Friday, January 11, 2008

Political Potpourri: Handicapping the Republican Race

  • Mitt Romney’s Hail-Mary Pass.
  • Giuliani’s High-Stakes Poker Game.
  • John “The Energizer Bunny” McCain.
  • Fred Thompson: Hibernating Bear or Rip Van Winkle?
  • Is Mike Huckabee the Republican Reincarnation of Jimmy Carter?
  • Will Smoke-Filled Rooms Make a Comeback at the National Convention?
  • Ron Paul’s One-Man Band.
Mitt Romney’s Hail-Mary Pass. In Michigan Mitt Romney faces fourth and long with time running out just like John McCain did in New Hampshire. Absent a victory there, Romney could stay in the race if he wants to continue spending from his personal fortune. But his good business sense will probably tell him to throw in the towel, if he loses. Some early polls show him doing well there, but both McCain and Huckabee pose challenges – (1) McCain’s strength comes from his New Hampshire victory and the continuing success of the troop surge in Iraq and (2) Huckabee’s advantages come from his ties to the evangelical vote, which is strong throughout Michigan, but especially in western Michigan among home-school voters. A Michigan victory by either McCain or Huckabee would pump more adrenalin into the winner’s South Carolina campaign and effectively end Romney's campaign, but if Romney’s Hail-Mary pass scores a touchdown, he can compete in the Super-Tuesday playoffs.

Giuliani’s High-Stakes Poker Game. Giuliani bet the house on a historically untested strategy, purposely bypassing the contests in Iowa and New Hampshire and concentrating his efforts on Super Tuesday and several large states, such as Florida and California. Six months ago Giuliani was the front-runner nationally, but since then he has slipped in the polls. Now he faces what some consider a must-win state, Florida. He should do well in Florida, especially in South Florida with its large base of retirees from New York and large Jewish population, which appreciates his support of Israel. But now he potentially faces serious challenges from Mike Huckabee and John McCain, who if they do well in South Carolina and Michigan will mount vigorous campaigns in Florida.

John “The Energizer Bunny” McCain. Like the “Energizer Bunny” John McCain continues to go, despite his age and setbacks. He looks old and tired, but his energy and enthusiasm inspire his admirers, and they are a growing number. His significant win in New Hampshire has breathed fresh air into his South Carolina campaign, where he has significant assets: (1) a large military population, which applauds his status as an authentic military hero and his success in advocating the troop-surge policy in Iraq, and the support of the Senior Senator Lindsey Graham. More than that, however, members of the Republican establishment there and elsewhere who are uncomfortable with Mike Huckabee’s Christian faith have begun to look for someone to stop him. Right now only the “Energizer Bunny” and perhaps Rudy Giuliani, if he wins his high-stakes poker game, will have the momentum to beat Huckabee to the finish line.

Fred Thompson: Hibernating Bear or Rip Van Winkle? Is Fred Thompson now growling like a bear coming out of hibernation ready to challenge competitors for control of the political landscape? Or is he like Rip Van Winkle, awaking from his sleep only to find that the political world has changed beyond recognition? His success in the South Carolina debate tells us that he has awakened, but we wait to see if he is the hibernating bear or Rip Van Winkle. A few months ago political pundits thought Thompson could enter the race and command center stage. But until the South Carolina debate those same pundits described him as sleep walking, lethargic, lazy, and ill-prepared. His virtuoso performance in the debate could pose a threat to Huckabee and McCain who lead him in the South Carolina polls, but Thompson may not have enough time on center stage to convince the voting audience that he is a bear and not Rip Van Winkle. Should Thompson drop out of the race, he will likely endorse his friend, John McCain.

Is Mike Huckabee the Republican Reincarnation of Jimmy Carter? In 1976 a little-known former governor and a Southern Baptist, Jimmy Carter, won in Iowa, swept the South, won the Democratic nomination, and then won the presidency. To date in 2008 the same scenario holds. If Huckabee wins in South Carolina, the gateway to the South, he could win most of the southern delegates, and his victory in Iowa and third-place finish in New Hampshire demonstrate that he can compete in the north.

Significantly, the South has the largest bloc of votes at the Republican National Convention and the largest bloc of Electoral College votes. Remember Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” and that every successful presidential candidate from Jimmy Carter through George W. Bush has relied heavily on southern support.

Huckabee faces a high bar of expectations in South Carolina. As a southerner and an evangelical, he should run well with the State’s large base of evangelical voters, which constitutes at least 50 percent of the voters in Republican Party. He also has the support of one of the State’s most potent political organizations, created by the late Governor Carroll Campbell, who managed the successful South Carolina campaigns of every Republican from Ronald Reagan in 1980 through George W. Bush in 2000. If he jumps over the bar of expectations, he could be on the way to becoming the Republican reincarnation of Jimmy Carter. Regardless of the outcome, a vice-presidential nomination may await him, because Republicans must win the South and keep the evangelical vote in the fold to win the White House.

Will Smoke-Filled Rooms Make a Comeback? Let’s suppose that Romney, Giuliani, Huckabee, McCain and Thompson head into Super Tuesday on February 5 with the following backdrop: (1) Romney’s Hail-Mary pass scores the winning touchdown in Michigan, (2) Giuliani’s high-stakes poker game pays off with a win in Florida, (3) Huckabee and McCain run well in both South Carolina and Michigan, and (4) Thompson jumps high over his low bar of expectations in South Carolina. Then suppose that these five candidates divide the delegate votes on Super Tuesday so that no one has a clear majority and all remain competitive. Further suppose that the remaining primaries yield the same result. Anti-smoking ordinances and laws in Minnesota may prevent Republicans from having smoke-filled rooms to broker a deadlocked convention, but they could not prevent the first deadlocked, brokered national convention in more than 50 years.

Ron Paul’s One-Man Band. On the debate stage, Ron Paul’s one-man band sounds only one note, libertarian economics as the gospel of the United States Constitution. He is so far outside the mainstream of the Republican Party that he is going nowhere in the Republican primaries, but he has the money to mount a spoiler campaign as a third-party candidate in the General Election. There he could create havoc for Republicans. Historically third-parties coming out of a major party damage its chances of winning the presidency. Should Ron Paul emerge as the only significant third-party candidate, his one-man, “Johnny one-note” band could spell defeat for the Republican presidential candidate. But there are exceptions to this rule. In 1948 two third-party candidates came out of the Democratic Party, but Harry Truman won the presidency. Republicans would do well to plan for Ron Paul’s One-Man Band playing in the General Election. They can best do that by seasoning their platform with libertarian ideas and highlighting their speeches with libertarian sound bites.


Mark Stevenson said...

Dr. Dunn, you say Ron Paul is so outside the "mainstream Republican" ideology, but isn't this a good thing? The "mainstream Republican" today is barely different from a member of the Democratic party in my opinion.

He makes very good points regarding our economy and how and why we're in so much debt for instance and no other Republican seems to want to address this issue.

Paul's interpretations of the Constitution are historically sound. The "mainstream Republicans" today have simply lost their way.

Jeremiah said...

I must agree with Mark's comments. As a lifelong Republican and conservative, I’m curious about why you feel that Ron Paul is “far outside the mainstream of the Republican Party”. Although I don’t agree 100% with everything he says, after researching the candidates and watching the debates, it seems like he’s the most true to the traditional, conservative Republican platform. His foreign policy (no world policing, no nation-building), reducing or eliminating taxation, fiscal responsibility, reducing the size of the federal gov’t, all seem much closer to the Republican platform I remember than today’s candidates.

GOPgirl007 said...

I was seriously considering Fred Thompson over the summer. I kept waiting...and waiting for the formal annoucement of his candidacy, but by the time he made his announcement in September, I had moved on to another candidate.

He just doesn't seem like he wants the job. I had heard comparisons last summer that Thompson would be like another Reagan. I think the only thing the two have in common is acting. Thompson just doesn't have the resolve and "fire in his belly" like Ronald Reagan. I'm disappointed in Thompson. I think Thompson's bid is over very soon.

petebargas said...

I long for the day when we again see a candidate who is fiscally conservative, morally/biblically obligated, social policy compassionate(which I feel is encompassed in Biblical obligation), stands against injustice (nationally as well as internationally) and yet is diplomatic. Call me a an idealist.