Here we are going down to the wire with the caucus in Iowa and the primary in New Hampshire looming, and the emerging front-runners in those states are a former Baptist minister from Arkansas and a freshman Senator from Illinois who has touted his foreign policy experience as having lived abroad as a child.
Who woulda thunk it?
The backdrop to this election seems like a good plot. The recent American story appears to be a positive one. We have lived through six years of uninterrupted economic growth. There have been no additional attacks on the U.S. homeland since Sept. 11, 2001.
Still, these are indeed trying times for America. We remain in an unpopular war with no clear exit strategy. Storm clouds of peril appear for all to see: a collapsing dollar, unsecured borders, a failure to use our superpower status to lead globally, skyrocketing gasoline prices.
And despite decades of promises from Washington to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, we remain enslaved to bankrupt regimes who feed our dependency.
Is there someone who will lead us?
I am not sure, but here’s my take:
Mike Huckabee is indeed a great communicator. He also offers a positive vision of America. But he lacks gravitas.
Huckabee came out of 10 years as governor of Arkansas without any real national or local fundraising base, and without the usual coterie of aides that follow a person with presidential potential. Bill Clinton had a huge Arkansas and national network after serving nearly 12 years as Arkansas governor. Reagan had his Californian Kitchen Cabinet he took to Washington.
But with Mike it seems that he is alone. Good leaders know how to make the loaves and fishes because they know they need followers to implement their ideas.
I have no real problem with Mike’s take on the issues. He is smart to criticize mistakes in the Iraq war. He also has a balanced approach to the immigration problem, which focuses on first securing the border, and second, dealing with the illegal alien problem here. I believe Mike Huckabee, whether he wins the nomination or not, will become the leader of America’s Christian right.
Despite having shallow GOP support, Huckabee has become popular because every other GOP candidate seems to have problems.
Mitt Romney should be the default Reagan candidate. There was a sense he would catch on nationally with his executive experience, dazzling business success and superior communication skills, coupled with his leads in Iowa and New Hampshire. But his national poll numbers, always trailing, have seemed to decline. Now that trend is affecting his well-laid plans to score early primary victories.
Romney is the only candidate who holds the “problem solver” mantle, a key attribute voters will be looking for come November.
But I am truly shocked by the amount of discrimination against Romney as a Mormon. It is a major factor in Romney’s failure to gain traction with the conservative base – made up of many evangelical Christians.
In my book, the fact a person is a good Mormon is a feather in their cap. Mormons are good, decent, God-fearing family people. It is a sad commentary on the state of things that a qualified presidential candidate like Romney has been hurt by adhering to the faith of his parents.
Fred Thompson is another candidate conservatives thought would catch fire. Like Huckabee now, he appeared to be the natural candidate to carry the party’s torch.
But his phlegmatic entry into the race, and his lackadaisical approach to the campaign and the issues, scared off potential supporters.
Had Fred just 10 percent more energy and enthusiasm, he probably would have grabbed the nomination.
John McCain is also a candidate who can’t catch fire nationally. He suffers from overexposure and too much association with the war in Iraq.
It is also doubtful the party or the country wants to put a man in the White House who would be 72 years of age when he takes the oath. If McCain served two terms, he would be 80 when he closed his presidency.
Reagan was 70 when he took the oath, but he appeared much more vigorous and younger than McCain. Still, it was clear in Reagan’s closing years that he was not as engaged. With so many problems looming on the horizon, the presidency may require a younger person, at least younger than 72.
Rudy Giuliani at first blush appears the GOP’s strongest national candidate. But the way the system works is that the best candidate must win the party’s support first.
Giuliani’s approach was to be above the fray. He would make single-day, high-profile trips to Iowa and New Hampshire, visiting like a Hollywood celebrity. Primary voters in Iowa and New Hampshire abhor this and don’t buy into the view that one candidate is already anointed.
In my opinion, Giuliani could have had the nomination. Since 2001, however, he focused more on his business activities than his political ones. He could have gotten to know the GOP players better and did the nuts and bolts things necessary to win. Thinking that the backing of a handful of conservative players and positive coverage from Fox News could give him the nomination was wrongheaded. His dwindling poll numbers prove the point.
Back in November 2006, we featured Giuliani on the cover of Newsmax Magazine, noting that he could win the election. But that was predicated on the “X” factor – that another terror event would occur, propelling that issue to the fore and making Giuliani the natural winner. A terror event may still happen, but apparently not in time to give Giuliani the nomination.
Ron Paul is not a serious candidate in the sense that he can win the nomination. But he represents a new power within the party. Libertarians are strongly ideological, well educated and, with so many coming from the IT world, extremely wealthy. This has propelled Paul’s huge fundraising success – pulling in more than $25 million.
Paul’s legacy is yet to be seen. Key to a candidate’s success is their willingness to compromise with the rest of the party. Paul supporters are fervent in their views, but many seem unwilling to accept a half a loaf. They may be willing to simply bolt the party if they don’t get their way, 100 percent.
However, if they are willing to play within the GOP, they could play a major role in shaping the party’s platform and helping to put their powerful ideas into the mainstream.
All the infighting for the GOP race may be more about the party’s positioning after the November election.
The race to win this coming November will be an uphill battle for Republicans. After eight years of George W. Bush, Americans will want change. A contracting economy will mean the death knell for a GOP White House win.
Still 2008 may offer surprises, such as another terror incident or a third party bid for the White House by Michael Bloomberg.
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