Will 2008 Involve Two Marriages of Convenience?
Handicapping the 2008 election is at this point a little tough, as certain things, known as 2006, 2007 and 2008 need to take place in order to better shape the environment of those contests. But ignoring the whole "events" necessity, there are a few things that can be reasonably calculated, and at this stage, I can only imagine that both Democrats and Republicans will each engage in a marriage of convenience in the selection of their nominee.
And with the mention of a marriage of convenience, it is appropriate to begin any discussion with the Democrats' current favorite, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-?). The Democrats love her because they know who she is, and they know that she is probably the most savvy liberal to enter politics in a very long time. She plays to the middle of late, but nobody other than the most obtuse are in any way affected by the charms of the architect of Bill Clinton's health care takeover plan of 1994. And it is rare that we get as decent a glimpse into how one would behave in the White House as we have had with Hillary Clinton.
Hillary is nothing short of a megalomaniac. Instead of having photos of the President and Vice-President adorning the atriums of federal buildings, during at least the early days of the Clinton Administration, it was the President and Hillary. And as the first ever First Lady to testify before a grand jury, Sen. Clinton seemed to be rolled up in scandal and ethical controversy at every available opportunity. Among the asterisks on her glowing resume are Travelgate where she bounced out White House employees in favor of cronies to run the White House Travel Office, her involvement in the Whitewater scandal which brought down a savings and loan and numerous friends of hers, resulting in the suicide of another and the hasty removal of related files from his office, as well as the concealment of the billing records that her firm generated as it represented the savings and loan, and even the campaign finance issue where her Senate campaign underreported $800,000 of in-kind campaign contributions, leading to the indictment (and in all fairness, later acquittal) of her campaign finance director, but where the campaign still paid out a $35,000 fine to resolve the matter.
So as much as the left loves Hillary, she possesses many of the same qualities that they despised in Richard Nixon. They will likely nominate her if they continue to divorce themselves from the political realities of the American electorate. But if Tom Bevan is right, she may not survive the primaries. His reasoning is insightful, he's got a very good point, but I pray that he is wrong. And he probably prays the same thing. Because a general election without Hillary is potentially a scary thing for Republicans.
If Even Bayh or Mark Warner runs in the general election and keeps a very conservative tack on national security, such a candidacy will carry tremendous credibility, provided that the candidate doesn't have any significant or unrequited skeletons in his/her closet. But I still think that a left-wing candidate has a better than average shot.
Much is made about the fact that Howard Dean peaked about 3 weeks too early in 2004 and then crashed and burned in Iowa, sealing the deal with his intemperate concession speech. But John Kerry was no less of a leftist; he just appeared to be more grown-up than Dean. Similarly, John Edwards who pretended to be a southern conservative but was in the same ideological camp as Kerry seemed just that much more responsible, despite the "Breck Girl" perception. So a left wing candidate like Hillary or Russ Feingold has some very significant potential if they can turn media buzz into votes, which is, after all, the only thing that matters in the end. And while I agree with Tom Bevan that low recognition now for the likes of Bayh and Warner has no bearing on what they will look like in 2008, a "who's more progressive?" battle between Hillary and Feingold could obscure media exposure for the rest of the field.
And in a similar vein, the Democrats had the choice of a couple of very credible moderates in 2004 and rejected them. Certainly, Dick Gephardt was a guy who could have generated a good deal of appeal in the general election, was (and would have been) infinitely more likeable than John Kerry, and was on the right side of the national security issue. Joe Lieberman, an aisle-crossing and personally very likeable man with impeccable moral credentials and a true centrist outlook was an equally compelling choice. But the Dems passed on electability and went for a leftist.
So if a Warner or a Bayh is to be considered for the presidency, the Dems would have to collectively decide to set aside a number of their more controversial political objectives and select a candidate whom they might not love, but who nonetheless has a real shot at getting them in the door of the White House. That is a very tall order but still possible, as electoral losses tend to be a very powerful lesson. But if the Dems rise to that level of maturity, unseen since 1992, the Republicans will have a very real fight on their hands.
And with respect to the GOP, the prenups are already being drafted. John McCain is the frontrunner, bar none. Condi Rice does not seem interested in running, but much can happen in two years. Nonetheless, while McCain had a shot in 2000, he seems the heir apparent for 2008. And that has some conservatives unnecessarily but in a strange paradox, understandably concerned.
Republicans have bought into the notion that because McCain is a media darling that he cannot be trusted. There is more than just a passing validity to that point of view. We all know where the media stands, and we all know that everyone loves fawning media coverage. The problem becomes when the media glow becomes addictive and politicians read their own press. Because the media has a remarkable neo-Pavlovian behavior conditioning system for politicians that gets results for those who fall into their web. They simply punish with bad press and reward with good.
And John McCain has appeared to be swayable by press. Between McCain-Feingold to swearing off coercive methods of interrogation of terrorists, McCain has confounded conservatives by seeming to be a maverick. But while a maverick he is to a degree, he is likely no more independent than President Bush whose illegal immigration policy is regarded by many conservatives as an amnesty program and whose efforts at creating Medicare Part D are among the greatest spending measures in our history. But McCain's loyalty to the party, including to a President with whom he has had a tepid relationship, has been better than anyone might have hoped. His speech before the Republican National Convention in 2004 was nothing short of magnificent as he did a perfect job of deconstructing the left's attack on the Bush and was remarkably magnanimous, given the fact that he and Bush had made no secret of their differences. And when it comes to major issues, McCain's Senate voting record is more or less solidly conservative.
So conservatives need to see McCain through something other than Campaign Finance Reform glasses. Because McCain is likely not the John Anderson or Jim Jeffords he has appeared to be. But as with many things, the press isn't fawning over McCain for no reason, and it needs to be understood that perhaps the media wants McCain to run in the same way that Republicans relished the idea of a Dean candidacy.
If anyone recalls the early 2000 primaries, the Dems were encouraging their voters in states with open primaries (where anyone from any party can vote for another party's candidate--a stupid idea to be certain) to forget about the nonexistent Gore-Bradley battle and vote for McCain, knowing that if he beat Bush, that they could take McCain apart in a general election, much more easily than they could the much better politically equipped Bush. And I think that same strategy underlies at least some, if not all, of the press honeymoon with him.
McCain has a temper, and it shows through. And if 2004 tells us anything, spouses and children are fair game in the Dems' playbook, meaning that his wife Cindy's issues with mental health and the ethnicity of his adopted children will come into play. Because in 2004 the John Kerry and John Edwards crossed the taste barrier a number of times by making shameless and tacky references to the sexual orientation of Dick Cheney's daughter followed by a rude comment by Elizabeth Edwards who accused Lynne Cheney of being ashamed of that daughter. So 2008 will be a nonstop effort to bait McCain and his family and to show just how low this party has decided to go.
And while a McCain candidacy may involve no small degree of grace among Republicans, it will involve nearly no surrender with respect to policy differences as it will on the Democrats' side. McCain is as much a conservative as he always was. He just seems disagreeable, but is actually more of a team player than the perceived-conservative Chuck Hagel (R-NE), who has no national security credentials and yet pontificates on the matter, specifically his disagreements with the President, to the delight of the anti-war media who flocks to his doorstep for every such pronouncement.
And while I seem to be saying that the nomination is all but McCain's it needs to be understood that the likes of Bill Frist (R-TN) or George Allen (R-VA) may also be in the game. Count Frist out. He votes conservative, but he is one of the least effective and most flaccid Senate Republican leaders in modern American history. If you are ever behind him, take note that you will see the shoeprints of both Tom Daschle and Harry Reid on his suit jacket. I don't think he has a spine of which we can speak, which puts him out of the contention. You need to be able to stare down an opponent as President. And if you can't do that to the largely powerless Senate Democrats, you won't be able to do it to Iran, Syria,China or North Korea.
Allen is different. He is a solid conservative, but his qualities are not known very well, and it will be hard to catch up to McCain's notoriety. And expect McCain to make himself significantly more palatable to conservatives over the next 18 months.
And expect it to be his race to lose if he wins the nomination.