Former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, whose political acumen is acknowledged even by Democratic detractors, said something last week that had liberals reflexively nodding.
Pointing to the unpopularity of the Iraq War, the excessive federal spending of recent years and the general disenchantment of the conservative base of the Republican Party, Gingrich set very long odds on Republicans retaining the White House in 2008. "You just look at the dynamics," he told the National Journal, "and you have to say the odds are probably 80-20" in favor of the Democrats.
Newt, of course, is right. The Democrats have the inside track. But that doesn't mean they won't blow it. Nor does it mean that a shrewdly run Republican presidential campaign -- helped by trends that might shift over the next 14 months -- can't beat the odds.
The Democrat's dream scenario goes something like this:
Between now and the Iowa Caucuses, the candidates running to the right in the Republican field fight bitterly among themselves, each seeking to emerge as the sole surviving, viable conservative alternative to Rudy Giuliani, who leads the Republican candidates in most national polls. By Super Duper Tuesday (Feb. 5), there is still no consensus conservative contra-Rudy. In fact, there might even be three claimants still standing.
One would be former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who now appears the best bet to win in Iowa and New Hampshire. The other two might be former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson, either of whom could seize the early momentum from Romney if they do well enough in Iowa and New Hampshire and then come back and defeat Romney in South Carolina and Florida, which will precede Super Duper Tuesday.
In the Democrat dream, that sets the stage for the conservative claimants to split the conservative vote on Super Duper Tuesday, allowing Giuliani to win most states that day with a plurality.
In the Democrat dream of dreams, one social conservative survives Super Duper Tuesday and wages a last-ditch effort to stop the pro-abortion, pro-gay-rights, pro-gun control Giuliani from walking off with the nomination of a party, whose base -- especially in those states most likely to give it an Electoral College victory -- is pro-life, pro-family and pro-Second Amendment.
Rudy, the Democrats fantasize, finally emerges as a Republican nominee who not only lacks enthusiastic support from his own party's base, but also lacks the appeal on cultural issues that in recent decades has driven socially conservatives swing voters in swing states into the Republican column.