Reagan spent almost 20 years as a movement conservative. While I disagree with the position Reagan took on the Panama Canal Treaty, he was actively engaged in big issues of the day prior to his run for president (and after he was California's governor). After Thompson left office, he went back to acting. I have no problem at all with his choice, but it doesn't suggest that he has a set of public-policy issues that he personally thinks are important enough to engage when he's not in office. I have little doubt that he's reflectively conservative, but I have yet to sense that he has a set of core beliefs that he's willing to fight for politically. That, combined with his lack of executive experience, makes me cautious about Thompson.
And finally there's McCain. McCain has proven himself a dependable conservative on social and economic issues. He's been engaged on foreign policy and defense issues. He has a compelling personal story, and he's polling
within a couple of points of Hillary Clinton, which is as good as or better than Giuliani.
To be sure, there's McCain-Feingold, but I think the bruhaha that's made among rank-and-file conservatives does more to demonstrate their dependence on conservative opinion makers than it does their principles or their independence of mind. While I opposed McCain-Feingold, it is extremely easy to make a conservative case for limiting campaign contributions -- just think about "faction" and The Federalist
#10. Don't get me wrong, I don't think the law was wise policy. But it's ridiculous to think that it was some huge sell out of conservative principles. I think this is one area on which K Street "conservatives" have lead conservatives in the wrong direction largely out of their own self interest.
I also think that McCain was entirely correct on the immigration issue. Sometimes I don't understand my fellow conservatives. Aside from immigration laws being government regulations that prevent people from seeking economic prosperity -- and when did support for regulations like that become a "conservative" issue? -- America is about immigrating to seek a better life. I say we should welcome everyone, provided that they are willing to join in the American project as well. Besides, I can't help but think that the conservative anti-immigration position will do for the GOP nationally what it did for the California Republican party -- move it into a permanent-minority party. McCain is absolutely right on on the immigration issue, for both principled and tactical reasons.
Finally, there's McCain's mixup with the religious right in the 2000 election. Whatever. The Bush campaign was playing hardball, and some Christian groups got on board with Bush. McCain got mad, and slapped them on the nose. So don't come crying to me when you're trying to beat up on someone and he happens to punch back. Truth be told, I find most religious-right organizations (as opposed to individual Christians who are conservative) mostly to be embarassments to Christianity. They confuse the left hand with the right hand.
So I guess I'm a McCain guy. I am concerned that he may be feeling his age more than I'd prefer in a president. But I think that he can defeat Hillary Clinton and, in doing so, would pursue largely prudent foreign and domestic policies, and keep the Court moving in the right direction. Further, I think he'd avoid pulling out of Iraq too early, thereby compounding the mistakes made by the U.S. there. So Meg and I sent him a $100 this last summer -- which is the first campaign contribution we ever made to an individual candidate. And we'll probably send him another contribution later this fall. Quite honestly, he may be too far behind now to catch up and win the nomination. But I don't really see a viable alternative at this point.