Questions Regarding the Republican Field

I’ve been slacking for the past few days, for the most part as a result of trying to get a few other things done, and a friend’s wedding I had to go to. As a result, I didn’t get a chance to address some very good comments in response to my analysis of the first Republican debate last week, and as a result will do so here (besides, I’ve not really had a chance to post on anything newsy today, and am therefore taking the cheap way out by pontificating on horse race… yay me… er… maybe not… nevermind, there’s nothing to see here, move along… ahem).

Reader Terry Ott had a rather long and well thought out response, to the analysis and the debates in general, and here is his first point:

“1. This isn’t really the “field”; it’s more than that and less. “More”: Most are not to be taken seriously, no more than Mosely-Braun, Sharpton, Kucinich, etc., once were. “Less”: Either Fred Thompson or Chuck Hagel, or both, would be in the top 4 if they decided to run. And there really would then be only 3 to 5 “serious” candidates in short order.”

What I think is really interesting here is the “Less” part of Terry’s statement. Both Fred Thompson and Chuck Hagel’s names have been cast about a lot lately, and in many ways most likely as a result of the GOP’s lack of satisfaction with the announced candidates in their field, but let’s take a closer look at these two guys.

With Fred Thompson I think that a lot of Republicans are hoping that he turns out to actually be the next Ronald Reagan, a hope I picked up not long ago was probably misguided at best when watching Bill Mahr on Chris Matthew’s countdown. He delivered a pretty funny non-quip (which was more a very pointed silence) at the one time Senator and now actor’s bona fides as a great communicator which I think points out what may end up being a huge disappointment when people actually start to see him on the campaign trail.

This sentiment is mirrored by early conservative reactions to a recent speech delivered this weekend. As conservative columnist Bob Novak wrote in a panning of the speech, “Lincoln Club members, like many conservative Republicans, have been unimpressed by the existing field of Republican hopefuls and envisioned Thompson as the second coming of Ronald Reagan. They did not get it Friday night.”

Not the kind of buzz you want to get going before announcing a bid for the presidency. Other criticisms include “workmanlike but underwhelming,” and “meandering” (cited later in this post at politics1.com).

And then there’s this little tidbit I just stumbled upon that will also most likely hinder Thompson’s attempts to endear himself with the conservatives:

* Under abortion: He checked the box for: “Abortions should be legal in all circumstances as long as the procedure is completed within the first trimester of the pregnancy.” He did, however, support a number of restrictions on abortion: requiring parental notification, allowing states to impose waiting periods, and eliminating all federal funding of abortion. Lastly, he said Congress should leave legislation on abortion to the states.

While I don’t think abortion, or virtually any hot button issues should be a litmus test in most instances, I’m not a Republican primary voter, and let’s face it, Repubs love them some prolife action.

Of course that’s not to say these things can’t be overcome, which leads me to this part of Terry’s comment:

“To end on another note altogether… what should Fred Thompson do (or Hagel for that matter) to overake and outflank the others? If I were advising either it would be to announce, right after declaring “I’m in”, who would be his key advisors and potential cabinet members. By implication, that would say: I’ve been doing my homework while the others have been beating their gums, AND it would assure voters that there would be no repeat of Bush, foisting his cronies and imcomptent political “friends” on all of us.”

I think this is a pretty wise course of action so long as these are candidates that are properly vetted, and I think that this may end up being the rub. The problem is that by announcing your cabinet, you can put forth a good image that shows you’ve been doing your “homework” however it also adds the extra burden of having a cabinet full of liabilities joining you on the campaign. More targets for negative political ads and research, and you are going to remove political flexibility based on their stances of the many issues they will address.

Also, this could also rob a candidate of support particularly by… well… cronies. There’s nothing saying you have to give them the job, but just knowing the job is open could attract potentially powerful campaign allies.

Still, the concept is definitely worth some thought and most definitely laudable.

On the other hand, I think the smartest think Thompson can do right now is not announce. Why announce now? He’s polling rather high, especially for someone that isn’t spending a dime on tv buys, and not farming out a considerable amount of his time campaigning. I say ride the numbers for as long as you can, and when you see yourself start to dip, THAT’S when you announce, hopefully to get a nice big bump.

This unlike what McCain did which was try and force a bump out of a silly candidacy announcement after he had already been actively campaigning for quite some time, and at which he gaffed when he chided anti war protestors. Note that the chiding might not be read as a gaffe towards Republicans and McCain supporters, but if he should make it to the General Election where the voting populace might be much more sympathetic to the demonstrators’ views, this could bite him.

Which brings us to our good old friend Chuck Hagel.

The buzz around the internets is not that Senator Hagel may enter as a GOP candidate at all, but an independant, which would spell disaster for Republican hopefuls with their eye on the White House.

I say disaster because aside from his stance on the Iraq war, the senator is considerably conservative, effectively splitting the GOP vote between whatever pro Iraq candidate they nominate, and Hagel who is Anti Iraq war.

Okay, here’s the skinny on Hagel. I think his days as a Republican candidate for anything are pretty numbered. At the core of this assessment is that on this one issue of Iraq, Hagel is going against his party.

While America in general is pretty dissatisfied with Bush, this is not the case inside the rank and file of the GOP. According to recently released polls, about two thirds registered Republicans approve of the embattled president. While this is actually down since last year, it’s still significant; Republicans aren’t ready to go along with Democrats and the rest of America on how they see our efforts in Iraq going.

This leaves a precarious position for anti war Republicans seeking just about any office. For Chuck Hagel, it could mean a fatal primary challenge for his own senate seat by Jon Bruning. Not that a reelection bid for Hagel was ever really guaranteed as he’s been known to take career politicians to task in the past, but I think a Bruning primary challenge would result in either Hagel stepping down, or Hagel having to switch independent to keep his seat anyway.

Looking at the presidential stage, there are other reasons to sever oneself from one’s party if you’re Chuck Hagel. For one, I wouldn’t waste my money trying to compete in the primary field given my opposition to the single defining issue of the 08 race. It would be a waste of money and resources, whereas running independant would provide a relatively competition free environment up until the time of the General Election, during which Hagel would be essentially free to campaign, allbeit it stealthily.

In this instance, you don’t have to worry about trying to overcome the vast Republican bloc that agrees with the war, but instead, you get to reap the benefits of appealing to that chunk of the Republican party that is with the rest of America on Iraq. At the same time, the label of Independant puts you in play for conservative Democrats, and non identified moderates who are really just leaning Democratic almost solely on the merits of the war alone.

And this is all of course speculation as Chuck may also follow through on his disgust of career politicians and just retire.

In the end, Party loyals are kicking these two names around with eager enthusiasm, building buzz, and hope on the slim dream that the party can put together someone who has a chance to stand up against the seemingly insurmountable momentum going the Democrats’ way. My only cautionary words would be don’t put all your eggs in these baskets, you may end up getting disappointed.

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