Returning from Blood, Sweat and Fears, a festival of Grand Guignol put on by Washington’s Molotov Theater–and there’s a poisonous blend for you–I found that the South Carolina primary has no fears for me. Sure, McCain won and is probably on the way to the nomination. Probably, not certainly, but it’s hard to see who is going to take it away from him among the current contenders. Of course, someone not among the current contenders might. See below.
Huck came a close second but should have done better in that state. Rich, who has been the strongest Cornerite against the Huck, points out that his vote in Iowa now looks like a simple consequence of the fact that sixty per cent of the Iowa caucus attendees were evangelicals. Actually it’s worse than that for Huck. In the light of his lower percentage votes among evangelicals everywhere outside Iowa, it looks like a combination of the high percentage of evangelicals in Iowa PLUS their distrust of a Mormon.
I think that distrust is a declining factor as voters get to know Romney and begin to think of him as an individual rather than as a stereotypical representative of his faith. But it will still be a factor in otherwise favorable southern states on Super Tuesday–and time for Mitt to win the kind of smashing victory that leads to victories elsewhere is running out. He’s still in there but ever more he is running up the “Down” escalator.
BTW it seems to me to be a mistake for Cornerites and other conservatives to scorn Huckabee as a candidate whose appeal is limited to evangelicals (if indeed it is, which is far from certain.) The evangelical constituency is no longer firmly in the GOP camp. Many evangelicals, especially younger ones, are nervous that they have sold their faith for a mess of economic pottage–and not even got the pottage. Contempt for Huckabee will strengthen that burgeoning resentment.
Nor is it justified. A look at Huckabee’s policies and record shows him to be a conservative Republican in good standing who differs from the majority of conservatives on important issues–but no more so than McCain, Giuliani, or (in Michigan) Romney. He’s chopped and changed? Who hasn’t. If conservatives wanted a simon pure conservative standard-bearer, they should have supported Fred. They didn’t. And soon they may not be able to.
So is it McCain? Probably if the “Big Mo” kicks in. But as the main GOP supporter of legalizing illegal immigrants and importing cheap labor, McCain is ill placed to benefit from the significant rift that split the Democrats in the Nevada primary between Black and Hispanic voters. Black Americans are the worst hit by easy or tolerated illegal immigration. They could be in play if Hillary beats Obama in a bruising fight–now a real likelihood–and if the Republicans then highlight their economic interests seriously in the immigration debate. McCain simply can’t do this. He is the GOP’s public face of open borders. That is one among several reasons why internal party opposition to him may not simply dissipate if it becomes clear that he is likely nominee.
Indeed, iif the field remains crowded and three or more survivors arrive at the Convention short of the required majority, then someone fresh and appealing might emerge from the ensuing brawl. Given the fashion for southern governors, the new faces might be South Carolina’s Mark Sanford, Mississippi’s Haley Barbour, Alabama’s Bob Riley, or Lousiana’s Bobby Jindal. Riley is able and popular but too little known (though a possible veep nominee); Bobby Jindal was sworn in only this week–Senator Obama would point out that he was too inexperienced to run for the presidency. Haley Barbour is the cleverest man in American politics and would be a superb president, but his “Gool Ol’ Boy” camouflage will probably deter a nervous GOP from risking his candidacy. That leaves the telegenic Sanford, a moderate conservative, southern but not “too southern,” married to a charming telegenic wife, who has a 92 lifetime rating with the ACU and was often the only other congressman voting with Ron Paul against bills to expand government.
BTW several e-mailers have complained about my failure to mention Ron Paul in previous postings. Sorry. That indicated no hostility to the principled Mr. Paul, whose craggy republican honesty I rather like, merely a (perhaps mistaken) journalistic judgment that he was VERY unlikely to win. I also failed to mention Duncan Hunter, another principled and able candidate, because of his low standing in polls and previous results. And that might have serious consequences for me since Hunter is the candidate favored not by some distant e-mail correspondent but by my wife.