American political analysts and pundits are working overtime to keep themselves relevant in an era where new media has made it extremely difficult to spin the electorate. Here’s a short summary of the conventional wisdom, GOP division, from yesterday’s Christian Science Monitor (HT: RealClearPolitics):
The Giuliani campaign insists it can lose the first several contests and still win the nomination.
“What we see is there’s the possibility of two paths” to the nomination, campaign director Mike DuHaime told reporters last week. He acknowledges that the early states can help a candidate build momentum, which is why Giuliani has made some effort in those states. “But we also recognize that with so many large delegate-rich states moving up so early in the process, that it’s impossible to think that it [will] be over after only three states vote,” he says.
By dampening expectations for the early states, Giuliani is holding open the possibility of a “surprise” victory in an early state-perhaps Michigan or South Carolina, where he and Romney are neck and neck. Still, by not making the concerted, long-term effort that the early states have come to expect, Giuliani may indeed be shut out there. Yet if he still goes on to win the nomination, he will have broken the mold: Since the advent of the modern primary system in 1972, no candidate has lost the first three contests and still won the nomination.
As for Romney, the only way he can beat expectations in the early going is not just to win, but to win convincingly.
The analysis of expectations has another entry in this morning’s Los Angeles Times attack piece on Mitt Romney, “Does Perfection Have Its Price For Romney.” And Terry Eastland drills down into Huckabee’s expectations in “The Huckabee Surge
He’s running strong in Iowa, but has he peaked?”
Political analysis always looks backwards for models against which current conditions can be compared. But sometimes models are broken so decisively that the past doesn’t provide many clues. There is clearly the 9/11 break in American history, and while some on the left want to argue that the 2006 elections show concern over national security has faded, the fact remains that it is the president who controls the national security apparatus, and the issues of national security and terrorism remain foremost in the selection of a president for millions of Americans and certainly among Republicans.
There is also the impact of new media, which floods every interested voter with a volume of information never before available. This is the first GOP primary since new media arrived on the scene, and the utter powerlessness of MSM to twist the story line has yet to be fully revealed.
Republican voters believe Hillary will be the nominee and that she will be extraordinarily tough to beat.
They also know it will require an enormous amount of money and energy to beat her.
The vast majority of them know this political context limits their choices to one of two candidates: Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney.
There isn’t going to a stampede to Huckabee or a Fred Revival, period. If Romney can deliver three or four early wins and back it up with the cash he has amassed plus much of his own on February 5, he will be the nominee.
If he can’t, Rudy will be the nominee.
Which is why Huckabee is already fading. The conservatives who are indicating a vote for Huckabee in Iowa are the Republican partisans who will be comfortable with a Rudy-led campaign. Those who drift away from him in the next five weeks to join the already solid block of Romney voters are the true ideological conservatives unwilling to concede the leadership of the party to a pro-choice candidate, even one who has given very trustworthy assurances on judicial nominees.
The MSM-led attempt to demand from Romney undefined “big wins” rather than just wins or even “places” or “shows” in the early states have an interest in a prolonged primary contest, which Romney will certainly give them if he doesn’t win early. Romney knows that eventually the field comes down to himself and the mayor, with key showdowns in Texas and Ohio on March 4.All the folks who are invested in Rudy and Mitt aren’t going to open their wallets for Mike Huckabee becaue he gets above 20% in Iowa. They are looking at Hillary and thinking about 9/11. They will be voting for a president, not making a statement about their place in the party. And they are following the news very closely indeed, and from an array of sources that won’t be impacted by what the latest edition of a Carole Simpson agenda journalist wants them to think and/or do.
Which makes Romney’s call for the resignation of Judge Kathe Tuttman a very smart move on his part. The grisly murder of two young people by a convict who could have been held on bail by a judge appointed by Romney but wasn’t, was being compared –ineffectively in my view, but by others– to Mike Huckabee’s problem with Wayne Dumond.
I asked Huckabee about the rapist-who-became-a-murderer-after-parole.
“You also wrote him a letter, Dear Wayne letter, saying it is my desire that you be released from prison,” I asked. “In retrospect, was that a mistake on your part?”
“Yes, it was,” Huckabee forthrightly answered. “Absolutely it was, because you know, we didn’t know what he would end up doing.”
Like Romney’s call for the resignation of Judge Tuttman, Huckabee’s candid admission of a mistake on Dumond takes the issue off the table for most serious voters. Governors appoint a lot of people and make a lot of decisions, just as presidents do. Some of those appointments and some of those decisions will turn out poorly. A willingness to remove incompetent appointees or admit mistakes is prized by an electorate that generally believes President Bush to have been too loyal to some appointees, and too late in changing tactics in Iraq. Perfection isn’t required or expected in presidents or candidates, but the ability to accept and act upon new data is.
Both episodes tell us a lot about the new campaign and new media’s role in it. Everything is on the table, and all candidates are being asked about all subjects. All of that information is flowing to the public and being processed against an already comprehensive understanding of the rules of the road. Absentee voting starts on December 10 in New Hampshire, so these next two weeks are crucial indeed for all the candidates, and there will be no Christmas truce, either among the GOP or the Democratic candidates.That would seem much too relaxed about a campagin in which the stakes are sky-high.
If Romney wins Iowa by even a single point now that the MSM has thrown in with the Huckabee surging meme, it will show the campaign’s ability to hold off not only Huckabee but also Hillary’s auxilaries in the MSM, and that sort of a win is not a weakness as the Monitor’s article suggests, but a great strength. The rapid response on the issue of Judge Tuttman also tells the GOP electorate that if Romney is the nominee, he won’t be caught like Kerry was by the Swift Boat veterans, fumbling for a response about why he hadn’t been in Cambodia on Christmas Eve those many years ago. Like Rudy’s push-back on illegal immigration, Romney and his team are demonstrating electoral competence, and that matters a lot.