Tuesday, April 25, 2006


The anointment by the media of a frontrunner in the presidential nominating process can be a blessing or a curse, depending on how well you play the role.

In recent years, we have seen some frontrunners go wire-to-wire, maintaining their frontrunner status almost the whole way. Bob Dole in ’96 and George W. Bush in 2000 grabbed the nomination enduring only minor bumps in New Hampshire. Vice Presidents George H.W. Bush in ’88 and Al Gore in ’00 maintained their frontrunner status pretty much all of the way through, Walter Mondale was the sacrificial lamb from the get-go in ’84 and Ronald Reagan was dominant in 1980.

In very few cases has the man who was proclaimed frontrunner by the media not gone on to receive this party’s nomination for the presidency.

Gary Hart was destroyed by Scandal in ’88, while Mario Cuomo decided against running in ’92. Howard Dean, was the Democratic frontrunner in ’04 until Democrats realized he had no chance of beating President Bush and wisely went with John Kerry instead.

Now, both of the major American political parties are faced with unique situations going into the 2008 elections.

The Democrats have had their frontrunner since the Florida recount ended in 2000. Hillary Clinton has always been the leading contender for the Democratic nomination in 2008 and this only changed once or twice during John Kerry’s candidacy when it seemed as if he might actually pull off a win. Unless Bush was wildly unpopular going into the ’04 elections, Hillary was planning to wait it out, and that’s exactly what she ended up doing.

Chances are, when New Hampshire Democrats go to the polls in ’08, Hillary will have been the Democratic frontrunner for an insanely long period of time. She will lose her frontrunner statusonly if she is challenged by Al Gore who will siphon off far-left voters who are displeased with Hillary’s hawkish stance on the Iraq war, or if she comes down with Dean-Syndrome and the party decides that she simply can’t win a general election.

The GOP is in a position which is almost completely opposite that of its rivals. George W. Bush, for better of for worse has no heir-apparent. Vice President Cheney has shown no interest in running and even if he wanted to, his health problems would likely make him an unsavory choice for the American voter, regardless of his popularity.

Cheney’s absence leaves the door to the GOP nomination wide open and while it has taken quite a while in for the pundits and GOP strategists to come to the realization, the fact of the matter is that the name which has risen to the top in terms of being the most talked about and best known GOP candidate in the field is John McCain. Make no mistake: John McCain is the frontrunner for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination.

Accepting this fact is going to be a bittersweet pill for the GOP faithful to swallow. To say that Republicans have mixed feelings about McCain would be a huge understatement, but their qualms about his politics are somewhat countered by the knowledge that if he gets the nomination, chances are that he would win in a landslide.

McCain is wildly popular among independents. Even Democrats like him including John Kerry who practically begged McCain to be his running mate in ’04. As for conservative voters, even those with serious reservations about McCain will pull the lever for him if faced with the prospect of a Hillary Clinton presidency.

McCain’s challenge will be convincing conservative voters that he is an acceptable successor to Bush, and McCain is well on the way to achieving this goal.

While rank-and-file Republicans don’t like the way McCain crosses the aisle to work on compromise legislation with liberals like Russ Feingold and Ted Kennedy, they saw McCain’s true loyalty on display in his staunch support of President Bush’s re-election in ’04. His impassioned speech at the GOP convention two years ago left no doubt as to where is allegiances were, even after the political bashing he took from Bush in the ’00 primaries, in which many of the attacks leveled against McCain were considered to be below the belt by political analysts and presumably by McCain himself.

On some issues, McCain is not well liked by GOP regulars. On issues such as campaign finance reform and more recently illegal immigration, McCain’s views have not simply been unpopular but have been contrary to long term GOP goals. Fortunately for McCain, his bill with Russ Feingold turned out to have no teeth and there is no chance that there will be any meaningful immigration reform anytime soon, so his tag-team endeavors with liberal Democrats will probably be secondary considerations among GOP primary voters.

A more likely chance of a deep party split lies in the power of the Evangelicals and Christian conservatives who make up the strongest faction of the president’s base. This part of the base will likely question McCain’s dedication to party principles that deal with God and explosive social issues, pointing to McCain’s admirable shots at Pat Robertson which helped destroy McCain’s 2000 campaign, as evidence that he isn’t one of them and therefore can not be a true GOP standard-bearer. However, for Republicans who are learning how to win at the margins in an electorate that is split down the middle, McCain has it where it counts, and is acceptable when faced with the unthinkable Democratic alternatives.

On the terror war, far-and-away the most important issue to Republicans across the board, McCain’s hawkish credentials are untouchable.While he has been critical of administration policy at every turn, he seems to share the current administration's reform policy in regards to the Middle East as well as President Bush’s belief in the power of democracy to change the region, and has maintained his strong support for the President’s decision to invade Iraq despite the public’s misgiving about the ongoing conflict.

McCain’s hellish experiences in Vietnam help bolster his credibility on foreign policy issues in ways that John Kerry can only dream of. His reputation as a straight-shooter as well as the fact that he’s a Republican will work in his favor, if The War on Terror is the central issue in the ’08 election cycle.

Not even the most hawkish Neo-Con would dare attack McCain for not being tough enough on terror.

The real make-or-break issue for GOP primary voters when soul searching on the McCain dilemma will be tax cuts.

McCain did not back any of the Bush tax cuts and in most cases involving Republicans, this would be considered an unforgivable sin. However, McCain’s unwavering, high-profile support of Bush in ’04 gives him a second chance and the ability to take one of two roads in his posturing on the all-important tax cut issue.

First, he can admit that he was wrong. It’s the strategy used by George H.W. Bush in his ’88 campaign to convince Reagan voters that he was truly the heir-apparent.

McCain can eat some crow, point to the indisputable evidence of economic growth spurred on by the three rounds of Bush tax cuts and simply say ‘I was wrong. It won’t happen again.’

This may not be enough for many GOP regulars who may have retained a bad taste in their mouths from Bush 41 going back on his “No new taxes" pledge.
They trusted the heir-apparent to a tax-cut heavy presidency once before and they got burned. Free-market Republicans are not anxious to repeat this experience and may therefore look for an aggressive tax-cut agenda from candidate McCain before agreeing to support him.

This would require more than a simple apology from McCain for his refusal to support pro-growth policies in the past. McCain would instead need to adopt a serious tax-reform agenda during the primaries which includes overhauling the IRS and some kind of flat or fair tax proposal which the base has been salivating over for years, and which the president has been forced to abandon due to his decision to pursue Social Security reform first in early 2005, and his subsequent plummet in the opinion polls.

Ironically, the problems that Bush and the GOP face are the main reason that McCain is so close to cementing frontrunner status if he hasn’t already.

As long as Bush and congressional Republicans are unpopular, the perceived need for the GOP to nominate a more moderate presidential candidate in order to maintain the White House in ’08 is more pronounced.

If Bush was around 65% in the polls and the GOP majority in Congress was not in doubt, the base would feel more confident in nominating an unapologetic conservative in the mold of George Allen or Bill Frist, and that such a candidate could beat an artificially-moderated Hillary in the general election.

But fortunately for McCain, as long as the GOP’s grip on power is perceived as being weak, his candidacy looks more and more appealing.

By the time that Bush and the GOP have worked their way back into the American people’s good graces, McCain will likely have already wrapped up the support he needs from the party machinery and be well on the way to sweeping the early primaries.

McCain has an additional advantage in that he is the most popular topic of conversation among pundits who are discussing the ’08 elections. They have concluded that Hillary is the Democrat’s pick and now they’re trying to figure out who it is that the GOP will coronate. What many of them don’t realize is that simply by talking about McCain, whether their feelings towards him are positive or negative, they are making him the frontrunner simply by mentioning his name more often than the other potential GOP candidates.

McCain has always had a way with the media. In fact, no politician in recent years, even Bill Clinton has been as well regarded among media elites on both sides of the political spectrum.

This will of course change if he receives his party’s nomination for the presidency, as members of the media have a biological instinct embedded in their DNA to tear apart the lives of anyone who receives their parties ultimate political blessing.

Regardless of his inevitable media dissection when the time comes, Democrats should be afraid. Very afraid. If McCain is the frontrunner, chances are very good that he will be the nominee, and if he is the nominee, he will beat almost any Democrat on the roster including Hillary and he will do this despite the fortunes of President Bush or congressional Republicans on that November Tuesday.

If he plays the role of the frontrunner correctly over the next year, there is a good chance that McCain will be elected president in ’08, and we will see what happens to a divided electorate, when presented with a likeable candidate with a tendency to transcend party lines.

I realize that we haven’t even gotten to the ’06 mid-terms yet and already annoying wonks such as myself think they have the race for the ‘08 presidency all figured out.

Obviously, a lot can happen in 2 ½ years and my theories may be disheartening to many conservative Republicans who don’t like to compromise as well as many liberal Democrats who still haven’t gotten used to losing elections. But I think just about everyone, regardless of political affiliation, has to admit that ’08 is shaping up to be one of the most interesting presidential election years in our nation’s history.

GOP frontrunner John McCain. How does that sound?

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Sunday, April 16, 2006

Joe Wilson: Undeserving Media Darling

Joe Wilson will speak at my school next week. Why he was invited or why the left adores this guy, I have no clue. He more than anyone represents the dishonesty and desire to undermine the war in Iraq that has become so prevalent on the left and in the Democratic party. For the most part the media has been complicit but the truth has a funny way of coming out. John Leo does a good job of disecting this situation on the Real Clear Politics blog.

Bush Was Right About Iraq's Quest For UraniumBy John Leo

In a surprising editorial, The Washington Post deviated from the conventional anti-Bush media position on two counts. It said President Bush was right to declassify parts of a National Intelligence Estimate to make clear why he thought Saddam Hussein was seeking nuclear weapons. And the editorial said ex-ambassador Joseph Wilson was wrong to think he had debunked Bush on the nuclear charge because Wilson's statements after visiting Niger actually "supported the conclusion that Iraq had sought uranium."

In the orthodox narrative line, Wilson is the truth-teller and the Bush the liar. But Wilson was not speaking truthfully when he said his wife, Victoria Plame, had nothing to do with the CIA sending him to Niger. And it obviously wasn't true, as Wilson claimed, that he had found nothing to support Bush's charge about Niger when he (Wilson) had been told that the Iraqis were poking around in that uranium-rich nation.

Testifying before the Senate intelligence committee, Wilson said that the former prime minister of Niger told him he had been asked to meet with Iraqis to talk about "expanding commercial relations" between the two countries. Everybody knew what that meant; Niger has nothing much to trade other than uranium.

Christopher Hitchens made the latter point last week in a muscular column subtitled "Sorry, everyone, but Iraq did go uranium shopping in Niger." The "Sorry, everyone" phrase indicates the strength of the reigning orthodoxy -- that Bush simply lied when he uttered the famous 16 words in his 2003 State of the Union speech: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."
Hitchens made these points: Saddam Hussein had already acquired a large amount of uranium from Niger once before, in 1981, so he knew where to go. Amid suspicions that Saddam was trying to revive his nuclear program, Iraqis made a 1999 visit to Niger. The head member of the visiting Iraqi team was Saddam's senior public envoy for nuclear matters. Hmmm.

Defenders of orthodoxy have a fair point to make here. They say that the alert French, who were in total control of Nigerian uranium, would never have allowed it. Maybe, but the alert French turned out to be the payoff-oriented French on a very large scale in the oil-for-bribes scandal.

Hitchens made another point. The forged documents claiming an Iraq-Niger connection were so crude that they could never have fooled the CIA or British intelligence for very long. Who would do this, and do it so badly? Nobody knows. But if the forgeries were meant to distract from other evidence that Bush was right, then they certainly worked. Look around in American journalism, and you will find great certitude that the forgeries destroyed Bush's claim.

That certitude can only be founded on the belief that Tony Blair, the U.S. Senate intelligence committee and the special investigative team of Parliament were all liars when they said there was substantial non-forged evidence backing Bush's claim. The investigative team was headed by the highly regarded Lord Butler, who served as a Cabinet minister under five prime ministers. It concluded that Bush's 16 words about Iraq's uranium shopping were "well-founded."

Actually, there is one other way to discount the Butler report: Either muffle or don't mention it in your news columns. The New York Times opted for muffling. A database search finds no mention of "well-founded" in the Times reporting, and only one barely scrutable paragraph about uranium in the Butler report, way down in the 11th paragraph of a story buried well inside the paper.

For you collectors of embarrassing journalism, here is paragraph 11: "It (the report) also defended British officials in the case of an apparently erroneous British report on Iraq's nuclear ambitions that made its way into President Bush's State of the Union speech last year claiming that Iraq had sought to purchase uranium in Niger. The Butler report confirmed that Iraqi officials had visited Niger in 1999, and the British government had several different sources insisting that the purpose was to buy uranium. But it added, 'the evidence was not conclusive that Iraq had actually purchased, as opposed to having sought, uranium, and the British government did not claim this.'"

Note the Times' careful denial of something nobody had claimed -- that Iraq had recently bought, not sought, uranium in Africa.

In truth, Bush handled the issue badly. He dithered, couldn't find the words to explain himself, and weirdly withdrew the 16 words when the pressure came. And it is surely arguable that the uranium-in-Africa charge was too flimsy for the weight Bush gave it in his speech.
But as columnist Robert Novak once argued, the burgeoning "Bush lied" mantra was heavily dependent on the uranium claim. So the liar label was most firmly attached on an issue Bush was right about. Go figure.

John Leo is a contributing columnist for RealClearPolitics

The Valarie Plame non-scandal is over, but Joe Wilson will undoubtably continue to line his pockets with university money for years to come. What's even worse is that my Journalism class may be required to write a story on Wilson's speech. This may be a blessing in disguise however, especially if there is a question and answer session.

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Monday, April 03, 2006