In November 2008, somebody will be elected president of the United States for the ensuing four years. Barring a miracle, it will be either one of four Democrats (Sens. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Chris Dodd or former Sen. John Edwards) or one of five Republicans (Sen. John McCain, former Sen. Fred Thompson, former Govs. Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee or former Mayor Rudy Giuliani). In the cyclical nature of American politics, and given the Republicans' recent run in office, the Democratic nominee will be the likelier winner in November, but of course nothing in politics is ever certain.
Looking at this field of nine, its most remarkable feature is its drabness. All nine have held high office, and may perhaps be said to have discharged it well. But not one stands out as exceptional, as (say) Franklin D. Roosevelt did in his four races or Dwight D. Eisenhower in his two. It is true that the winners of presidential elections have often been relatively colorless; Harry Truman and Jimmy Carter come readily to mind, as well as your own pet villain. But it is hardly rare to find, even among losing presidential candidates, figures who generate more electricity than the crowd listed in the first paragraph above.
Confining ourselves, for the purposes of this column, to the Republican race, the one recent development of note has been the belated but rapid rise of former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee. How can we account for it? Huckabee first came to national attention as a distinctly minor contender for the nomination. He comes from a small state, served as its governor without racking up any notable achievements, and has a personality that is pleasant without being in any way particularly impressive. He has no record in foreign affairs, or for that matter on any major domestic issue, that could possibly be called noteworthy. Yet here he is, leading the pack in Iowa and scoring impressively in national polls. How come?
Look at the Republican presidential field as it existed in (say) mid-summer. It consisted of McCain, Romney and Giuliani. In a party that is overwhelmingly conservative, all three proclaimed themselves staunch conservatives. But McCain had turned off conservative Republicans with his disastrous support for what amounted to amnesty for illegal aliens, and Giuliani's record as mayor of New York was replete with support for policies (like abortion) offensive to many of them. Romney's record as governor of Massachusetts was perhaps a bit cleaner from a conservative standpoint, but even he was vulnerable to the charge of having "flip-flopped" on certain tender issues.
William Rusher is a Distinguished Fellow of the Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship and Political Philosophy and author of How to Win Arguments .
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