Ross Mackenzie

OK. So where do things stand in the aftermath of the New Hampshire primary?

On the Republican side . . .

John McCain reclaimed his role as the principal adult in the room — solid, experienced, wise. Across the state, he spoke of the war on Islamofascist terror as the “titanic” and “transcendental struggle of the 21st century.” In accepting victory, he cited the need for fiscal integrity and a strong defense, and eloquently employed words such as “truth,” “respect,” and “trust.” This is the guy who gets it.

Mitt Romney is toast, though he possesses the cash to press on in a failing enterprise. Fred Thompson cannot long survive. Rudy Giuliani probably can’t either — having resolved to forego the early contests and devote his time and energy to Florida later this month and the 23 states holding primaries Feb. 5.

Mike Huckabee tanked in New Hampshire after his surprising success in Iowa. Yet Iowa is not a reliable predictor of ultimate success. Huckabee may win heavily evangelical South Carolina and carry that success into Florida, where he also may do reasonably well if McCain and Giuliani divide what might prove a common constituency there.

Huckabee represents the Republicans’ social conservatives, who have issues with McCain. But McCain trumps him in experience and depth, and it’s difficult to foresee how Huckabee can prevail through the convention — let alone against Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama come fall. The party’s social conservatives seem destined to face this choice: accept a less-than-perfect nominee (e.g., McCain) or resign themselves to a Democratic president reigning in Washington, with a Democratic Congress just down the street.

On the Democratic side . . .

It’s now a two-person race. Angry plaintiffs’ lawyer John Edwards should get out, but he is the Democrats’ Romney — albeit with less money. What may force him to leave is recognition that thereby he would strengthen Obama against the dread Clinton machine.

Obama is a sensational political property — electric, inspiring, a communicator verging on the demagogic, and decidedly left-wing. Many in the press view him, in the words of The Washington Post, as “(John) Kennedy, Santa Claus, and the Messiah all rolled into one.” So do many of those rallying to his banner and his mantra of “change.”

It may take a more disciplined intellect, like Hillary Clinton’s, to force a discussion as to what sort of change Obama has in mind — and such a discussion could determine the Democratic nominating outcome. So far the two are saying fundamentally the same diaphanous thing. Obama: change we can believe in; Clinton: change you can count on.

Ross Mackenzie

Ross Mackenzie lives with his wife and Labrador retriever in the woods west of Richmond, Virginia. They have two grown sons, both Naval officers.

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