Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Presidential Horse Race

As a follow-up to my Monday post about current 2008 presidential hopefuls, I found this article by historical biographer Noemie Emery to be interesting. Emery explores the topic of how three men (Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, and Mitt Romney) that all decidedly differ from the standard Republican grassroots profile have become the frontrunners for the GOP presidential nomination. Emery calls them “Metro Republicans.”

Although McCain represents Arizona, and Romney has strong ties to both Michigan and Utah, neither of these men fit nicely into the GOP grassroots stereotype. McCain “has recently stopped twisting his thumbs in the eyes of people who might otherwise back him,” but he “tends to play well with a [northeastern] audience.” He has carefully groomed his maverick persona for years, which has made him highly desirable to the MSM cartel, but much less so to Republicans that attend caucus meetings and vote in primaries.

Emery notes that Romney is “[u]rbane and urban,” has been governor of “perhaps the most liberal state in the Union,” and “has quartered his campaign in the North End of Boston, as far from the Sunbelt as is humanly possible.” In light of his well publicized liberal social positions of the past, he is running like a born again conservative that has finally seen the light. A lot of people are waiting to be convinced that his conversion is genuine.

Giuliani doesn’t make any pretense of being like the GOP grassroots base. His liberal social positions are well known. But he also has a tough guy persona that comes across as the real thing. He is the only one of the three gentlemen that is not trying to repackage himself on the campaign trail. He is who he is. Take it or leave it.

Emery spends quite a few column inches of her article in defense of Rudy’s electability, even in the GOP primaries. His supporters see in him somebody that will combat our nation’s enemies without taking any guff from anyone. Emery’s thoughts fit very nicely with Wall Street Journal editorial columnist Brendan Miniter’s take on this issue. Both Miniter and Emery suggest that GOP social conservatives are turning out to be much more nuanced than the MSM and the left make them out to be.

Miniter says that some are seeing Giuliani as a strong ally in the battle “against an intransient political culture that is unresponsive to the demands of the public.” Emery says that unlike past liberal Republican presidential hopefuls, Giuliani is not trying to wage a culture war within the party. He has his personal stances, but he isn’t taking political positions that significantly alienate the base.

Emery suggests that any of these three men would provide an overall good for the GOP, rescuing it from becoming too monolithic and broadening its appeal to average Americans. She cites polls that “show Metro Republicans beating the purer red models” among Republicans in general and even among social conservatives. She also touts the fact that polls show the Metro guys “beating Democrats in all of the head-to-head heats.” But she admits that polls two years out only have so much meaning.

Emery thinks that it’s not a bad thing for a GOP presidential candidate to be complex or to have a liberal past. She cites GOP and conservative saint, Ronald Reagan as being “a complex enough figure … who was divorced and remarried, a former film star and a recovering Democrat, … who signed a liberal abortion bill while governor of California, … and once even backed the New Deal.”

Contrasting the Metro boys with the current field of Democrat candidates, Emery asserts that the Dems are too monolithic and that “few [have] cross-party appeal.”

Hmmm…. Part of me doesn’t like how all of this feels. During the 2004 primaries I often heard Democrat voters say that they were supporting John Kerry, not because they thought he would make a better president than the other candidates, but because they thought he had the best chance of beating George W. Bush. And frankly, it just creeped me out that people would forsake their principles in favor of what seemed like a good bet at the moment. Are Republicans and social conservatives doing the same thing with the three Metro boys?

While it is no sin to consider a candidate’s ultimate electability in a general election, I worry when people make that the primary focus during the party nomination process. Perhaps I am wishing for a utopian situation, but I believe people ought to consider the candidates and then support the one they believe would make the best office holder. I find all of the buzz about the two parties’ frontrunners (as well as tidbits about third-party candidates) interesting, but I’m a long way from having a firm opinion about which candidate I think would make the best president.

I’m not going to jump up and support a candidate simply because he/she might seem to have the best chance of winning. That’s how you bet on horse races, but it’s not a good model for selecting political leaders. You don’t have to rely on the winner of the Kentucky Derby to be the nation’s chief executive for the next four years.

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