1. The old true-blue issue, given the McCain surge (and it applies to Giuliani as well), is being revisited as McCain gains traction in the later primaries: the degree to which McCain can quell unhappiness with the conservative base, and / or convey to conservatives why they should swallow some unease, on the logic that he will beat either Democratic candidate in the general election, and that his personal heroism and past service trump these concerns in a fashion they would not for other suspect-conservative candidates.
There are various arguments: in the midst of a war, experience and resoluteness trump a lot, and McCain has been adamantly pro-victory in Iraq, often in independent fashion; his anti-jihadist credentials and willingness to define radical Islam for what it is are always on display. He polls still ahead of both Hillary and Obama when the other candidates do not. He has relented on positions that infuriated conservatives–the comprehensive immigration bill–and in candid fashion admitted that he was wrong in not wanting the border closed first before discussion of other controversies. His other vulnerabilities –McCain-Feingold, opposition to tax cuts–grew out of a desire to clean up the political mess (cf. the later Republican scandals that help lose the 2006 elections), and to couple spending restraint with tax cuts to stop piling up deficits (cf. the 6-9 percent annual increase in the federal budget during the first term).
The degree to which he can make these arguments depends on a lot of variables–the pulse of the war, the relative success in the next three weeks of the rival and similarly moderate Giuliani, how he handles questions from obnoxious reporters seeking to exploit his fissures with conservatives, the degree to which influential conservative leaders and opinion-makers on radio and television engage him in conversation and debate rather than write him off, how quickly a Democratic front-runner emerges and begins to focus invective against ALL Republican, and conservative candidates, and the number of endorsements he garners from conservative candidates who leave the race. South Carolina will be interesting since McCain probably is seen as far less conservative than the other candidates, and yet many in a conservative state, for reasons alluded to, might well vote for him.
Thompson, the most likable of the candidates?
2. Few handle the press better than Fred Thompson–with candor and respectful disdain.He entered into this campaign on a wave of media-whipped up hysteria, then was unfairly attacked as not “having fire in the belly” (when, in fact, the 60-something, cancer survivor showed enormous courage in campaigning at a rigorous clip), and then finally written off as the media pack galloped after the scent of the latest front-runner. If he doesn’t make it, and if the primary campaigns are designed to showcase party talent, then he seems, in the event of a Republican victory, a logical candidate for a major Cabinet post, if not vp, if in part because he isn’t campaigning for one.
The Political-savvy Jihadists
3. In the never-ending debate over the capability of radical Islam, note that just as McCain is climbing in the polls, 9 Americans have been killed this week through a bomb-rigged house in Iraq, and various ambushes, as well as more assassinations and beheadings of Iraqis; meanwhile as Bush talks of reconciliation, more Kassems go off from Gaza. The jihadist strategy–we can be so odious and repulsive that every one is better off leaving us alone / please react so we can pose as civilian victims to the gullible Western press / when we create general misery the people are 51 percent more likely to blame you infidels than us–allows the terrorists to achieve far more influence (e.g., change the landscape of Pakistani politics) than their relative weak military capability otherwise suggests. We still haven’t been able to apprise Western publics of what the enemy is doing, why, and how they are going to lose. And as a result this election may well, at least in part, follow the ebb and flow of events in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Pretty thin beef
4. There has been almost no discussion of issues on the Democratic side. What does “change” mean? How is Hillary’s platform more or less for “change” than Obama’s–and what exactly are his programs and policies, both here and abroad? Can any Democratic candidate talk about radical Islam or jihadists or threats of Islamic fascist thought without instinctively blushing or apologizing?
If Obama can drop names of moderates he’d want in his Cabinet, surely he can offer a blueprint of a few detailed ideas.
Does “change” apply to the tax code or illegal immigration; if so, how? When would he shut down Guantanamo; would he repeal the Patriot Act, stop intercepts of overseas calls routed through the U.S. to suspected terrorists? This is all a blank slate.