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Now that we've covered the Dems, let's take a look at the Republican nomination fight. (Disclaimer: I do not like any of the Republicans, so all objective analysis here.)

The Republican nomination will largely be decided by the 2006 midterms. If Republicans pick up seats (a near impossibility), a lame party-line conservative like Frist may win. If Republicans lose seats, but do not lose either house of Congress, conservatives will feel the need to nominate a Reaganesque conservative like George Allen. If Republicans lose one or more houses of Congress, Republicans will desperately seek sometime with cross-party appeal who can assure them victory, someone like John McCain, Chuck Hagel, or for those of you in fantasyland, Rudy Guiliani or Condoleeza Rice.

The way I see it, the Republican candidates are divided into the have-no-chances, the longshots, and the likelies. The have-no-chances are Gov. George Pataki of New York, who visited Iowa again this week, Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado, who is looking like not running now that the immigration issue has come front and center, and Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, who is not running, so all you young conservatives out there can stop salivating (even if she ran, the day the Republicans nominate a pro-choice, pro-affirmative action, unmarried, black female intellectual internationalist, I'll become a Republican). The longshots are Bill Frist, Rudy Guiliani, Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, Chuck Hagel, Sam Brownback, and Newt Gingrich.

Let's run through these.

Bill Frist - The man is boring! He is currently taking speech lessons, he has been a terrible majority (being worse than Trent Lott and Bob Dole is a difficult feat), he has no support among religious conservatives and very little establishment support. My theory is he will drop out after South Carolina, where he will have lost every contest up to that point.

Rudy Guiliani - The man is pro-choice, pro-gay rights, pro-gun control in a party that wouldn't nominate someone who is just one of those things! Rudy Guiliani won't end up running, but if he does, just running on a strong national defense, tough on crime, and pro-tax cuts won't cut it. He will have to answer to his two marriages, his adultery, his having lived with a gay couple once, and his failure as a mayor prior to 9/11. As we get farther from 9/11, his fame and celebrity diminsh, and when conservatives in Iowa and South Carolina find out about his liberalism, he won't even come in fifth.

Mike Huckabee - He's a nice guy who has worked hard on the obesity issue nationally, but he's not a small government conservative. He believes in government that works to solve social problems, a philosophy that will not go over well with the libertarian strain of Republicans in Iowa and New Hampshire. The man has low name recognition, and while his religious pull (he's a former Baptist minister) and his speaking style (he's a former Baptist minister) will make him a force in the debates, he won't get farther than maybe the VP slot, and that's pushing it.

Mitt Romney - The media has recently fallen in love with this guy. The conservatives think he's their man, and while he has pulled out his punches on the religious social issues, strongly worked against gay marriage in Massachusetts and has fought against stem cell research, his recent conversion to the pro-life community may ring too much of another Massachusetts flip-flopper for a number of Republicans. And as much as winning means to the GOP, they're not ready to nominate a Massachusetts politician, that's just too far outside the South for them. And finally, the man's a Mormon, and while we live in a much more tolerant society than when Jack Kennedy ran as a Catholic in 1960, most evangelicals view Mormonism as a cult that perverts Christianity. I've heard it from evangelicals I know, and they won't easily nominate him.

Chuck Hagel - If the war in Iraq still goes badly, and the country turns against the war, including most Republicans, Chuck Hagel may have a shot, since he is conservative on most issues except the war. However, Chuck Hagel is a lightweight candidate and even if the GOP turns against the war, and I don't think that will happen, he doesn't have much appeal among any faction of the Republican party.

Sam Brownback - The guy's a committed social and religious conservative and beloved by Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. But the guy is a big government lover, and the business community, the libertarians, and the fiscal conservatives do not like the guy. He is charismatic and if some other people drop out, he may have a chance. But he is not anyone's first pick, and probably will not be.

Newt Gingrich - There is no one in the GOP who is smarter, wiser, a better strategist, and a better communicator than Newt Gingrich. He can go anywhere in the country and grab Republicans' attention, and he inspires a bunch of conservatives. He would be extremely formidable in a debate. But he has become a caricature. He looks like the devil to the media, the Democrats, and most of the country and people will not forget his affair, divorce, and remarriage easily. If Newt Gingrich had run in 1995 for President, he would be easily elected, but the damage has been done.

So here we come to the two candidates from which I strongly believe the GOP will pick a nominee. George Allen and John McCain.

Both have enormous establishment support, both have a strong appeal to the 1994 Republican revolutionaries, both are liked by mavericks in the party. Both are strong fiscal conservatives, who are conservative enough on social issues to get the religious types in line. But there is one difference, George Allen is liked by the Rush Limbaugh types, the partisan conservatives who want someone they can trust to be conservative down the line. These guys hate McCain. McCain has something Allen does not, electability. While McCain's move to the right now will damage his image as a maverick, centrist, independent, stright-talking truth teller, he will still have immense cross-party appeal and it is unlikely any Democrat will have an easy time beating him, no matter how bad the shape of the Republican Party is by 2008. If Republicans feel that power is slipping through their fingers, they'll go with the guy who can easily win, but who they will trust on most issues. If George Allen can't prove that he can definitely win the general, McCain will be the nominee.

Senate and House Forecasts in the Future.


OrSkolnik said...

Good writeup, but you're seriously underestimating the power of a candidate from the religious right. In 1988, Buchanan pulled significant strength against a George Allen-like Bush 41, and this was before the religious right became as ridiculously powerful in the Republican party as it is now. Maybe the far-right fundamentalists will back Allen in the theoretical Allen v. McCain struggle, but I feel like Allen just doesn't have the kind of credentials for the religious right that some of the other candidates do. Frist is a disaster who has managed to piss everyone off, but he still has a lot of support among evangelicals (the SRLC straw poll showed that, if nothing else.) Huckabee lacks recognition but has serious charisma (plus, he stands as the only right wing politician to come out on top versus Colbert), and could end up the champion of the right. Brownback is also, as you mentioned, a darling of the religious right.Yes, maybe Brownback and Huckabee like government too much for many Republicans, but the religious base is honestly just too powerful to not have a candidate they can get passionate about. I'm not saying they'll win, but they'll throw off the Allen v. McCain race.

Which brings us to John McCain. Yes, he's enormously popular among independents, Democrats, and moderate Republicans. Unfortunately, those are the three groups of people who really don't vote that much in Republican primaries.

I'm from Arizona, and conservative Republicans in AZ absolutely despise John McCain. We progressives might say he's definitely a conservative and not even a moderate, but that's not the perception. Far-right republicans in AZ hate McCain almost as much as they hate Hillary Clinton. He's literally their Joe Lieberman; even though both are devoted members of their parties in reality, they appear to be much too close to the other side. Many conservative Republicans would not vote for McCain if their life depended on it. If this is true in his home state of AZ, it's doubly true everywhere else, and McCain has become even less popular since he carried the sate in 2000 with his criticism of Bush. I think Republicans will need to be in truly dire straits to ever nominate McCain, plain and simple.

Rach C said...

A bit delayed of a reaction on my part, but I just want to echo what Or said. I honestly don't see John McCain ever winning the Republican nomination for president of the United States, not in my lifetime or in any other, for that matter. His strong showings in the polls right now are attributable only to the fact that it is simply too early to really test the strength of any one candidate. The Democratic polls right now will show you the same thing-- if the election were decided on the basis of April 2006 polling, Hillary would win the Democratic nomination (so thank goodness they're not). The reality is that it is far too early to give the nomination to John McCain, considering that the religious right, as Or rightly points out, have yet to coalesce behind one particular candidate, but they have plenty of time to scramble together an opponent to McCain.