Presidential Campaign

Presidential Campaign

Man Of The Moment

Former Sen. Fred Thompson’s new video response to Michael Moore says it all: Macho is the ticket in the GOP nominating contest for 2008. Turning to the camera with his cigar stuck in his mouth and his glasses ever so perfectly perched, Thompson talks tough to the favorite conservative bogeyman, sort of a Hollywood mano-a-mano. Their particular food fight is about Castro and Moore’s film about healthcare in Cuba but is irrelevant to the larger point — for Thompson to enter the race he realizes he has to have more swagger than Rudy.

How good a night would Rudy Giuliani have had at the second Republican debate if he hadn’t slammed Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) about, you guessed it, Sept. 11? It was a tailor-made moment for Rudy, and after wading through the weeds on abortion it was more than a lucky break, reminding Republicans just who needs to be in charge here.

Lite Observations on the GOP

I thought I’d take this moment to interrupt the endless stream of bitterness and bile from the left toward the departed Rev. Jerry Falwell and insert some lighter observations about the GOP presidential candidates and the next (no doubt highly anticipated) debate.

My dad used to say, “If a little is good, a lot is better” — usually in reference to the handful of Rolaids he was chewing. It looks like the Romney for President campaign has picked up on my dear father’s words of wisdom:

"The more [voters] look at these top three guys as presidential contenders, the more they will look at the differences between them. The only thing better than a little Mitt Romney is a lot of Mitt Romney." (Alex Castellanos, Romney media adviser)

And They’re Off!

In the spirit of the Kentucky Derby and this weekend’s Preakness, the Republican presidential contenders are off and in a full gallop after Tuesday night’s riveting debates. What has changed among the candidates since last week’s gathering? Well, if the first debate focused on the top-tier candidates like Romney, Giuliani and McCain, I would argue the second was more about the second-tier crop of candidates and the ground they covered through Turn 2.

Let’s start with Mike Huckabee. I continue to be impressed with his prowess and frank discussions on some tough issues. Will he be our next nominee? The political soothsayers opine “no," but credit him with a strong showing, and I bet Iowa voters as well as South Carolina conservatives were paying close attention. Jim Gilmore continues to slip, and let’s face it — he’s really more interested in positioning for a run at the Virginia gubernatorial spot one more time. Tom Tancredo with his fiery anti-immigrant stance reminded all of us how single-issue focused he is, but at what cost?

The Last Man Standing

Everyone had a relatively good night at the GOP debates in South Carolina. Rudy Giuliani got to steady his rocky abortion boat a bit and, more importantly, Sen. John McCain regained his footing by being himself and taking on Flip-Floppin’ Mitt Romney.

From the first question about Iraq McCain appeared calm but tough, and projected the vintage McCain self-assurance that had all but disappeared recently. He gave his best explanation yet of why stability in Iraq is in the vital interest of the United States, that we cannot fail, and said boldly, “I will be the last man standing, if necessary.”

McCain’s best moment came when he was asked about why he has seemingly retreated from his leadership on immigration reform. He explained that he has been “heavily engaged” in those talks and said firmly: “I intend to lead ... and I intend to get results and I intend to work on the hard things, not the easy things.”

Rudy Wins the Debate

Rudy Giuliani emerged as the clear winner in the Republican debate for two reasons: He showed strength and determination and made clear that he was the guy who could deal with terrorism. And he demonstrated, convincingly, that the issue of the day is not abortion but terrorism. By his answers, and by assuming once again the mantle of Savior of the City on Sept. 11, he looked like a president and talked like we would hope one would. When he said that he was the most experienced candidate on security issues, he was obviously correct. His put-down of Rep. Ron Paul (Texas) not only captured the sound bites but showed him at his outraged, indignant best.

John McCain showed that he has "gone native" in Washington, adopting an insider mentality that led him to compromise on immigration and on campaign finance reform. His defense of his opposition to the Bush tax cuts was weak and even he had to acknowledge that the cuts stimulated revenues that closed the deficit.

Rudy Won

Rudy won last night’s GOP debate in South Carolina.

He won because he jumped down Rep. Ron Paul’s (Texas) throat when Paul suggested that the U.S. was to blame for the Sept. 11 attacks.

He won because he largely stayed out of the fight when Romney and McCain beat each other up over who was more conservative.

He won because most of the questions were about terrorism and security.

But in my mind he won because he finally introduced the real reason he should get the nomination next year: Hillary Clinton.

The Bill Factor

It's finally out in the open. Bill Clinton will be running a presidential campaign again, this time for his wife. Who thought this was just about her? Who believed his liabilities outweighed his power?

The New York Times took a look at The Bill Factor and learned he is playing more than a supportive role already; plans envision him — a la vice presidential, ticket-sharing other candidate — on his own campaign plane, barnstorming through the battlegrounds, trailed by his own breathless press pack.

Hillary ain't no dummy. Seeing how a missed opportunity to tap her husband doomed Al Gore from winning enough votes to avoid the Supreme Court, she has decided not to keep the magic potion sitting dusty on a shelf. And for Bill, whom most speculate had enough past and current personal problems to be forced into hiding, he must have cleaned his closets. Make no mistake, he is already corralling fundraisers, prepping Hillary, and wondering how not to overshadow her. "He's grappling with it now, how he properly plays the role of subordinate," said a former senior aide to Bill Clinton.

The Debate Tonight

As I have stated before, the Republican debate tonight will be of limited usefulness. It will have too many participants. The time for an in-depth discussion will be too limited. The topics will be too diverse. It is too early to have these debates now.

That being said, I think this debate will serve as a vivid contrast between the two parties.

For example, unlike the Democrats, the Republicans will all be talking about how much they want to cut taxes.  Democrats like to talk in code about how they want to raise taxes. There is no code-speak with Republicans. They like to cut taxes.

Unlike the Democrats, the Republicans will all talk about how much they want to cut spending. Democrats like to talk in code about how they want to invest in America, which means growing the size and scope of the federal government. Republicans still want to cut down the size of government, even if they find it hard to do when they actually run it.

Abortion and the Political Process

I can’t think of a more divisive issue in the American political landscape today than abortion. Both political parties have struggled with this issue and how to address it since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 where the Supreme Court viewed abortion as a right to privacy held under the due process clause of the 14th Amendment. Never mind that this decision was convoluted, twisted in its legal reasoning and poorly written — since 1973 abortion has been the law of the land following the Court’s decision..

For Republicans, abortion has become the litmus test upon which nearly all candidates seeking elected office (particularly at the federal level) are measured. I can’t imagine a Republican candidate seeking election as president of the United States or seeking a presidential appointment to the United States Supreme Court surviving unless he or she is solidly pro-life.

Consider the fate of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. A hero for his leadership in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, the mayor has been skewered in the media and by many on the right for his apparently pro-choice stance on the issue of abortion. I’m a big fan of the mayor’s, but his seemingly inconsistent statements regarding abortion have left many baffled and uncertain as to where his true thoughts and position on the matter actually lie. It remains to be seen whether one viewed as being pro-choice on the Republican side of the aisle can receive the party’s nomination for president. I could be wrong, but the mayor’s position on abortion, despite his strong leadership and management record, may well sink his candidacy.

Republican Presidential Debaters Will Sound Like Jack Murtha Two Years Ago

Now, the stampede. In the South Carolina Republican presidential debate we will see the Republican candidates sounding like the gentleman from Pennsylvania when he warned about the failures of the Bush Iraq policy.

One after another, they will compete to see who can accuse the president of making the greatest mistakes throughout the war.

Republicans in Congress will cringe.

Here is the problem for Republicans who supported the policy in the past, and now criticize what happened in the past, and feel trapped about the policy for the future.