After a rapid exchange of verbal fire and a rush of money and supplies to the front, it appears that the first skirmishes over the 2008 Republican presidential nomination are over. Some gunpowder burns have been suffered, a few of the combatants have been wounded, most of them slightly, and millions in war bonds have been sold. Even so, the first political battles of 2007 are behind us, with no clear advantage to any of the antagonists.
This is good news for anyone who cares about the political process and the health of our democracy. One hundred days ago there was widespread talk about who would win the "money primary" as candidates made their entry into the fray and began the process of raising millions for their campaigns. Along with this fundraising came the inevitable spending, as hundreds of thousands of dollars began to flow out of campaign coffers for advisers and consultants. This, too, became a primary, as the candidates jockeyed to build their own resumes through their ability to hire other resumes.
Now, as the first quarter of 2007 ends, the truth has begun to settle in that there will be no early winner of the GOP nomination (the Democrats have fewer likely candidates but are no closer to a clear victor themselves). The money and consultants' resume primaries have not resolved, and will not resolve, whom the Republican Party will select as its standard-bearer for at least the next four years.
There appears to be every possibility that ideas will ultimately decide the nomination, perhaps for both parties. The thinking primary has begun. That's a welcome sign, because this is the primary that matters, and if there is any advantage to having our presidential competitions start almost two years away from Election Day it's the opportunity to examine and think about our options.
With each passing day, the candidates are telling us new and interesting things about themselves and their views on the issues. With each passing day, they are telling us other things about their opponents. Journalists and opposition researchers are digging deep into the files of The Arizona Republic and The New York Post and The Boston Globe, and candidates are being reminded, and asked about, what they've said and done and believed and regretted.