The current Republican field is like a smorgasbord at Denny's -- lots of OK choices, but nothing to get the heart racing. That's why the potential candidacy of former Sen. Fred Thompson is creating a palpable stir.
Rudy Giuliani -- now riding the crest of a popularity wave -- is appealing for many reasons. He is the only candidate who can really be said to have accomplished a political miracle. When he took over as mayor of New York City, the murder rate was sky-high, confiscatory taxes were driving businesses from the city, and many considered the place unlivable. Few, including conservatives who hoped for Giuliani's election, believed that New York could actually be improved.
There were such inherent weaknesses in New York's polity -- a high illegitimacy rate, the erosion of the educational system, intergenerational welfare dependence -- that political solutions seemed out of reach. But by the time Giuliani left office, the crime rate was reduced to levels not seen since the 1960s, the welfare rate was cut in half, the subway cars were free of graffiti, and business was booming. Almost as important, Giuliani demonstrated as mayor a trait that would be delicious in a president -- he didn't give a fig for the good opinion of The New York Times. And everyone agrees that he is solid on the war on terror.
But (you knew this was coming), he really is quite liberal on cultural questions that matter deeply to conservatives -- life, gun control, and gay rights. Even if conservatives could live with such heterodoxy, say, by accepting the reassurance that Giuliani would appoint conservative judges, there is still the matter of his psychedelic personal life. To be divorced once is now, sadly, common. To be divorced twice and alienated from one's children may be over the line.
John McCain is a solid opponent of Washington spending, a patriot who suffered for his country and his principles (he declined early release from North Vietnam), and a tough, perspicacious leader. But he championed a baldly unconstitutional abridgement of free speech, he showboated on the torture question, and he is getting to be a little old for the job. He has never had a solid connection with conservatives -- particularly with religious conservatives -- and the excitement he generated in 2000 has drained away (as it always does).
Mitt Romney is a fine man with obvious talents. But his recent conversions to conservative positions on abortion and gun control have more than a whiff of opportunism about them. Dig a little deeper and discover, as Ruth Marcus reported in The Washington Post, that he voted for Paul Tsongas in the 1992 presidential primary. Uh-oh. If he trims now to please conservative primary voters, how will he morph next?