Reviewing outtakes from last night’s GOP debate, some Democratic blogging, and poll averages, a few quarter-baked thoughts have come to mind.
First, if the war is the prime voting issue, the top three GOP candidates would all make credible presidents. Among the top Dems, only Hillary Clinton would. As an American, and particularly as a Southern Scotch-Irish win-at-all-costs type, I find myself hoping for Clinton as the nominee, thus to reduce lethal risk to the Republic.
However, despite her great talents and resources, I still think Clinton is the weakest candidate for Democrats. She brings lots of baggage. She splits the base on the war. She annoys independent voters ready for a fresh face. I know it’s way early, but the head-to-head polls show her to be weaker than Obama or Edwards against the Republican field.
Plus, the GOP race is not yet fully formed. Newt Gingrich said earlier this week that he will probably get it in September (he’s speaking to my group in NC on Thursday, so I’m hoping for more details). Fred Thompson seems likely to get in, too. Their hovering over the current field has distorted the polling significantly, as they are collectively drawing about 20 percent of the primary electorate — consisting of conservative stalwarts and disaffected partisans (not exactly the same) who don’t like Giuliani or McCain and don’t really know who Romney is. Once Thompson and Gingrich get in, things will change dramatically. Could be that they’ll just further the split, making it a Giuliani-McCain matchup by default and re-creating a 1996 dynamic. Or there could be flame-outs and a conservative coalescence around a non-McCain alternative to Giuliani.
Finally, Giuliani is a loser unless he forms and delivers a clearer, more reassuring message to conservatives on social issues, abortion and others. The Paul Coverdell solution is a viable one, but Giuliani just isn’t convincing on it yet. He’s well-known and admired outside the Northeast corridor as a NYC mayor, thus explaining his 25-30 percent in the national polls, but that’s about it. There’s no silent majority for a tough-talking social liberal among GOP primary voters. That’s a fantasy. He leads because there is a large field. It will shrink.