On Friday’s show, Fred, Morton Kondracke and I kicked around the realities of the Republican presidential contest. (Transcript here. Audio here.) The reality is dawning that a vote for anyone other than Romney or Giuliani is a diminished vote, one that assists either Romney or Giuliani. A vote by a McCain supporter for McCain instead of his or her second-choice Giuliani hurts the mayor. A vote by a pro-life activist for Mike Huckabee helps Giuliani by not helping the pro-life Romney. Clarity over the nature of the race and the dead-end nature of the Huckabee/Thompson/McCain efforts should begin to impact the early races in a decisive fashion through November. The key exchanges:
HH: So I wanted to start there, especially on the Republican debate on Monday. Fred Barnes, who won? How is this race stacking up right now?
FB: Well, certainly, Rudy Giuliani always does well in debates, he steps forward immediately to try to win the crowd. It’s a different strategy than the one Mitt Romney has. Mitt Romney’s been solid and prepared in every debate. So I would say they both did fine. McCain had one great line, that helped him. I think Fred Thompson tends to fade in these debates. Mike Huckabee’s a myth, and the others don’t count.
HH: Can we pause for a moment? Mike Huckabee’s a myth. Would you explain that?
FB: Well, there’s the myth that Mike Huckabee, the great conservative. [# More #] And I think we’re quickly learning from pieces by John Fund and Quin Hillyer, who actually was an editorial writer in Little Rock during the Huckabee governorship, that Huckabee’s not really very conservative at all. He is on social issues, like most Baptist ministers, Southern Baptist, anyway, and yet he raised taxes and kept many Clintonistas in his administration, and did not govern the way, say, Romney has, did in Massachusetts, or Jeb Bush did in Florida, and we can think of the other conservative Republican governors, Bill Owens in Colorado, and so on.
HH: Morton Kondracke, do you agree that Huckabee’s a myth?
MK: I just don’t think Huckabee’s going to go anywhere. He’s personable, he’s likable, he’s got a populist streak. He does realize that there are people suffering in this economy, and expresses it. Now I’m not sure that the fair tax, which is his signature economic program, is going to do much for those people, because it’s going to raise their sales taxes to, what is it, 23% or something like that in order to eliminate income taxes, which I think probably net benefits people who are upper income. But at least he talks a good game about that. I don’t think, I think he’s got a chance to surprise in Iowa, you know, maybe finish second or something like that, maybe. But after that, he’s done, I think.
HH: It seems to me, Fred Barnes, that the Giuliani folks, and the Thompson folks, want Huckabee to be alive through Iowa to bleed Romney a little bit, and a vote for Huckabee’s really a vote for Giuliani and Thompson in the early contests. Is that a good analysis?
FB: Well, it is for Giuliani. It’s not for Thompson. I mean, Thompson, look, if Huckabee beats Thompson in Iowa, where Thompson’s competing, Giuliani really isn’t, or shows no evidence of it, if he beats Thompson there, that’s an embarrassment for Thompson. It might help Giuliani marginally, but I think…
MK: Which is an interesting point. For the life of me, I don’t understand why Giuliani doesn’t go compete in Iowa.
FB: Well, you know, he’s the mayor of New York City. With all that entails, that’s part of the reason, though he has a great story to tell about having changing it. But he’s a social liberal, and New Hampshire is much better for him, as is…and he’s doing well in South Carolina.
HH: Do you think he owns a pair of jeans or boots, Fred?
HH: Do you think Rudy owns a pair of jeans?
FB: (laughing) I’ll bet he does. Look, even I do, but I just never wear them.
HH: How about, Morton, do you think he’s got overalls somewhere in the closet there in Manhattan?
MK: I’m sure he could find some.
HH: Let’s turn back, then, to the Romney-Giuliani race, which is really what this is all about.
HH: Morton Kondracke…
FB: That’s why there’s a story about this, we’re going to be talking about this on the Beltway Boys tomorrow, that it’s essentially a two man race at the moment.
HH: I’m glad you’re talking about that tomorrow, because I agree, but I cannot get, for the life of me, a lot of conservatives to focus on the fact they’ve got a choice…
HH: And it doesn’t involve these other people. So Morton, is that going to clarify in time for those two guys? I’m sure they both want it to clarify that way. Maybe Rudy a little bit less so. What do you think?
MK: Well, I mean, it sort of depends on what the polls indicate about Thompson. You know, Thompson is not going anywhere. I mean, he just not breaking through, and in any particular state. I think he’s, I forget exactly where he is, but he’s, you know, he’s not leading in any state, that’s for sure. So if he doesn’t go anyplace, then it will clarify that it’s a two man race. I think it’s developing into a two man race, because Thompson’s not going anywhere. Unfortunately, McCain is gaining in various places, but I don’t see that he’s got the money to do much if he did score well in New Hampshire. I don’t know where he’d go with it if he had.