They’re calling it Super Tuesday II. Few would have predicted Ohio and Texas would matter so much in this presidential-primary season, but here we are. Republicans are watching just as closely as Democrats — not to see off Mike Huckabee once and for all, but to see who John McCain’s opponent will be. Hillary Clinton’s long-set course for the White House could be disrupted today — or merely delayed for another four years.
The Right does not speak with one voice on their hopes for the Democratic primary. In a cover story for National Review, Rich Lowry and Kate O’Beirne pleaded “Please Nominate This Couple,” referring to the Bill and Hillary team. Rush Limbaugh has encouraged Republicans to vote Clinton in the open primary in Texas, if only to keep the race going.
And they are far from the only conservatives who are not ready to see the Clintons exit the presidential stage. Republican operative and presidential-campaign vet Ralph Reed “with up to 47 percent of the electorate indicating they will not vote for Hillary Clinton under any circumstances, it is fair to say that Hillary faces more challenges today than Obama in a head-to-head match-up with McCain. Conservatives should want Clinton to keep fighting if only for that reason.”
There is also a bit of a Let There Be Blood outlook on the Right. Says Republican pollster Whit Ayres, “Let them keep going as long as possible — all the way to the convention would be good.” Reed looks to the “tantalizing” prospect of “a bitter struggle between Clinton and Obama coming down to an open (dare we say ‘brokered’?) Democratic convention in Denver, perhaps resolved by super delegates or a credentials battle over Florida and Michigan.”
For those who laugh at “brokered” talk (political reporters and junkies perpetually dream of at least one exciting political convention), Reed is not laughing. “Some political scientists have gone so far as to argue that the party with the hardest-fought primary campaign invariably loses. There is certainly evidence for the claim. Hubert Humphrey in 1968, Gerald Ford in 1976, Jimmy Carter in 1980, Walter Mondale in 1984, and Bob Dole in 1996 all faced spirited contests, some of which lasted until the convention, only to face a united opposition in the fall. In this scenario, an irretrievably divided and bloodied Democratic party staggering out of Denver would be an answer to the prayers of many Republicans suffering from the political blues.”
Pollster Tony Fabrizio echoes the “longer is best” argument — detailing how an extended Democratic primary helps McCain as much as it hinders the Democrats: “It would give McCain’s team more time to beef up structurally; to set up a national organization; to try to close the overwhelming fundraising gap; to develop a national campaign strategy; to road-test both pro-McCain and anti-Clinton or -Obama messages. And it keeps the Democrats off focus, forestalls their closing ranks financially around a single candidate, and delays the “huge wave of positive media attention that either Obama (the first African-American, knocked off establishment candidate, leading a ‘change’ revolution) or Clinton (the first female, back from the dead, experience beat out change) will receive when either becomes the nominee” — until McCain is better prepared to deal with the onslaught.
But will a mess at the Democratic convention really cure our political blues? Two-time Cabinet secretary and radio talk-show host Bill Bennett has argued that American political life might be best served by a final Clinton exit from presidential politics. (When Bill Clinton announced this weekend that “The country is groaning and moaning and screaming for change,” I was right there with the Republican Bill.) Wouldn’t a Clinton-free presidential campaign be a welcome change? Wouldn’t that be uplifting?
This campaign season has been one for surprises, and the most honest political analysis is to admit “I have no idea.” If even Michael Barone can’t predict where this race is going, I’ll make no predictions, advise no Texans, and refrain from the clever praying. The bottom line is: If the Democratic candidates are as unserious on wartime national security as their public statements indicate — Clinton has all but called General Petraeus a liar; and Obama promises to recklessly pull troops out of Iraq, and put them right back in if that doesn’t work — I’m O.K. with whomever the Democratic party decides to nominate, whenever they do.