April 19th, 2008 by Rightsideup

With all this talk about “bitterness” in Pennsylvania, I’ve actually been thinking about the two Primary campaigns and the fact that the Democratic campaign appears to have become more bitter than the Republican campaign was. Howard Dean told CNN that he wants a nominee chosen ASAP because:

We cannot give up two or three months of active campaigning and healing time. We’ve got to know who our nominee is.

Did the Republicans need “healing time”? There were one or two stories about the bitterness behind the scenes – mostly on the part of the other candidates and directed at Romney. But that has blown over so quickly that it’s barely a memory at this point. Romney, of course, is campaigning for McCain. Thompson and the others have endorsed McCain strongly. Huckabee is perhaps the weakest link at this point, but it really didn’t take very long for the “healing” process to take place.

The other point that strikes me is the fact that the bitterness on the Republican side (other than that directed at Romney) was mostly between rival factions who had distinctly different policy goals. Huckabee supporters distrusted the other candidates because they were not conservative enough on social issues. Thompson and Romney supporters mistrusted Huckabee because of his unserious policies on taxation. This was, on the whole, not about personality differences.

On the Democratic side, however, the bitterness is very much about personality, since there’s very little that separates the candidates on the major issues. And that may make it that much harder for them to “heal” afterwards, because the criticisms the two camps have directed at each other have not been about differences of opinion on policy. If they were – as on the Republican side – they would be easily overcome by taking the approach that the Democratic platform is ultimately what people need to get behind. But suggestions that your opponent is too inexperienced to be President are not so easy to brush off when they become the party’s nominee. Some of McCain’s best ammunition in the general election will be comments made by Hillary about Obama (assuming he’s the nominee): “If your own party doesn’t think you’re experienced enough to govern, why should the American people feel differently?” etc.

Long may the Democratic primary continue.

March 5th, 2008 by Rightsideup

So Mike Huckabee’s finally out of the race, now that McCain appears to have crossed the 1191 delegate line. There’s a nice bit of revisionist history in the CNN piece covering this piece of news:

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee bowed to “the inevitable” and dropped out of the Republican presidential race Tuesday night after an improbable run for a politician little known beyond his home state a year ago.

I think it’s been “inevitable” for some time at this point. Now it’s moved from being inevitable to being a cold hard fact. If he stayed in it at this point it would have been evidence of insanity, nothing more.

Huckabee went on to best former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, by then the GOP front-runner, in the Iowa caucuses January 3, placing him among the top tier of Republican hopefuls.

I don’t recall anyone from CNN (or any of the other main news organisations) calling Mitt Romney the GOP front-runner at the time. Helpful for them to concede this fact now.

He lagged behind Romney and McCain in the next round of contests, in New Hampshire and Michigan, and trailed McCain in South Carolina. However, his victories in West Virginia and the Deep South states of Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and his native Arkansas in the February 5 Super Tuesday contests helped force Romney out of the race.

It’s those last few words that grate here. Romney wasn’t forced out of the race: he pulled out when it was clear that staying in was likely to be unproductive, but at the time he had more votes and significantly more delegates than Huckabee. Huckabee has now been forced out of the race by the sheer fact that McCain has won, but to suggest that Huckabee forced Romney out of the race is a gross overstatement. Huckabee did siphon away enough votes from Romney to make it hard for him to beat McCain, of course, but Romney wasn’t forced out any more than Huckabee was.

It then goes on in the next paragraph with this:

“Over the past few days, a lot of people have been trying to say that this is a two-man race,” Huckabee told supporters that night. “Well, you know what? It is, and we’re in it.”

Which suggests that Huckabee said this after Romney pulled out, and it therefore made logical sense at the time. Of course, he said this on a night when Romney was still way ahead of him and it was bravado at best and downright dishonesty at worst.

And the article finishes off with this:

“To have gone this far and outlasted so many others, I think is a remarkable story. Wish it would have ended differently, but it is what it is,” Huckabee said.

Huckabee’s exit leaves anti-war Texas congressman Ron Paul, a former Libertarian presidential candidate, as McCain’s sole active opponent.

If by “outlasted” Huckabee means “had the temerity to stay in even when he had no chance of winning despite urging from most of the party to pull out already” I guess that statement is accurate… The last paragraph is a doozy too – in what sense is Ron Paul an “active” opponent of McCain? Hasn’t he completely stopped campaigning? And isn’t the fact that he hasn’t officially conceded more about the fact that he’s stopped paying attention to the presidential race than about the fact that he’s still in it?

At any rate, glad Huckabee can add to 1191 and that he’s finally out of it and backing McCain. Wonder what’s next for him. He doesn’t seem to be considered by most of the commentators as a VP candidate, but a lot of Huckabee followers seem to think that’s the logical next step.

March 4th, 2008 by Rightsideup

cnnmakeorbreak.pngCNN has really outdone itself this time. In the headline of the main story on the site (at least at time of writing) it describes Tuesday 4 March as “another make-or-break, do-or-die primary day”. Now, I believe this is a make-or-break, do-or-die day for both Hillary Clinton and Mike Huckabee, but how can it be another? Did either of them do well enough last time they held a make-or-break, do-or-die primary day that they could be considered to have made and done whatever was necessary to avoid breaking and dying? By definition, this can’t be “another” one of those days, at least for the candidates still in it. And calling it “critical Tuesday” is not even as amusing as calling the big primary day “Super-Duper Tuesday”. Is it just me, or is CNN trying just a little too hard to make this more exciting?

February 23rd, 2008 by Rightsideup

Jonathan Martin of Politico has a piece up about Huckabee and what his real reasons are for staying in the race. While everyone else has been suggesting (in my opinion rightly) that Huckabee is staying in the race to keep pressure on McCain for favors down the road, or possibly just for vanity’s sake, Martin appears to have swallowed large mouthfuls of what the Huckabee campaign has fed him, to whit: he believes it’s really about 2012.

I have a draft post that’s not ready for publication yet on the 2012 field on the Republican side, and my comment about Huckabee was this:

Of this year’s candidates, few are likely to run again apart from Romney…

Of the rest, Huckabee appears to be burning his bridges by staying in the race this long – many party leaders are annoyed that he isn’t stepping aside when it’s clear he has no chance of winning. He appears to concede this fact himself too.

That link in the second paragraph is to a CNN article quoting Huckabee as saying he’s probably doing himself more harm than good, and I agree.

If you take apart Martin’s article, the comments suggesting Huckabee will be a force in 2012 come from the following people:

  • “Huckabee strategist Ed Rollins”
  • “Former Sen. Tim Hutchinson (R-Ark.), a top Huckabee ally and frequent surrogate”
  • “Joe Carter, an aide at the Family Research Council who briefly worked for Huckabee last year”

Note, three Huckabee supporters. “Republican strategist Craig Shirley, a McCain backer and author of a book on the 1976 presidential race” is also cited, but only describing the Huckabee strategy, not subscribing to it. So all the people on whose opinions the article is based are Huckabee supporters. No independent voices, no-one from outside the Huckabee circle. And yet Martin reports it as if it’s gospel. There are one or two contrary comments, but it would at least have made sense to contrast this with the wide swathe of people who have suggested that Mitt Romney is now well positioned in 2012.

There are those who want to see silver linings on every cloud, and others who are conspiracy theorists, who believe Huckabee staying in the race is good. The only good argument for this point of view is that McCain is getting more coverage because there’s still a nominal race on the Republican side. But how does this benefit McCain? Is there anyone out there who hasn’t heard of him at this point who somehow will between now and when the general election starts?

And on the negative side, finite resources are being spent on McCain’s primary campaign instead of being saved up or put in the bank for the general election campaign. Huckabee is the largest remaining barrier to the conservative wing of the party swinging behind McCain, and only gives them false hope that McCain’s nomination is not inevitable. Huckabee won’t be the nominee, McCain will, and Huckabee staying in the race smacks of egotism and vanity more than anything else, no matter how much he dresses it up in the language of giving voice to would-be primary voters. No previous candidate in recent memory has dragged out a primary campaign this far once it was clear who the front-runner was, and even Ron Paul has had to face reality and essentially drop out at this point. Why should Huckabee be any different?

One rather senses that Martin just regurgitated what he was told by Huckabee’s campaign rather than challenging it more thoroughly, in the hopes of having an interesting story to tell about what is becoming a tedious campaign. It rather falls flat in that aim.

February 7th, 2008 by Rightsideup

Very disappointed but ultimately not completely surprised given the odds that Romney conceded the race today. I wonder if Huckabee will now drop out at some point, since he’s achieved his objective of preventing Romney from winning and needs to make some kind of concession to McCain to get the VP job he’s really after at this point.

All this leaves me wondering where Mitt will go from here. His CPAC speech was – like the last one – one of his best (one of my biggest frustrations about his candidacy has been the way he is sometimes right on the money, energised and fired up, and other times just seems to be going through the motions). When this guy is in the right mood he’s amazing, so as a starting point he’s going to have to figure out how to achieve that mood more regularly.

Jim Geraghty of the National Review has a piece which I think sums up nicely where Romney could go from here. It waffles on for several seemingly irrelevant paragraphs but finally gets to this:

McCain is likely to get the nomination, and he will face a tough race against either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. There may be a Republican president running for reelection in 2012, or there may not be. Even if McCain wins, there may be room for a conservative to challenge a sitting Republican president (a true rerun of Ford vs. Reagan). President McCain may decide one term is enough, and a conservative may find himself contemplating a challenge to McCain’s vice president.

Mitt Romney’s going to learn a lot from this race, no matter how it shakes out. If he doesn’t win the nomination, he has four years to spend tending to the vineyards of conservatism, to make his dedication to pro-life, pro-gun, and other conservative causes beyond question. He will be able to wonder if he should have spent less here and there, focused a bit more on South Carolina, made a play for more winner-take-all states on Super Tuesday. (His success in caucuses suggests he’s the favorite of those willing to commit several hours to a presidential primary choice.) He may figure out how to jab his opponent without seeming negative, how to show appropriate, steely anger, and how to effortlessly rebut an opponent’s attack.

A little less than four years from now, Mitt Romney may enter another Republican primary looking different, and perhaps more complete as a candidate.

I think he hits the nail on the head there in the last two paragraphs. But who knows what Mitt will want to do between now and then, and whether he will be willing to give it another go in four years’ time. One thing I find extremely unlikely is that Romney would ever want to serve as VP or even a cabinet member under another president – this guy has been top dog in everything he’s done since 1984 – that’s 24 years of running the show and if I were him I’d find it very difficult to go back to being just a member of a team where someone else calls the shots.

Update: speech available here in text form as prepared.

February 7th, 2008 by Rightsideup

Now that I’ve had a day or so to get my head around it, I wanted to do a bit of analysis on what happened to Romney on Super Tuesday.

First, a look at where he won:

  • His home states (Utah, Massachusetts)
  • Two other Western states with high Mormon populations (Montana and Colorado), although the latter is also the home of Focus on the Family and a cluster of evangelicals
  • Some others that were less obvious: North Dakota, Minnesota and Alaska. And he won the first ballot in West Virginia, although subsequent tactical voting by McCain supporters gave Huckabee the win in the end.

The media has essentially written off his wins in the first category (even though with three home states Romney arguably has an edge over McCain and Huckabee, who only have one each). They’ve also to some extent written off the second group for much the same reason (although they don’t seem to expect Southern Baptists or evangelicals in general to vote in blocs for Huckabee, or exhibit the same dismissiveness when he wins Southern states where they form a substantial part of the electorate).

I haven’t heard good explanations for his strong performance in the other states – Ron Paul had a stronger local operation in Alaska and was expected to win, and neither North Dakota or Minnesota are obvious ones for the Mitt column. West Virginia would have been particularly impressive and if McCain’s supporters had split by their own preference rather than tactical voting he might well have taken it. One explanation would simply be that where neither Huckabee (in the South) or McCain (in more liberal coastal areas) has a natural edge, Mitt actually does very well, even with little advertising, presumably as a result of honest assessments of qualifications for the job.

Overall he did well outside the South, put in a reasonable showing in a couple of other Mid-Western and Southern states, and unfortunately did equally well/badly in almost all the California congressional districts, giving him very few delegates to show for his 34% of the vote.

But of course he has a huge mountain to climb now, with the following states remaining:

  • February 9th – Louisiana (Southern, so likely to go Huckabee), Washington (caucuses – coastal, but Western – McCain and Romney likely to both be strong) and Kansas (mid-Western, so likely to see strength from all three candidates like Missouri)
  • February 12th – DC, Maryland and Virginia (clumped together in a single media market – if Romney wanted to spend the money he could probably do well. His WV showing suggests he may be able to put in a strong showing. But MD and DC in particular may lean liberal and therefore McCain)
  • February 19th – Washington (primaries – see Feb 9th), Wisconsin (tough to call – might be influenced by neighbouring Michigan and the George Romney factor)
  • March 4th – Ohio (MO/KS), Vermont (McCain?), Texas (Southern but also very varied – McCain should be strong, but Romney may be able to compete) and Rhode Island (close to MA, so Romney gets a bump? But McCain likely strong too)
  • March 11th – Mississippi (Huckabee has to be the favourite)
  • March 22nd – Pennsylvania (Depends a lot on ad spending – if it follows the NYC cluster it will go strongly McCain)
  • May 6th – Indiana (KS/MO), North Carolina (could go like South Carolina, but lots of business in the Raleigh metro – perhaps they lean Romney?)
  • May 13th – Nebraska (KS/MO)
  • May 18th – Hawai’i (who knows? liberal but also a large Mormon population)
  • May 20th – Kentucky (Huckabee), Oregon (see WA, but perhaps more liberal so McCain?)
  • May 27th – Idaho (Romney)
  • June 3rd – New Mexico (close run between McCain and Romney), South Dakota (Romney again as in ND?)

It would take a major shift in the race to allow Romney to win what he needs from these remaining states to be close to McCain in total delegates – likely only his opponents running out of money and/or Huckabee and/or Paul dropping out would do it. He can continue spending on ads and that will make a difference, but not enough to put him into real contention. On the other hand, unless someone drops out, it will also be hard for McCain to go into convention with a majority of delegates. Of course, Huckabee’s are likely to swing behind McCain at that point in return for the VP slot, but potentially things could still go another way. But Romney ending up as the nominee has to be a minority probability at best.

January 29th, 2008 by Rightsideup

This article by a non-Mormon living among Mormons makes excellent arguments for why the conservative base should be getting behind Mitt Romney, and especially why evangelicals share far more than they differ on with Mormons.

This paragraph is representative:

As a seeker of knowledge that is too analytical to achieve faith, of any religion, I am befuddled by the apparent animosity of evangelical Christians towards The followers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Mormons have been the equivalent of at least a couple of vertebra of the back bone of the Christian conservative movement that has brought to fruition the Reagan Revolution and all subsequent gains in the growth of the conservative movement.