HH: We begin as we do on Thursdays when we are lucky with Columnist to the World, Mark Steyn. Hello, Mark Steyn.
MS: Hey, Hugh, don’t let the lack of hard information hold us back from wild speculation.
HH: Well, let’s dive right into it. What’s your sense of the lay of the land right now?
MS: Well, it’s interesting the degrees of spin that are beginning to emerge. I had an e-mail from a Hillary supporter, from someone close to the Hillary camp, who was suggesting that these rumors that Hillary may be heading for a third place finish is actually quite good, because it means that the anti-Hillary vote in New Hampshire will then be torn between Edwards and Obama, which will enable Hillary to sneak up the middle and win. So we’re already getting spun about Hillary’s potential third place finish.
HH: I’ve been getting spun all day from both Huckabee and Romney’s people, both proclaiming momentum and a great turnout operation. Have you been seeing the same stuff?
MS: Yes, and I think that’s the difference. You know, those of us in New Hampshire always look down on the Iowa Caucus, and I think with good reason, because obviously the turnout levels in New Hampshire on primary night are a lot higher than Iowa. Iowa, in that sense, is all about organization. And I’m not knocking Iowa or the system, or anything. That’s just a fact. And I think that’s why it is, it’s a particular test, I think, for Clinton and Romney, because in a sense, they are the guys who are regarded as having the impressive organization, and if the machine comes into play anywhere, it comes into play in Iowa rather than New Hampshire.
HH: Well, let’s look at New Hampshire, because John McCain has surged ahead of Mitt Romney there in almost every poll. What do you put this down to?
MS: Well, I think in a sense, there is a genuine feeling of respect for him, and for the kind of maverick temperament. I mean, I regard McCain almost as a kind of parody maverick. It seems entirely unmoored from any kind of principle. I mean, I disagreed profoundly with Ron Paul, but I can kind of see where he’s coming from. So once you know where he’s coming from, you can figure out his position on any issue, whereas there’s no kind of rational, philosophical center to McCain. He often seems to me like of kind of good, Fleet Street columnist, that he’s contrarian just for the sake of it sometimes. But on key issues, that’s not funny. Yet at the same time, I think there is, he’s been the beneficiary of a profound dissatisfaction with other Republican candidates. I think had Thompson and Giuliani performed better on the ground in New Hampshire, that McCain would not be surging.
HH: And now, Romney made the point today, look, my numbers have stayed the same. It’s always between 25 and 30%.
MS: That’s right.
HH: McCain is gathering up everybody else. So if Romney comes in second tonight, second in New Hampshire, is he finished?
MS: I think a second, I think that would be a great injustice. I mean, what I find slightly odd is that Romney could come a close second to Huckabee in Iowa, and be damaged more than an abysmal performance by Hillary Clinton on the Democratic side, and what would strike me as grossly unfair. He is right that in both Iowa and New Hampshire, Romney’s level of support has been consistent. All that’s happened is that the alternative to Romney has floated in one direction or another, to Huckabee in Iowa, and toward McCain in New Hampshire. And in a sense, it would be ridiculous if Romney were to be the casualty of these first two votes, because in a sense, he’s got the longest, most stable, and most consistent support in both states. But I do think that cruel as it may be, he actually does need to win Iowa. He needs to win Iowa, and he needs a good performance…if he doesn’t win Iowa, he needs a good performance by Fred Thompson to push McCain down in Iowa, because if McCain demonstrates he can compete in both Iowa and then in New Hampshire, that’s very worrying for those of us who don’t want a McCain candidacy.
HH: Well, for those of us who don’t want a Huckabee candidacy, I don’t see any way…I’m not even worried about that. I am worried about a McCain candidacy, because Huck just can’t take that show on the road.
MS: Yes, yes, I think Huckabee is a joke, frankly. You know, he’s…someone said to me, dismissively, oh, he’s an ex-disc jockey. Well, I happen to be an ex-disc jockey. Rush Limbaugh’s an ex-disc jockey. Not all of us sound like we’re at the end of a five hour shift and just winging it, as he does, when he starts doing these kind of, I think, pathetic high school analogies, talking about foreign policy in the Middle East, and the wackier parts of Islamic Asia. I mean, the fact of the matter is, I think Huckabee is out of his league, and I don’t, I’ve got nothing against Evangelical Christians, I’ve got nothing against anybody from Arkansas. It’s nothing to do with that. It’s the fact that when he’s asked to address the central questions of our time, he sounds way out of his depth.
HH: Now given all this uncertainty, I’m reminded of 1976. Gerry Ford won early, and Reagan staged a comeback. Can Giuliani and/or Romney watch Huckabee win, and then McCain, and then McCain in Michigan, they’ve got the funny rules there that allow independents as well, and then go to Armageddon in South Carolina, because that’s what a couple of insiders have been telling me today, that Rudy’s strategy is…I mean, Florida, not South Carolina.
MS: Well, I think the Rudy strategy is a disaster. I mean, the strategy is basically that the decline in his vote, in his support in every state, Iowa, New Hampshire, Michigan, South Carolina, Nevada, Florida, that the precipitous decline can be held off sufficiently, so that on January 29th, he’ll still be a point or two ahead in Florida, and he’ll win, and he’ll get the big states with the big delegates. I don’t think that’s going to work. The fact of the matter is he looks like he could come sixth tonight, behind Ron Paul. And at that point, you have to say you know, the difference between him and Romney is Romney does have this solid 25-30% in New Hampshire that’s absolutely consistent. With Giuliani, the more people find out about him, sadly, the sad fact is, the less Republican voters are inclined to support him.
HH: Let me ask you, Mark Steyn, and I think this may be Romney’s revival argument, if he comes in second two in a row, maybe even in Michigan. Can McCain beat Obama?
MS: I think McCain would seem very tired next to Obama. Now there’s a side of McCain that I like, like when he’s doing his jokes about mocking Hillary’s call for the Woodstock Museum to be publicly subsidized.
MS: And that’s the way I wish Bob Dole had run in 1996, as the guy, as the cranky, old guy who sort of ignores the Boomers, and cuts straight to the young people who all loathed their parents and that whole Woodstock-Boomer generation thing. And I always felt that if Bob Dole had run a sort of post-modern candidacy in 1996, he could actually have won. And McCain would in effect be trying to do that against Obama. Obama would be the hokey, you know, believe in the hope of change, whatever his stupid, meaningless slogan is, and McCain would just be the sly, vicious, cranky, mean guy who keeps puncturing that sort of marshmallow. I don’t write off a McCain-Obama match-up, but I do think regardless of who he’s running against, he would be a problematic candidate for Republicans to get behind.
HH: I think it’s going to be, you’ve got to have the whole coalition, and I just know that the low tax people…Grover’s going crazy on McCain not taking the pledge today. They hate each other.
HH: I don’t hate McCain. I just think he’s not going to win, and I think his Gang of 14 was a disaster. Tell me, though, let’s go to the Democratic side. Hillary Clinton, is she shattered beyond repair if she comes in third tonight?
MS: Well, I think you have to say, as I said earlier, you know, that New Hampshire’s an enthusiasm state. And it’s clear that there are large numbers of Democrats who just don’t like Hillary. So if the Clinton machine cannot win in an organization state like Iowa, where it’s all about basically shanghaiing people onto vehicles, getting them to the Caucuses to support you, if the Clinton machine can’t manage that with all the chits they’ve got to call in in these states, they’re heading for disaster in New Hampshire. And then at that point, all Hillary Clinton has going for her is the aura of inevitability. That’s pretty shattered if by January the 8th, she’s lost Iowa and New Hampshire.
HH: And if she does, does that end the Clinton role in American politics?
MS: I don’t think it does.
MS: But I think it would just, I think there’s a big body among the Democrats who are looking for any excuse to abandon Hillary. And by January the 8th, they may have two pretty good excuses.
HH: Mark Steyn, I hope to check back with you after we get some numbers in later tonight. Thank you, my friend, www.steynonline.com.
End of interview.