After tonight, you would have to think McCain is on course to be the nominee. He’s won the two traditionally determinative primaries and he’s the senior candidate in a party that rewards seniority.
It’s also clear that Huck can’t get beyond his base, and Fred is the insurgent who never insurges, and Mitt is a dogged but weak campaigner whose tactical judgments seem to be self-defeating (see Ramesh below), and Rudy’s “strategy” has been to take a national lead and then see it wither to single digits in every state that schedules an actual vote in hopes that it will nevertheless decline sufficiently slowly to enable him to eke out a narrow victory in Florida. As I said earlier, if he pulls it off, he’ll be a genius, and those of us who scoffed will look like chumps.
But I’d be surprised if he does. One lesson of the McCain candidacy is you have to compete. I’m no fan of the Senator, but unlike every other campaign his supporters don’t send out emails explaining why this midwestern evangelical state or that northeastern libertarian state or this decaying rustbelt state or that Mormon-infested patch of southwestern desert or this or that Bible Belt swamp isn’t typical of the real Republican base and so it makes sense not to compete there. Even Iowa, which McCain dissed, he managed to do in a way that made it look like a principled stand (“Thanks, but I ain’t drinkin’ your stinkin’ ethanol”), thereby mitigating any poor result – and in the end he performed relatively impressively anyway. What I mean is, unlike Rudy or Mitt, he somehow manages to get rewarded even for flippin’ the bird at some of these electorates.
In that sense, McCain’s is a genuine national candidacy. Rudy’s campaign announced itself as one, but, as I said a while back, it quickly turned into a 1-800 candidacy, rooted in no real area code, with no real physical presence, as if he’d outsourced the thing to a call center in Bombay. That’s why his team have spent most of the last month artfully explaining why it doesn’t matter that ten per cent of American states have consigned ”America’s Mayor” to a statistical asterisk. I’d love to hear from Lisa, David Frum or our old pal JPod if this is truly where they expected the “frontrunner” to be at this stage in the game: Two per cent in South Carolina, and a grand total of one delegate.