Sunday, July 15, 2007

Gilmore drops out. And then there were... seven? Nine?

Former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore is now former Republican presidential candidate Jim Gilmore. Gilmore, who ran because he felt he was the only "true conservative" running, dropped his presidential bid yesterday after raising too conservative an amount of money.

I like to think I keep on top of these things, but I'll admit that I had to think about it hard and finally resort to a Google search to make a comprehensive list of all the Republicans who are still running. For the moment, they are:

Former Gov. Willard "Mitt" Romney (Massachusetts), who seems to have no trouble raising money himself, spent his entire tenure as Governor of Massachusetts building a network of campaign donors. Good work, Mitt! We Massachusetts residents appreciate your tireless devotion to the state... of your campaign apparatus! (Um... why did we elect you again?)

Former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani (New York) does all right with money and his political network, polling respectively around the country. However, running into recent minefields like his South Carolina campaign director being convicted on cocaine charges, his buddy Bernie Kerik proving to be a paragon of corruption, and the candidate's brilliant assessment in Alabama last April that "a gallon of milk probably costs about $1.50," I have a feeling that Giuliani's got to self-destruct sooner or later. At any rate, the former mayor's past support of gay rights and abortion rights will certainly deflate enthusiasm for him among the more conservative voters, whom he'll need to win over. At any rate, I'm not convinced Giuliani's going to make it through the primaries.

Former Governor Mike Huckabee (Arkansas) hails from a small town called Hope—but that alone does not a president make. Huckabee is a good public speaker, but he doesn't seem to be catching much fire, despite his appeal among Christian conservatives. What's he running for—president, or some future Republican president's cabinet? Some might like Huckabee's smooth, seemingly friendly air—but look out. The fact is he's a fierce partisan, and has been caught a few times comparing the Democratic Party to the Nazi Party. That's the kind of behavior known in Republican circles as "being a uniter, not a divider." You've been warned.

Former Governor Tommy Thompson (Wisconsin) is one I had to think and think hard about to remember, but failed, eventually getting my memory jogged about him through that Google search. I'm pretty convinced Thompson's running for vice president. Wouldn't it be cool if the Republians nominated Fred Thompson? Thompson/Thompson '08! I still wouldn't vote for that ticket, though come to think of it, cutesy packaging like that might actually prove to be an asset... jeez, maybe I hope they don't go this way...

Representative Ron Paul (Texas) is an interesting phenomenon. Paul is a resistered Republican but largely libertarian in his views. He's out of step with the Bush White House and mostly has a hands-off view of government (except where abortion and gay rights are concerned: he opposes both.) Paul has very enthusiastic support, but that support doesn't translate to a strong showing in the national polls. I'm skeptical about Paul's appeal among Republican voters in general, and I don't see him pulling ahead in the primaries. He should have no problem keeping his House seat, though. The voters in his district oppose abortion rights and rights for gays, since folks aren't particularly libertarian in east Texas.

Senator Sam Brownback (Kansas) is still running as a religious conservative, reaching out to Evangelicals, which is strange, considering that he's a Catholic. Brownback seems to be marching against the liberalizing current running through his state right now, which is helping the Democratic party there. Brownback's Senate seat probably won't be imperiled any time soon, but his tilting at the White House windmill will probably come to naught, as well.

Representative Tom Tancredo (Colorado) has a strong following but is just a one-note show. His anti-immigration campaign has electrified anti-immigrant voters. One-note candidates typically have a problem getting taken seriously, and in that, Tancredo seems pretty typical. Apart from his presidential campaign going nowhere, there's concern that Tancredo's actions will serve to drive Hispanics from the Republican Party, a group that the Republicans had been trying, with some success, to court since 1972, as some of President Nixon's old recordings have revealed. This recording shows that the Republicans were still courting Hispanics in 2004. I can see the Tancredo campaign launching all sorts of attack ads, but ads in Spanish? Probably not.

Senator John McCain (Arizona) was long assumed to be the 2008 frontrunner, but he never managed to catch on, to the surprise of many. His campaign imploded just this month, with most of his staff walking out on him. Those who remained tried to spin it as a "shuffling of staff," but they left him, not the other way around. It's hard to say what caused this collapse, exactly, but I think the general problem McCain has had stemmed from his gradual abandoning of his independence. McCain ran as a harsh critic of Bush in 2000, but lost a lot of moderate Republicans and independents through his strong support of the Bush administration over these past seven years. Social conservatives were never comfortable with McCain, who used to attack Jerry Falwell and their friends, so he's always been a hard sell to this group, which pretty much runs the party these days. Add to that McCain's unflagging support of our failed occupation of Iraq and his moderate views on immigration reform (e.g., not packing up twelve million Hispanics in boxcars and shipping them across the Mexican border,) Arizona's senior senator seems to be a little bit out of step with everyone. Sure he's independent minded, but considering that everyone across the political spectrum feels at least a little bit betrayed by John McCain, he's lost a lot of trust. He'll hold his Senate seat for as long as he draws breath, but as to any greater ambitions, it's all over.

Representative Duncan Hunter (California) is running as a hard-core conservative, but this latter-day John Bircher is another name that people find hard to remember. I bet he's the next Republican to drop out of the race.

You might notice a couple of noteworthy omissions from the above list. Two, specifically. That's because I've only listed declared candidates. However, these omitted two need to be included, so here goes: Senator Chuck Hagel (Nebraska) has tried to paint himself as an outsider candidate, daring to criticize the Bush administration on Iraq a few months ago. While Hagel was doing that, there was a general feeling that this meant he was about to throw his hat into the ring. Senator Hagel issued a press release saying he was going to make a big announcement, and when he had the eyes and ears of the whole news media, Hagel stepped up to the podium and said, "I want to announce that I haven't decided what I'm going to do next yet." This annoying move seems to suggest that Hagel had something in mind but some new data might have changed his mind for him. I suspect he figured his Iraq position would garner him more support than it actually did, and that he took one look at some internal polls and figured he'd better wait. Republicans still support Bush in large enough numbers that running against him is no way to win a primary, and I think that's the harsh lesson that Senator Hagel has learned. There was some talk about an independent Hagel bid, but I don't see that happening, either. Hagel is over.

Former Senator Fred Thompson (Tennessee) has been teasing us with talk of a presidential run, and although he hasn't announced yet, I think he's going to do it. You hear a lot of "Reaganesque" comments about Thompson, but I think all that means is that Thompson's an actor, too. He leans conservative these days, which helps, but he's got some explaining to do about his past lobbying for a pro-choice organization in 1992, about which he has recently claims "I don't remember." (Note: Thompson is a former Nixon staffer, so that's probably where he learned that trick.) Thompson's lifestyle might also become an issue among social conservatives; his quarter-century-his-junior trophy wife and lavish tastes have earned him the nickname "Frederick of Hollywood." Is this what Republicans have in mind when they think of a white knight?

I guess this means that there are officially nine Republican candidates, most likely ten, and possibly eleven (if Hagel throws his hat in.) Some might say twelve, since Newt Gingrich likes to tease us with talk of his running, but he's done that before. I think Gingrich is just too much of a ham to play himself down when the cameras and recording devices are rolling.

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