Once it seemed that the race would boil down to McCain, as the front-running candidate distrusted by conservatives, and an alternative candidate to his right. Now, Giuliani has supplanted McCain in that top position. Pound for pound, Giuliani might be the most talented political horseflesh in the field, an excellent debater and proven leader. He'll need all that talent -- and probably more -- to overcome positions on cultural issues that are badly out of step with the GOP and a personal life as mayor that made Bill Clinton's look discreet.
Romney, Thompson and McCain are all grappling to be the alternative to Giuliani, with underfunded former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee playing the spoiler. Romney is so eager to fight with Giuliani because it gives him pride of place in this anti-Giuliani competition.
If only the grounds on which he is fighting him weren't so dispiritingly backward-looking. He chose to rap Giuliani in the latest debate regarding the New Yorker's opposition to the line-item veto in the 1990s. The line-item veto was a fresh idea roughly in 1980, but its relevance today is close to nil. Romney's attack is typical of a race that has been run largely on the basis of the campaigns highlighting one another's past heterodoxies in YouTube videos and e-mailed press releases.
It's as if the candidates have not noticed that they are facing a likely Democratic candidate, in Hillary Clinton, whose favorable ratings are inching upward toward 50 percent, and a Democratic Party with large leads in the polls on almost all the issues and an enormous advantage on fundraising. Gotcha games, conservative bromides and ritualistic invocations of Reagan aren't what the moment calls for. But, for the most part, it's what Republicans are getting.
Yes, alas, this is it.
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