Sunday, December 02, 2007

Living in Interesting Times

According to the latest round of polls, Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee is gaining in Iowa at the expense of Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson. This is just the latest twist of a primary season that has been as unpredictable as anything except college football.

For a while now, I've disagreed with the conventional wisdom that the Republicans have an especially weak field. In many ways, they are very accomplished men. McCain, Romney, Ron Paul, Fred Thompson, and Giuliani are all first tier talents in their own way.

I've tried to recollect some of the various worthies and not-so-worthies who have tried to get the GOP nomination over the last few cycles. And basically, there's been two kinds. First are the establishment candidates who have tried to position themselves in way or another inside the GOP base as it's developed since Reagan. Then there are the insurgent candidates, sometimes one-issue guys, who maybe aren't trying to win so much as to influence debate within the party or within the country. Of the former, there's Pete DuPont, Jack Kemp, Lamar Alexander, Bob Dole, Phil Gramm, Steve Forbes, John McCain, Dan Quayle, Richard Lugar and maybe some others I've forgotten. Of the latter, I can think of Pat Buchanan, Alan Keyes, Pat Robertson, Bob Dornan offhand. The point being is that it's the mainstream guys are the ones who define the center of gravity for the party. There's more of them, they have all the support and the money, and the others attempted to define themselves in relation to that center of gravity.

This year's field isn't weak so much as it is unconventional. For Romney, McCain, Giuliani, and Ron Paul (among others), there's just too much mental gymnastics required to get to the point where we can say, "Well, I guess _____ is okay."

And this was before the rise of Mike Huckabee, and I gotta admit I'm at a loss for this one. I'm not a huge fan of Rudy Giuliani, but the logic behind his candidacy makes perfect sense to me. But what is it exactly, that would make somebody want to call on the leadership of Mike Huckabee, either for the party or the country at large? He's a glad-handing, smooth talking, sticky-fingered Republican Bill Clinton nanny-state exemplar. As far as principled social conservatives go, Senator Sam Brownback is a much better.

I suppose there's just enough interesting narrative behind the story of losing 100 lbs. to hope that Huck can escape the Bible-thumping ghetto. And assuming he gets that far, that he's ready to compete on the big stage of American politics. It seems like a vain hope to me.

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