Let me begin by acknowledging that I was one of the many who thought that Mitt Romney, rather than John McCain, would be the Republican presidential nominee in 2008. Six months ago, the McCain candidacy was in very bad shape indeed. It was nearly out of money, and, according to the polls, McCain wasn't impressing the voters. The conservatives had failed to come up with a sure-fire winner from their own ranks, but Romney looked to be the best of the remaining alternatives. Handsome, polished, a formidable businessman and a former governor of Massachusetts, he was able to establish his conservative credentials on many issues, and was genially willing to modify them on others.
The other contenders for the nomination, aside from McCain, all had notable shortcomings. Rudy Giuliani had surprised me for many months by his stubborn survival as a viable candidate. But New York City mayors are not the stuff from which Republican presidential candidates are normally fashioned, and it continued to seem likely that Giuliani's appeal to conservative Republicans, which was based on his reputation as a fighter, would diminish when they began learning about his views on abortion, his record on illegal immigration, his multiple marriages, etc. And so it proved.
Mike Huckabee has undeniable charm, and did his best to demonstrate the conservative credentials that would be essential in a nominee. But his record as governor of Arkansas had been spotty in that regard, and he also suffered from his identification as a regional, rather than a national, figure. He remains technically in the race to this day, but the arithmetic of the contest has turned fatally against him; it is all but impossible to see how he can amass a winning margin.
That left Fred Thompson as the conservatives' last, and perhaps best, opportunity. He was indisputably conservative, personally attractive and had discharged his duties adequately during his term in the Senate. He and his advisers apparently calculated that the shortage of conservative contenders for the nomination would create a powerful thirst, which he could quench by announcing his own availability around Labor Day. But somehow the plan just didn't work. Perhaps Thompson's delay in getting into the race led voters to suppose he didn't take his own candidacy seriously enough. If so, they decided to agree.
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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