Despite all the feelings that have been hurt, religions that have been prodded, endorsements that have been given, contentions that have been refuted - and not, and certainly all the arguments that have been had - this GOP Primary has been exceedingly good for the conservative republican voter. I might remind you it didn't start out that way.
Way back when I first wrote of my endorsement of the historic, record setting, earlier than ever before primary race revving up - one thing was crystal clear, Rudy Giuliani was the favored candidate. His lead in the polls was strong. Heck he was even throwing statements around about how he had the Evangelical Christian vote "sewn up."
But look how far we've come...
We've heard from the candidates in what has to amount to a near record number of times in forums and debates, we saw the early starters criticize Papa Bear Fred Thompson for getting in "so late." (In all actuality Thompson entered the primary schedule pretty much on roughly the same time-table traditional candidates have.) In his lead up to it Fred was smooth, intense, and looking like he would wipe the floor up with the other guys.
John McCain got out the jumper cables and tried three different times to get his "Straight Talk Express" back on the road... I'm still not sure if it ever left the terminal.
Lots of conferences CPAC, and Values Voters Summits among them - and even Rudy showed up to pitch his "I'm not really a conservative - but I'm counting on grace points because I'm here talking to you." And in fairness - I think he won some - at least at the time.
Much ado was made about straw polls, the whispers were - that Brownback was going to win Ames and he had Stephen Baldwin, Bobby Schindler, and a bunch of other folks working the rope lines for him. Man those Brownbackers made a lot of noise - especially at CPAC. And oh yes - on the issue of straw polls - with every 5th or 6th place finish in one - Ron Paul supporters would swarm the message boards with predictions of their Messiah's "breakout." For all practical purposes since then Brownback and Paul have both backed out of "contention."
Speaking of those debates Rudy and Mitt would spat, Fred would sleep, and this unassuming but whamo articulate guy from Arkansas just did his thing. Quietly his numbers moved up, others peaked or declined.
Then there came the endorsements "Evangelicals for Mitt" included Bob Jones III, Biblical professor Wayne Grudem, and what had the look of a looming Dr. James Dobson stamp of approval. (Dr. Dobson still hasn't shut the door to Mitt - but he scratched all the other front runners of his list.) That Arkansas guy wowed us with Chuck Norris and Jerry Jenkins - two significant names to the evangelical right not to mention all we hicks who call red states home. And for the beltway elites the National Review Online knighted Mitt.
There was a surprise at Ames - it was Mike Huckabee's second place finish. Then there was a nearly equal surprise - Mitt Romney's dominance of the predominantly evangelical Values Voters Summit online straw poll.
While Huckabee got pummeled with questions about his faith in debate after debate. Fred said he didn't much go to church and didn't need to meet Dobson. Rudy copped to not really thinking his faith meant anything by way of politics. Tancredo tried to improvise a few Jesus words on the debate platform. And interestingly enough - one of the most devoted men Duncan Hunter has yet to offer comment on faith at all. Then after much consideration Mitt floated the idea, pulled it back, then eventually gave a speech that was intended to insulate him from further faith questions - but in all practical measure any objective observer would have to admit that it opened the pandora's box a little wider.
The pundits had fun with it too. Pro-Rudy types were trying to sell "Constructionist Judges" to the values voters. Camenker/Rios/Jackson were attempting to smear Mitt over what amounted to little more than their own opinion of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts' Constitution. Then Hugh Hewitt started the rumbling about how a vote for Huckabee was a vote for Rudy...uh... until Huckabee left Rudy in the dust of taking the lead in the national polls. This last week both Romney and Huckabee leapfrogged the Mayor in the state where it was all supposed to come together for him - Florida. NR's Byron York took public disagreement with Rich Lowry, talk show hosts are criticizing the candidates of their colleagues, even at TownHall many of the main contributors differ on who they like right now less than 20 days till the Iowa caucuses.
The November surge of Huckabee into legit top tier status, and in December into sometimes front runner status caused more riffs, divisions, arguments and (it has been secretly whispered) possibly costing one radio guy his shot at becoming the Press Secretary for Mitt Romney.
I asked one of the senior management at TownHall this week their thoughts on an all out conservative war - even shooting across the pages of our own internet property.
His response, "I love it!"
I do too!
For too many election cycles the GOP has appeared passionless, apathetic, and generally speaking uninspiring. What I love more than anything is that you now have two guys leading the pack who have close to similar records on taxes (by way of fact - Huckabee's is slightly but ONLY slightly better than Mitt's). They both embrace the social issues of the long established values of the party. They both reject abortion, and embrace a constitutional amendment to protect marriage. They both want to win in Iraq and keep terrorists sweating it. They have also both publicly stated that they want to see Americans come together to solve our own problems. Huckabee has the potential to reach out to African Americans unlike perhaps any candidate the GOP has ever presented, and Mitt has the potential to use his out of the box strategery to solve problems in the private sector that liberals will scream and demand be solved in the public sector - with only more of our tax dollars.
Both men have been executives in their respective states...the liberals have yet to run a corner store.
Yet the only reason we've come to know any of this - is because those seeking office this year rolled up their sleeves, got into the game early and have awakened us in ways so emotional that whole states were vying to move their primary election days up earlier and earlier - so that their citizens could "play a part."
At times its been ugly, at times exceedingly unfair - but the message has gotten out that this election SHOULD be "Anyone but Rudy!" It is in essence a much harsher rehearsal than the battle the GOP will face against the Democrat nominee six months from now. Our guys are tired, but they are also fluid, quick thinking and the sparring is making them better every single day.
And it should! We are not hiring the night manager at McDonalds. The leader of the free world will be forced to spend sleepless nights in prayer on behalf of the nation he seeks to protect and guide. A little yammering from one opponent or another - in this context - is nothing compared to dealing with nuclear programs in Iran or North Korea.
(Total side note here, my producers and I were contemplating the idea of ALL the GOP candidates running as members of an adminstration - Huckabee/Romney or Romney/Huckabee. Giuliani on Defense, Hunter as National Security Advisor, Big Fred as Secretary of State, Tancredo as Homeland Security Czar, McCain on Transportation, Ron Paul as Secretary of Health, and Alan Keyes as Secretary of Education.)
The choices we have left standing with Mitt, Huck, and Fred aren't bad - especially considering that the democrats are attempting to turn one another from cocaine into crack!
Yes kids, we are almost there - and it has been worth the ride!