I talked to a wise man associated with one of the Republican candidates. (Not Obi Wan, nor any of my other Star Wars-nicknamed sources.)
He said that what’s been fascinating about the election cycle so far is that it has obliterated the usual first stage, second stage, third stage progression; everyone’s campaigning as if it’s stage seventeen and the first primary is a few weeks away.
Traditionally, in campaigns, the mantra is “control your image”; in this campaign, no candidate has managed to control his or her image, this adviser said. The result is that because Romney was defined early as a flip-flopper, anytime he says something that appears to contradict or differ from an earlier statement, he’s called a flip-flopper. For Fred Thompson, he’s already heard the accusation of lazy. He’s going to have to maintain a grueling schedule, or else the accusations of laziness will occur.
On Thompson, this non-Fred adviser said he’s likely to hit some bumps on the road early on. “He’s going to get hit with all sorts of questions on issues he’s probably never thought much about.” He contends that Thompson clarifies that for all extents and purposes, the GOP race has only one tier: McCain, Rudy, Romney, and Thompson. He said there’s little remaining chance for a Huckabee or Sam Brownback to make a move, if for no other reason than where does the money come to sustain a serious challenge?
This adviser isn’t likely to end up his preferred candidate’s running mate selection, but did note that Rudy, McCain and Romney are all very tough to picture in the second-fiddle position of the vice presidency. FredT Thompson, on the other hand, could probably fit that role very easily, so this thinker wondered if none of the other candidates would go criticize Fred that harshly…
The other name that came up in a discussion of running mates? South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford. Not for electoral value, (if the GOP needs to secure his state it’s all over) but for the right qualities: Executive leadership, good temperment, right on the issues, still serving in the Air Force Reserves…
The adviser wondered about the value of arguments about electability, pointing out that the last two candidates to expressly campaign on their ability to win a general election were Lamar Alexander and John Kerry. “We know how that ended up.”
Counterintutively, this thinker suggested that the bottom falling out of Bush’s approval rating could be good for the eventual Republican candidate. “If Bush is at 2 percent, then there won’t be any expectation, obligation, or discussion of even trying to defend the last eight years… I like the speeded-up primary; let’s get a new face and new leader in the Republican party as quickly as possible. With the president taking on the base of the party on immigration, now everybody’s disappointed in Bush’s second term. A lot of his supporters were willing to defend him on Iraq, willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on Katrina, but on this, they just can’t follow his thinking… It’s going to be tough, because the base will not “fall in love” with another nominee after feeling so betrayed by this one. But whoever the next nominee is going to be, that will be the new “brand” of the Republican party, starting very early in 2008.”