Saturday, September 1, 2007

Trouble with Fred Thompson; Huckabee takes giant step forward in polls -- then puts foot in mouth

Montana Headlines continues to be wary of all of the current candidates for the GOP nomination for President. Fred Thompson showed some promise, but the surge of excitement that surrounded him as a potential candidate has shown a significant loss of steam.

The reason for that is not that Thompson has "waited too long" or some nonsense like that. The reason is that Thompson is falling flat on the stump. His speeches are uninspiring, his responses to questions in interviews lack the snap of someone who knows who is is and what he believes, and he has demonstrated that he does not have a loyal band of brothers that have been riding with him through the years.

All of this is important stuff. Gerald Ford once famously said, in his primary campaign against the Gipper back in 1976, that "there are no second takes in the Oval Office." He was talking about decision-making, and implying that Reagan didn't have what it took to make wise decisions -- since during his career as an actor, there was always another chance.

This was, of course, hyperbole, and it ignored the fact that Reagan had governed the largest state in the country for two terms. Furthermore, much of Reagan's career prior to the governorship didn't involve second takes. He worked, for instance, in the era of live television, where there were no second chances. And when he went on the stump as a speaker, he travelled the country for years, talking live off a few note cards, and talking to countless people who peppered him with questions about his political philosophy.

The point here is that Presidents need to be able to speak off the cuff, which involves practice, innate skill, and a command of what they believe. Having suffered through 8 years of a President who can't field questions cleanly and articulate himself clearly, Republicans are ready for something better. Unless we're not getting representative samples, it doesn't look like Thompson is that guy.

It is understandable that Thompson, with his recent failures to light up voters on the stump, will choose to announce his candidacy via a web-video. In ordinary circumstances it would be innovative, showing Republicans his ability to carry a message in the video format -- very important these days. But right now, it is raising questions of whether he is doing it this way because he needs those second and third takes in order to communicate effectively.

We will continue to wait and watch.


We have written a number of times about Ron Paul in the past, and we believe that Paul is tapping into something that the GOP desperately needs to rediscover -- he is the only GOP candidate whose support is disproportionately made up of young people and whose campaign is being driven by self-motivated supporters who act on their own (like good libertarians,) and someone needs to be paying attention to that. More in another post.

But right now, Mike Huckabee is the most intriguing candidate in the GOP field. He has gotten quite a bounce in the wake of his Iowa straw poll victory . Yes, Romney technically won, but it's pretty sorry -- and telling -- when only half of the people you bus to the event actually vote for you. Chalk it up as a win for Huckabee.

His poll numbers have taken corresponding bounces in key states. In the latest American Research Group polling, he has leaped to 17% in Iowa, 12% in NH, and 11% in South Carolina.

Huckabee is interesting not because of his appeal to the "religious right." That votes is pretty divided. Even in Iowa, straw poll third-place finisher Sam Brownback can credit his support almost entirely to those with religious concerns.

He is, rather, interesting because he is tapping into populist concerns. Put differently, just like Ron Paul is a bellwether for the GOP, pointing to what they need to do to generate excitement amongst younger voters, Mike Huckabee is demonstrating how to get "Reagan Democrats" excited again about voting Republican.

That said, a recent statement by Huckabee supporting the plan to give a voting representative to the District of Columbia in the U.S. House (and throwing an extra in for Utah to take the sting out of things for the Republicans) is an example of where Huckabee sometimes, in his enthusiasms, forgets that Republicans -- even populist-friendly Republicans -- generally want things framed in a way that can be defended with a traditional view of the U.S. Constitution.

That traditional view (crystal-clear long before the size or partisan leanings of D.C. were an issue) is that D.C. is outside of our political system -- neutral territory. If someone moved to D.C., they were to assume that neutrality, knowing that they wouldn't be voting in partisan elections.

It isn't that Huckabee doesn't have good intentions (although which Republicans he is expecting to attract -- his most immediate concern -- with this is a mystery.) It is that he needs to deal with the fact that the District is a "District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States."

The intent was to make a neutral territory that didn't belong to any state. If D.C. ends up, for all practical purposes, becoming a state, then the intent of the Constitution is being ignored.

That is why the awarding of electoral college votes to D.C. was done in a particular and proper way: through the 23rd Constitutional amendment.

Self-rule for D.C. should also have been done through a Constitutional amendment, since the Constitution says that Congress shall "exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District..."

The privilege of self-rule (i.e. giving D.C. the same right as any other big city to elect a corrupt mayor) should be confirmed by a Constitutional amendment.

Surely any further privileges, such as having a voting Representative in Congress, should also follow the example of granting Presidential electors to D.C. -- by Constitutional amendment. If Huckabee had done that, he might not win lots of friends in the GOP, but he would at least have their respect for understanding how these things should properly and constitutionally be done.

This is hardly a deal-breaker for Huckabee. He remains the most intriguing candidate in the race right now, and it will be interesting to see the extent to which he gains further ground -- and the extent to which other GOP candidates understand the need to embrace his "Main Street" economic themes.


Anonymous said...

Huckabee's stated reasons for pulling out of the Texas straw poll bothers me. He might have had good reasons, but what he said sounds fishy. First he said that he had a scheduling conflict. That didn't make sense since he had committed to the Texas straw poll long ago. Then he said that that wasn't what he meant. He meant that his agreeing to go to the straw poll didn't mean that he was seriously agreeing to go. By saying he was going only meant he was "not out" not that he was "in." I hope we have no talking like that in office.

Montana Headlines said...

I would disagree that this particular thing would be a problem with Huckabee.

The primary and caucus schedule is so compressed, constantly shifting, and uncertain, that all candidates are having to choose where to spend time and resources.

I do see the point about double-talk, but we've had more than enough of that from Giuliani, Thompson, McCain, and especially, Romney. Comes with the territory when you are having to be all things to all men.

Dirty business, but glad someone is willing to do it.

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