Category: Campaign 2008.6
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Some quick notes on the Democratic debate in Las Vegas (the rebroadcast of which I watched beginning at 5:35 this morning on C-SPAN2):

1. When Barack Obama finally had to answer the "driver's license for illegals" question, his position proved even more confusing and seemingly half-baked (even with two weeks to think about it) than Mrs. Clinton's now famous hiccup.

2. All candidates seem to agree that if we just get the federal government MORE involved in education, everything will be coming up roses. Most of them don't like "no child left behind," which up until now has been the most extensive federal intervention in education ever. Why? The current program is tainted by Bush fingerprints. No surprise there. One thing on which they all agree: the President has never done anything right. But they all promise to get a centrally managed national education infrastructure off the ground and correctly supervised, which will solve all current problems. By the way, they also agree that the teachers unions are doing a heckuva job.

3. Bill Richardson said (in essence, twice) "democracy and human rights" in foreign lands trumped vital national interests. Obama and a few others said we could do both. The adults (Hillary Clinton being one of them) explained that our hallowed American principles should drive foreign policy, and they are not necessarily mutually exclusive with national interest--but, sometimes, they diverge. When this happens, a president takes an oath to protect national interests (not promote democracy and human rights abroad). It was a telling exchange.

4. Richardson, Kucinich, and Obama all called the "surge" a failed strategy and called for an immediate withdrawal of US troops in Iraq. Mercifully, Clinton was not asked to comment on the obvious success of the surge. I would have liked to hear her answer.

5. Hillary nailed the "gender card" response. Wolf Blitzer asked if anyone else wanted to follow her. Everyone but John Edwards wisely stayed mum. Edwards, the most feminine candidate on the stage, prattled on a bit about equality and fairness and then tailed off. Did I hear a niner in there?

6. Hillary is back. Obama and Edwards are where they have always been (number two and a distant third, respectively).

7. CNN was okay. Wolf Blitzer is not nearly as talented as Tim Russert or Brian Williams, but he is a pleasant fellow. The audience participation portion was worthless. Anyone want to talk about questions that are stiff and staged? They were all out of central casting in terms of what Democrats think Americans look like.
Nobody Knows Anything--but here goes nothing:

The Party of Jackson:

There are four people in this world who might possibly win the Democratic nomination for 2008. One is too fat physically, mentally, and socially. One is too green (the wrong color to be when up against a lean, mean, fighting machine). One is too light (if he were a Republican running for president in 2000, we would have said, "he lacked gravitas"). That leaves the most manly competitor of the Democratic field, Hillary Clinton.

FYI: I know nothing of the debate tonight. History is unfolding as I write, which may be making my predictions obsolete.

The Party of Lincoln:

Rudy is out. Forget about the polls. I love Rudy. I really do. But every passing day makes it clearer and clearer to me that Rudy is not the kind of fellow who takes the GOP nomination. He is too New York. He is too lawyerly. He is on his third marriage. His kids don't seem to like him. Bernie Kerik. Judith Regan. Gun Control. Pro Choice. Not going to happen. Rudy for AG. Rudy for DHS. But never on a GOP ticket.

John McCain is still out. He is a fighter. He would have been a great president. He is smart. He is tough. He understands the art of the deal. But he is a non-starter at this point.

Mike Huckabee is the fresh-faced wild card. He will make an impact--but he probably doesn't have the foundation for a legitimate run at the big time. He will be exciting, but, in the end, he probably falls well short.

Mitt Romney has a great strategy and a lot of money. Although he is nowhere in the polls right now, his campaign is the smartest and best funded. He could take off in Iowa and New Hampshire, gain momentum, and stampede the competition. The Mormon thing is a minor nuisance. I continue to believe his religion is a non-issue for most people. Would it come up eventually? Yes. If nominated, Democrats would make sure every evangelical in America knew Romney was Mormon--and we would find out more about Mormonism between Labor Day and Halloween than we had learned over a lifetime. Remember how John Kerry and John Edwards both took great pains to interject Mary Cheney's homosexuality into the national debates? We would see a plethora of Mormon stories from all angles, all the while bemoaning the fact that so many Americans were still so closed minded. Double prizes. Submarine the GOP candidate while spreading ugly stereotypes about GOP voters. But I don't think it gets that far. Romney is too Massachusetts. He has too many center-left skeletons in his closet. I can see how he wins the nomination--but my gut feeling is that he will not.

This leaves Fred. He has a horrible organization and he his currently running the worst campaign. But he is the best candidate. That is, he is the most convincing, most likable, most consistent conservative in the race. He very likely wins by default. After everybody else craters, Fred takes the part.

I hate to mention this--but things are so crazy this year, I think it is actually possible, for the first time since 1976, to have a convention in which the winner is not apparent going in. Things are so murky that several candidates might emerge and split votes in the front-loaded primaries, leaving several candidates with healthy delegate totals but not a majority. If that unlikely eventuality comes to pass, then the convention would be a throwback to something from the last century, and some other prominent Republican might likely emerge as the GOP standard bearer. But that's probably just wishful thinking from the historian in me.
Category: Campaign 2008.6
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Does the best candidate win? Sometimes--but raw political sex appeal is not everything.

Slate's John Dickerson is doing splendid work covering Campaign 2008. This week he reports from Iowa:

Barack Obama is "funny and passionate," regularly "connecting with his big audiences," leaving them on their "feet...chanting with [for] him." In contrast, Hillary Clinton continues to deliver "solid performances in front of enthusiastic audiences," but her outings don't enliven, empower, and inspire the way they do with Obama.

Dickerson relays this question he found to be increasingly prevalent in Iowa: "Why isn't he killing her?"

The Slate article in full here (and an NPR segment from Friday featuring Dickerson's observation here).

The Power of Obama: more personally.

A few weeks ago, my five-year-old and I were watching (via C-SPAN) an Obama campaign appearance in Boston (video archives here). My young son is a fairly astute political observer (see his previous assessment of George Bush here). His reaction? By the end of the speech, he was jumping up and down on the bed, pumping his arms in the air, and screaming: "I want to be an American." Intermittently he would ask, "What's his name, Daddy?" And then: "I want him to be president."

Fire it Up! Ready to Go!

Let's go change the world.

Can this guy win a national presidential election? You bet!

Obama is still relatively unknown and a rookie, but those who see him as the most dynamic young face in American politics since John Kennedy have it exactly right.

Now for a dose of reality. Does the best candidate always get the job? No. Can this man be stopped? Yes.

In some important aspects that transcend natural talent, Barack Obama is no Jack Kennedy. JFK had the backing of his father, Joseph P. Kennedy, who was a very rich and powerful person with plenty of political experience and connections. The Kennedy organization attracted the best people money could buy and employed a dedicated, energetic, and skilled immediate family. JFK's main obstacle for the nomination in 1960 was Hubert Humphrey, who was a Democratic Party stalwart and a nice fellow. Nevertheless, he proved relatively easy to steamroll in West Virginia (the "Super Tuesday" of that campaign).

Obama? He has Dick Durbin and Oprah Winfrey. And Hillary Clinton is no Hubert Humphrey. Hill has Bill, an asset of mythic proportions, and, more importantly, the incredibly experienced, talented, savvy, and ruthless Clinton brain trust.

John Dickerson answers his own question with great insight. When it comes to the complicated Iowa caucus system (as well as the daunting national primary campaign), the Clintons are pros while the Obama team looks comparatively amateurish.

In other words, organization, name recognition, and money, more often than not, determine the difference between winning and losing in the primaries. Clinton holds the advantage in all three of these categories.

Can Obama still catch fire? Yes. But he needs to do it quickly. Remember, this fellow has been running for president for more than ten months. However, as I have said before, Republicans looking toward November should not indulge in too much schadenfreude at the expense of Hillary Clinton. If nominated, Hillary can (and probably will) win in November. But Obama is a juggernaut, who can not only win--but also bring about a massive realignment of American politics.

Another question for another time: Why doesn't Obama try harder? That is, what is holding Obama back from a launching into a full-out assault on Hillary Clinton? Stay tuned…
Category: Campaign 2008.6
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Things are so bad for Hillary Clinton right now, even NPR is taking cheap shots.

NPR correspondent David Greene reported yesterday that the Clinton entourage recently descended upon an Iowa restaurant, sucked a heart-wrenching story out of a working-mother waitresses, quickly added it to Hillary's stump speech, and then "stiffed" the waitress.

"No Tip!"

The story was picked up everywhere, and even made it to the top of the Drudge Report (an unusual occurrence for an NPR story, to say the least).

But today David Greene is craw-fishing. Maybe there was a tip. The Clinton Campaign says there was definitely a tip--and a big one, $100. Already Team Clinton has proven some inaccuracies in the NPR story. They have credit card receipts and eyewitnesses who remember a big tip for the entire staff. The plot thickens, and this morning, on air, David Greene admits his lack of due diligence. Maybe he should have done a bit more investigating, he admits. Interesting.

An Aside: Last March I offered a post commenting on NPR coverage of a George Bush event, which began:

"Today, however, Morning Edition's David Greene orchestrated a gratuitously misleading characterization of the President's press conference yesterday that deserves notice."

I went on to detail several noteworthy inaccuracies and disingenuous representations of what transpired. I was the only one, evidently, who pushed back on that story.

My full post here.

One lesson from all this: David Greene seems a bit sloppy in his zeal for a good story.

Another lesson: you can take a shot at the Bushies and get a good laugh out of it without much fear of reprisal. Not so for the Clintons. If you go into battle against Hillary and company, you better be loaded for bear and well-girded.

The Clintons push back.
In 1962, Richard Nixon organized his autobiography around Six Crises, understanding his life up to that point as the product of six trials during his public life that defined him as a person. Nixon's basic assertion was absolutely right to the extent that all successful public figures must overcome the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" (as well the slings and arrows that are justly deserved). This is especially true of American presidents, who must run a political marathon, survive the gauntlet of public inspection, the vagaries of press coverage, and withstand the temptations of accumulated power and celebrity.

A Time of Crisis for Hillary Clinton. For the first time in a long time, Mrs. Clinton finds herself under intense scrutiny from her opponents and the mainstream media. Are they "piling on"? Of course. Is it fair? This is a query unworthy of an answer; it is merely what it is. Welcome to the race to be president of the United States, Mrs. Clinton.

A much more pertinent side question: what took so long for genuine media scrutiny?

For some reason, Hillary Clinton enjoyed extraordinarily positive press coverage for the last eight years. Why? I have no satisfying explanation. Had the left-leaning mainstream media been cultivating her and protecting her as their favored candidate? Not likely. This hypothesis is deliciously inviting, but it seems far too facile and "breathtakingly" conspiratorial. Perhaps the media felt genuine sympathy for the famously humiliated wife of the most celebrated philandering husband in all of American history? Or perhaps the media believed that they went too far during impeachment, and they owed the Clintons a "pay-back call" or two. Maybe. The Beltway press corps is not completely amoral; that is, they conform to their own set of ethics and an esoteric code of fairness. No matter, the facts are more important than the explanation. The undeniable truth is that Mrs. Clinton glided above the fray for a long time.

However, the gravy train now appears to be over--or, at the very least, on hiatus. For most of the day, Matt Drudge featured Hillary stories at the top of the page. Unusual? Not in itself, but, if you followed the links, the reporting agencies were extraordinary (no FOX News, no Washington Times, and no Dick Morris columns). From NPR to Ron Fournier to ABC News, the mainstream media was (and is) in hot pursuit, smelling blood, and moving in for the kill. This qualifies as a full-fledged media feeding frenzy.

An aside:
Last week, as I listened to a Sean Hannity tirade on the media, I considered a post entitled: "Who are they and what do they want?" For all those who equate the mainstream press with the Clinton News Networks, this week has been very confusing.

However, there is precedent for this hostile coverage of the Clintons. Think early 1998. In fact, things have not looked this bad for the Clintons since Sam Donaldson, on This Week, predicted Bill was finished as president back in January of that year. Suggesting that the President might resign by the end of the week, Donaldson led a stampede of reporters breathlessly anticipating the complete disintegration of the Clinton presidency as a result of the Monica Lewinsky revelation.

What happened? The Clintons dug in and stone-walled. Defying all the conventional wisdom that cover-ups (rather than misdeeds) kill administrations, the Clintons covered up, shut up, and put 'em up. Miraculously, they fought their way out of an extraordinarily desperate situation. The mainstream media relented. Would the Washington press corps have given up so easily, if they had George Bush or Ronald Reagan in similar circumstances? Probably not. But that is irrelevant. What matters for our discussion here: Team Clinton weathered the storm.

Will Hillary and company fight their way out of this crisis? For a long time, I have referred to the Senator from New York as Clinton-44. Why? She is tough. She is fearless. And she has assembled the best political talent available. They are veterans. They have been to "Hell and Back." Nobody in the Clinton camp is likely to panic over bad press or a bad week. They have been through much worse and survived.

An irony. One great advantage the Clinton machine had during impeachment was the silence of Bill Clinton. He went underground and let his special forces cut throats and blow bridges in the dead of night. In the most counter-intuitive, disciplined act of his lifetime, the President stayed mum for nearly a year. No press conferences. No public comment outside of heavily scripted and insulated state events. No wandering through McDonalds. Absolutely no access.

Evidently, Bill doesn't remember that part of his triumph. In his mind's eye, I am almost certain that he recalls himself as a silver-tongued devil with a mischievous smile who charmed his way out of a tough spot. This is unfortunate for Hillary. Who caused the most problems for Hillary Clinton in the aftermath of a poor performance in last week's debate? Bill Clinton. We are tired of the red-faced finger-wagging. We are tired of Clinton's moralizing and seeming ignorance of his own political history and penchant for skullduggery. We are tired of his ridiculous accusations.

Bill is much more effective as myth. Let him strut and smile and wink--but the truth is that the charming bad boy of politics is not nearly as rakishly seductive as we remember. The stem-winding political sorcerer is not nearly as articulate or mesmerizing as advertised.

What to do? Tell Bill to shush (although he may be more effective with the Democratic base than I think). Dig in. Hand the ball to the Clinton KGB. Stay on message. Keep raking in that cash (money covers a multitude of political sins). Keep on working out (Mrs. Clinton has never looked better--fodder for another post--but very telling). Keep on smiling, shaking hands, and acting like you are president.

Can Hillary survive this inevitable time of troubles?

Nobody Knows Anything--but time will tell.
Anyone for an outlandishly premature prediction?

Hillary vs. Fred in a national campaign that comes down to the wire, with Clinton clipping Thompson by a nose.

The nominees:

Why Hillary? You have heard me on all this before: she has the organization, she is surrounded by the best and brightest brain trust, she is partnered with the ultimate Democratic Party rock star, and she has grit. That is, Mrs. Clinton is more manly (in the nineteenth century, Harvey Mansfield sense) than any of her opponents.

Clinton is NOT the most electable general election candidate in the Democratic primary race. Barack Obama would be virtually unstoppable next November. He is a nearly perfect general election candidate: handsome, fresh, charismatic, and the most credible agent of change. Edwards, too, would have a good chance at winning, as he is appealing, approachable, and telegenic. Under the protection of a mainstream media desperate for a Democratic victory, both of those men would be incredibly difficult to defeat.

But the Democrats don't see things that way. They are awfully hung up on Obama's race, wondering if America can elect a black man as the "Great White Father." As for Edwards, he has not been able to penetrate the two-person duel. At this point, it seems more and more a two-horse race, and Hillary is still the odds-on favorite.

Why Fred? Thompson is not the most conservative of the GOP hopefuls--but he is plenty conservative. He is not the most articulate of the candidates--but he is certainly affable and persuasive. He is not the most handsome man in the race--but his is a stately and sturdy countenance. He is not the most red-state Republican of the nomination contestants--but he speaks fluently the language of the heartland. No dramatic knockout here, but once primary voters add up their scorecards, Thompson wins easily on points. My guess is that Thompson emerges with the nomination as the realization spreads over the Republican faithful that he is the candidate with whom they are the most comfortable.

One cautionary note: no Southern candidate ever won banking solely on the South. The South always comes through for its favorite sons, but the victories down South have often come too little and too late. Think Al Gore in 1988 and John Edwards in 2004. Successful Southerners must necessarily score dramatic wins early in the contest outside the South (Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and George Bush). Bottom line: Fred cannot wait for Super-Duper Tuesday to make his move. He must have momentum (more than merely South Carolina) before February 5.

November 4, 2008? After a plodding race, with Hillary playing conservatively trying not to blow her advantages, and Fred inching up consistently over the course of a methodical and laconic campaign, the final weeks turn frantic. So much on the line. So close.

In the end, like Jerry Ford in 1976, Fred Thompson falls just short: 49.9 to 49.1. Hillary wins Ohio and a comfortable electoral margin of victory.

No guarantees here. But today that's my vision. We'll see what tomorrow looks like.
Some Perspective: At this point during the last election cycle four years ago, the talking heads were anointing Howard Dean as the presumptive Democratic Party nominee for president. But a funny thing happened on the way to the coronation.

Is Hillary the latest Howard Dean? I doubt it. Dean was an insurgent nobody from an out of the way state who caught fire unexpectedly and then flamed out just as suddenly. Dean embodied "flash in the pan."

Hillary Clinton is a second-term senator from the Empire State. She is the wife of a popular and incredibly powerful former president. She has been a mega public figure for sixteen years, thoughtfully charting a path to the Oval Office for nearly that long. She is loaded with cash, she has assembled the best campaign organization in recent memory, and she is the most disciplined candidate of my lifetime.

An aside: The Okie Gardener has previously compared Mrs. Clinton to Richard Nixon. No comparison to Nixon is ever favorable, but RN had some notably similar attributes necessary for success in politics. Like Mrs. Clinton, Nixon was not a naturally talented politician, but, like Mrs. Clinton, he made up for his lack of innate skill with hard work and tenacity. "You gotta want it to win it," and he usually wanted it more. Mrs. Clinton is a hard-charging, take-no-prisoners, tough-minded steamroller. She is a lot like Nixon in that regard.

What happened in the debate on Tuesday? Tim Russert and Brian Williams hammered her, and she staggered for a moment. Her stonewalling on the library question, her decision to pander to the ACLU-liberals rather than the working-class, rank-and-file Democrats on immigration, and her tendency to go overboard on sisterhood combined to leave her uncharacteristically dazed, confused, and momentarily vulnerable. Arriving at the debate intent on pounding the frontrunner, her desperately frustrated opponents saw an opening and pounced.

Nobody Knows Anything
--but I think that those who are expecting Mrs. Clinton to fold like a house of cards at the first sign of trouble are reading her wrong. Hillary never craters. She never backs down. She never apologizes. She comes out swinging and plays through the pain, always pressing forward.

Hillary's Dilemma: Of course, her primary problem--the one that actually poses the biggest threat to her campaign for the nomination--continues to be her moderation on foreign policy.

Ironically, Mrs. Clinton's biggest obstacle in the Democratic primary is her sanity. For all of us who are rubbing our hands together with glee this week, we are not thinking very strategically. Of the Democrats who have a chance to win the nomination, Hillary is the one we have the best chance at beating. More importantly, of the Democrats who have a chance to win the nomination, Hillary is the one who is least likely to radically alter the course of American politics if she wins.

Hillary Clinton, like Richard Nixon, is a hard-boiled realist, who understands national vital interests as well as political necessities. She will throw rhetorical bones to the left but govern in the center, because she will want to be reelected. She will employ all the usual suspects of the American foreign-policy making establishment and pursue a moderate-to-firm course in international relations. She, like her husband, will accept the necessity of "torture" under certain dire circumstances. She will not be what we want, but neither will she rock the boat very much. No socialist revolution. No unilateral retreat from American interests abroad. No Pollyannaish, Jimmy-Carter-like naiveté.

John Edwards is fairly close to reality when he says a "vote for Hillary Clinton is a vote for the status quo."

UPDATE: Welcome Instapundit readers. We are honored. Please make yourself at home.
Last week, Tocqueville directed me to two prominent articles from conservative outlets intensely critical of former governor of Arkansas and candidate for the Republican nomination for president, Mike Huckabee:

"A Tale of Two Candidates," by Quin Hillyer, from 10/24 via the American Spectator (article here)and "Another Man from Hope: Who is Mike Huckabee?" by John Fund. from today (10-26) via the Wall Street Journal (article here).

What are they saying?

Both pundits seem to worry that New York Times columnists and other mainstream liberal media types find Huckabee too easy to praise. Granted, that can be a troublesome sign. However, we (conservatives) can be too sensitive about this sort of thing. It can be self-defeating to discard every candidate who appeals to people outside our selective circle.

What else?

John Fund, who claims personal knowledge gained over the years as a friend of Mike, voices grave doubts as to the candidate's conservative authenticity. Fund notes that the Eagle Forum (on the conservative end of conservatism) claims Huckabee is a charming moderate but predicts his brand of glib evangelical conservatism is fraught with many of the same flaws as Bush-43-ism. Others fear Huckabee is soft on taxes, soft on Democrats, and soft-headed on environmental issues.

An aside: conflating internal Baptist politics with the larger question of fidelity to the conservative movement, Fund offers Huckabee's decision to bolt the Southern Baptist Convention during the 1980s as evidence of his lack of conviction and steadfastness as a political conservative. The internal Baptist fights do not equate with the struggles inside the political movement. In short, there are good people on both sides of the Baptist divide, and they almost always say horrible things about their erstwhile churchmen.

Quin Hilyer focuses on the personal, describing Huckabee as self-serving and:

"a guy with thin skin, a nasty vindictive streak, and a long history of imbroglios about questionable ethics."

Hilyer emphasizes the purportedly undemanding public morality of the candidate and his, evidently, politically awkward wife.

What does all this mean?

Tocqueville suggested last week: "Huckabee's rising above 10 percent in the polls has been taken by some as a signal to begin to focus on him." But he added: "I think that his support may prove temporary, because some of his views, immigration especially, won't stand up to much inspection."

We'll see. Huckabee is definitely in play right now. This is his moment. A whole avalanche of stories arrived this morning including an NPR feature and a new Rasmussen poll (the gold standard for Republicans), which shows Huckabee edging up ahead of Romney for a share of third place.

My take: No predictions. I am keeping my powder dry for now. As many of you know, I have been interested in Huckabee for some time. I was not sure if he would get an opportunity to compete—but here it is. Realistically, no candidate for the presidency can ask for more than that.

A back story in all this (with all due respect to Charles Krauthammer and Bill Kristol) is the continuing dissatisfaction among GOP faithful with the top-tier candidates. When, how, and where will we find someone with whom we can feel comfortable?

One other thing to watch: if Huckabee emerges as a prime candidate, the looming struggle within the conservative movement between evangelicals, Burkean-Kirk-ites, and libertarians may play out in a spectacular and bloody battle. If it has to come (and it probably does), 2008 might offer the least-damaging moment.

To Huckabee or not to Huckabee? That may be the question (at least for the next few weeks).