Tag Archives: Republican primaries

Today’s “Gag Prize”: the GOP Presidential Nomination

I wrote this for today’s Beyond Chron.

Remember the 1970’s game show with Monty Hall called “Let’s Make a Deal”?  Contestants on the program would pick a prize behind one of three curtains, and some would inevitably get stuck with a “gag prize” – such as a high chair with a screaming baby, a giant hot water bottle, or a pet donkey.  Today’s gag prize is the 2008 Republican Presidential nomination, as the political climate for next year should be very problematic for the G.O.P.  While the Republican presidential field is more fluid this year than the Democratic side, that’s because (a) each candidate is seriously flawed, (b) voters aren’t happy with any of them, and (c) unless the Democrats really screw up, 2008 should be a terrible year for Republicans.  Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee can enjoy the sudden burst of media attention that his high placement in the polls has garnered, but – assuming he wins the nomination – how much would that prize really be worth?  Nobody should care who wins the Republican nomination, because it probably won’t matter much in the end.

It is readily apparent why the Democrats are favored to win the White House next year, regardless of which candidates get nominated.  The American people have so tuned out George W. Bush, and want his Administration to be over, that no Republican candidate wants to be his heir-apparent.  I can’t think of any historical precedent where a two-term President leaves office so unpopular that the candidates in his own party don’t want his support.  In 1988, the Republican candidates all ran on the Reagan legacy – and in 2000, Clinton was very popular so that Al Gore could be his anointed successor.

But on the issues, the Republican candidates have learned nothing from the Bush fiasco.  They unapologetically support our quagmire in Iraq, engage in sabre-rattling on Iran that would make Dick Cheney blush, and every debate they have is about who can “out-torture” the other.  On immigration, the Republicans have a ticking time bomb that will cause them to pay dearly at the polls – as the growing Latino population in Texas, Colorado, Arizona and other states will be voting in droves next year.  In the House and Senate races, the Republicans are having a tough time recruiting candidates – and their fundraising has been anemic.

Which brings us to Mike Huckabee, who until recently was a second-tier candidate largely ignored by the mainstream media.  While he currently leads in Iowa, and has a good shot at winning some early states, I don’t believe that such a low-budget campaign can withstand the avalanche of front-loaded primaries on Super Tuesday to win the nomination.  I can only find one explanation for the Huckabee phenomenon: the other Republicans are so bad, that by default he has surged to the top.

Let’s start with Senator John McCain.  One year ago, he was the front-runner for the Republican nomination – due to his maverick nature and good reputation from the 2000 race.  But more than any other candidate, McCain has tied himself to the train wreck that is Iraq.  He now supports the Bush tax cuts he once opposed, sucks up to a Religious Right he once denounced, and is now so delusional that he jokes about bombing Iran.  Once a rising star in his Party, McCain’s stock has fallen to virtual obscurity.

Then there’s Mitt Romney.  He’s got lots of money and delivers red-meat rhetoric to social conservatives, but they hate him because he’s Mormon.  While I think he’s gotten a bad rap for this, it’s hard to generate sympathy for an opportunist who has changed what he believes in so many times to suit his needs.  He was a moderate to get elected Governor of Massachusetts, but now wants to make conservatives think he is one of them.  He wants to double the size of Guantanamo Prison, and says he won’t appoint a Muslim to his Cabinet.  As Michael Dukakis said, the guy is “a fraud with a capital ‘F.'”

Rudy Giuliani?  At first, I thought there was no way that Republicans would nominate a New York Mayor who is pro-choice and supports gay rights.  But his 9/11 talk has helped him with the “national security” crowd, and until recently he was the front-runner.  Then the mistress story hit, which is not your garden variety sex scandal.  Rudy used the NYPD to escort his mistress around, and billed it to other city agencies – so it’s also a taxpayer corruption scandal.  Republicans quickly remembered why they didn’t like him in the first place, and are deserting him like the plague.

The only way I see Republicans possibly winning the White House is if Giuliani survives the scandal to win the nomination, and the Democrats nominate Hillary Clinton.  A nasty general election between these two polarizing figures would be brutal and anything could happen, but I still think that Clinton could pull it off to win.  But it won’t be pretty.

Moving along to Fred Thompson.  The only reason this former Tennessee Senator and washed-up actor is running for President is because John McCain’s campaign has hit rock bottom.  For Democrats who fear that people underestimated another actor who ran for President, Thompson has not exactly proven to be another Ronald Reagan.  His campaign has been described as “lackluster” and “awkward,” and it really doesn’t seem like he wants to be in the race.  And this is who Republicans were pinning their hopes on to be their savior?

Will Mike Huckabee bail out the Republican Party from its woes?  Don’t count on it.  The evangelical Christian may be the “flavor of the month,” but will Republicans still support him when they find out that he allowed the early release of a serial rapist?  Unlike the current Barack Obama surge – which could really help the Illinois Senator win the Democratic nomination and become our next President – Huckabee is the Republican media darling by default.

This is not to say that Democrats should get over-confident and complacent in the general.  Who gets elected President will matter a great deal over the next four years, and whoever takes over the White House will inherit the disastrous mess that George Bush has left behind.  That’s why Democrats and other progressives should be constantly on guard for the next year, although the odds are certainly in their favor.  My intention in writing this piece is not to make Democrats feel good.  It is to call out the mainstream media for continuing to cover the Republican nomination as if it mattered.

Following the Republican field is exciting – if your definition of excitement is watching a car accident and predicting who will have the fewest injuries.  There’s a reason why the Democratic field has been static for months between three front-runners, while the Republican side has been volatile.  Democrats like their presidential candidates, while Republicans are looking elsewhere.  When CNN asked 24 undecided Republicans at the last debate for their opinion, only one had an idea about who she’ll be voting for: John Edwards.

The media is not doing anyone a favor by focusing on the Republican presidential race.  It is an irrelevant sideshow of dysfunctional candidates, and a distraction from the real race: the Democratic nomination.  What will happen in Iowa within the next month between Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John Edwards can be decisive about who will be the next President.  But the Republican field doesn’t matter – and the media’s only justification in following it is to cover a “horse-race.”

A horse-race to see who wins the “gag prize.”

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