One down, one to go

McCain’s hurt; time to land on Rudy.

At first blush, 2008 doesn’t look like a good year to be the Republican nominee for President. To win, a Republican is going to need substantial crossover appeal, and most of them don’t have it.

It’s hard to see Huckabee or Brownback getting much of the suburban independent vote. Even if Romney were to get the nomination, which seems like a far fetch, his primary opponents will have roughed him up pretty badly on his inconsistency on the social issues, and he will have had to get shriller and shriller, which is to say less and less attractive to swing voters, in order to convince the GOP base of his bona fides.

So the only candidates likely to be able to do the trick are McCain and Giuliani. McCain, I’m pleased to say, is starting to lose his luster, due perhaps in part to the efforts of liberal bloggers to deconstruct his “Straight Talk” persona. His “never vote for” number is now up to 40%, which isn’t as bad as Hillary’s 44%, but is pretty bad. (I would have thought Edwards was the most plain-vanilla of the Democratic candidates, but he’s at 45%; maybe some voters are averse to blow-dried hair.) Obama, meanwhile, is down at a comfortable 34%.

But Giuliani’s “never vote for” is only 36%, and he outperforms McCain in trial heats against both Clinton and Obama. You’d like to think that that wouldn’t last as the press and the voters get more exposure to Rudy’s basic nastiness, but I’m not so sure. Those “America’s Mayor” and “Hero of 9/11” labels, however undeserved, still have potency. Never underestimate the capacity of the press to fall for bamboozlement and succumb to intimidation from the right.

McCain’s decline may be mostly due to his mistake in becoming identified with the “surge,” but I think the liberal blogosphere can claim some credit for reminding mainstream journalists of the yawning gulf between the imaginary “Mr. Straight Talk” and the empirical John McCain, flip-flopper extraordinaire. So it seems to me it’s time to get to work on Rudy. Does the name “Bernie Kerik” ring a bell? Or “Donna Hanover”? (Fully 30% of the voters say they wouldn’t vote for someone who had been married three times, and another 13% would have reservations; that’s worse than being a Mormon like Romney, though not as bad as being 72 years old, as McCain will be.)

One sign that Rudy is still mostly getting a pass from the press: Barack Obama, member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is bombarded with questions about how he’s going to deal with his inexperience on foreign policy. Rudy Giuliani, whose foreign-affairs experience is limited to swindling the government of Mexico City out of $4 million for “public safety consulting” that didn’t make the citizens of Mexico City any safer, never seems to get asked that question.

So let’s get those knives sharpened, folks.

Footnote Only 5% are willing to tell pollsters that they wouldn’t vote for an otherwise well-qualified candidate of their own party if he were black; another 9% would have reservations. That strikes me as astonishingly good news, even if we take it at a discount. On the other hand, 53% wouldn’t vote for an atheist; we’ve gotten more unpopular over the past eight years.

Update Nicholas Beaudrot begs to differ:

I have to disagree about Huckabee’s chances. I feel like he eliminates any Dem hopes of competing anywhere in the South (either Edwards or Obama might at least force a couple of states into competitiveness, and HRC might put Arkansas into play) except maybe Florida. He’s very charismatic, and while he doesn’t satisfy the Grover Norquists of the world, they have nowhere else to go (they also account for fewer votes than the religious right).

Obviously he doesn’t expand the GOP playing field in the way that

McCain, Giuliani, or Romney might, but he has no baggage, and he locks

up the existing electoral map in a way that the others do not because

of various types of baggage.

That could well be right &#8212 I’m nothing like an expert on this &#8212 but I can’t see it that way.

It seems to me that Huckabee mostly eliminates Republican chances of winning outside the South and the core Red states. Zero appeal to suburbanites, zero appeal to Latinos, no great enthusiasm among the plutocrats (though obviously they’d take him), no foreign policy credentials. (And does he really lock up the South? I’m not sure he locks up Virginia, especially if Webb were on the ticket. (Huckabee couldn’t even hold the Arkansas governor’s mansion for an attractive Republican candidate.)

If 2008 pits Generic Democrat against Generic Republican, I think we win solidly. Huckabee is as close to Generic Republican as they’re going to get. It looks to me as if he would hold the Republican base and nothing else.

Second update

Nicholas Beaudrot replies:

“Generic Washington Republican” is a non-starter in ’08, but “Generic Republican, without the war” — like Huckabee — strikes me as a potentially competitive candidate. It leaves Democrats with the same “triple bank shot” in Ohio or Florida they had in ’04, with perhaps Colorado and Nevada in play as well. And Southernors play well in the “Greater South”, including Central Pennsylvania, Southern Ohio, Rural Missouri, etc.

On a policy level Huckabee has appeal to the “Sam’s Club

Republican”/”pro-government conservative” demographic (working class

whites who go to church regularly) that is critical to the GOP in the

general. He has a modestly pro-latino record as governor and made some

of low-cost/big-payoff changes in health care that poll really well (a

nurse in every elementary school — stuff like that). And, he can show

a reasonable, compassionate side when he has to … dig up his

appearances on The Daily Show and The Colbert Report some time,

they’re the most impressive of any of the ’08 hopefuls who have been

on (Obama was on TDS once, by satellite, and fared reasonably well).

There’s something of a pundit’s fallacy in play here … if there’s

going to be a Republican President, I’d rather it be Huckabee. A

“Christian Democrat” Party &#8212 economically centrist, socially

conservative party, and with little attachment to the Iraq project,

rather than an economically nihilist, socially conservative party

that’s heavily invested in Iraq &#8212 is a Republican Party I could sit down and have a reasonable debate with.

Again, could be. I don’t see Huckabee’s rather modest distancing of himself from Bush on the war as likely to satisfy the swing electorate, especially since as recently as a year ago he was putting out the “Media are lying about Iraq; things there are fine” line, are great but I’ve been wrong before.

The good news: we’ve already got a good start on the oppo research. Not exactly a choir-boy.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com