Preliminary Thoughts On ABC's 2008 'Invisible Primary Ratings'

When I first saw these rankings of the 2008 contenders, I thought maybe ABC should just have titled the report "Netroots: You Are Irrelevant." But perhaps that's unfair. After all, they do include as part of their rankings a "Netroots" score, even if it isn't weighted very heavily. And in all honesty, this isn't a completely terrible ranking, even if it is quite early for rankings. They're broken down by a number of criteria -- the aforementioned "Netroots,""Polling / Name ID,""Money Potential,""New Hampshire," and so on. They point to the fact that their ranking of the 2004 contenders at this same point in 2002 found the number one and two spots going to John Kerry and John Edwards, respectively. Not bad, but I'm still not convinced. After all, in mid-2002, Kerry and Edwards had been knocked down by Gore and Gephardt, and Gray Davis came in at number nine. A lot can happen in two years.

On the GOP side, the top five, in order, are John McCain, George Allen, Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, and Mike Huckabee. For the Democrats, it's Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Mark Warner, John Kerry, and Tom Vilsack. Though they do offer some explanation of their methodology, it seems there's a lot of boilerplate conventional wisdom in here. Is Vilsack really in the top five for the Democrats? Does he really outrank Bill Richardson and Wes Clark? Personally, I doubt it. And among the Republicans, I can't buy Rudy Giuliani at number four. Now, maybe that works. But in two years, with his social life the talk of the GOP primary circuit, not so much.

So those are my issues with the overall rankings. What do I think of their more specific charts? Honestly, I don't feel well-equipped enough to dissect every list here. "Polling / Name ID?" That's a matter of hard numbers, hard to argue, unless you're going to talk about their relevance this early in the game. "Fire in the Belly?" Well... okay. Here's how they describe the category:

Fire in the Belly: How badly does the candidate want it? How hard is he/she willing to work? Will he/she do "what it takes" to win, including shedding or at least temporarily freeing himself/herself from other responsibilities and distractions? Are they ready to ask strangers for $4,200 contributions and sleep in bad hotels away from the family night after night?

On our side, the winner in this category is Mark Warner, with Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, and Bill Richardson tying for second place. What, no John Kerry? This strikes me as too nebulous a characteristic to rank accurately, but in terms of gut instinct, I'd say again, it's not terrible. I do disagree with putting Russ Feingold in the middle of a four-way tie with Tom Vilsack, Evan Bayh, and Wes Clark for seventh place, however. If "fire in the belly" is defined by willingness to twist one's self like a pretzel to placate every constituency, Feingold is certainly not the winner. But if it's defined by willingness to put one's self out in public as a strong advocate for his or her beliefs, then Feingold is massively underestimated here. Point being, once again, I think this is too vague to be considered serious criteria.

And finally -- for the purposes of this post, anyway -- the "Netroots" ranking. ABC figures that Russ Feingold is in solid first place in the Democratic blogosphere, with Wes Clark in second. Obviously, they've been paying attention to the straw polls. However, they put Kerry in third here, and I'm going to have to disagree. Kerry's certainly been courting the netroots vigorously, but does that really earn him the number three spot? I still sense a lot of skepticism of Kerry after 2004, here and at other sites. And Kerry also tied Mark Warner in third, which I don't agree with. By all means, Warner has earned the spot by both reaching out to the netroots and taking advantage of people like Jerome and Nate. But other than his e-mail list and posting diaries, Kerry hasn't come close to matching that effort.

At the end of the day, rankings like this serve to define the conventional wisdom as much as codify it. Of course, the media's already defined Hillary Clinton and John McCain as the front-runners, so ABC isn't really doing them any favors here. However, I can't help but feeling there's a not-so-subtle message in here directed at candidates like Russ Feingold and Chuck Hagel, that they really shouldn't bother, and neither should their supporters. But I don't really like taking my marching orders from the vaunted "Gang of 500," and I'm fairly certain I'm not alone in that.

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McCain Is The GOP Heir Apparent

I think we've been leading up to this conclusion here at MyDD for quite a while. Now with Ryan Lizza of The New Republic jumping on board, I'd say we can officially call it. John McCain is George W. Bush's pick for President in 2008. (Emphasis mine.)

There seems to be only one issue in the Bush primary. Whatever Bush may have once stood for--tax cuts, social conservatism--it all seems puny and ephemeral compared with the way he defends his decision to invade Iraq. So which 2008 Republican has the sort of total commitment to the war that possesses Bush? Only John McCain springs to mind. And with the notable exception of the use of torture, McCain is also the staunchest backer of Bush's self-proclaimed wartime powers.

Of course, most political things for Bush are also personal. The second trait he is likely looking for is someone he can personally trust. He has been careful about turning to loyal lieutenants as the guardians of his national security decisions. ...

Given their history, McCain probably doesn't quite pass Bush's trust test. But unless Jeb Bush, Dick Cheney, or Condi Rice change their minds about running, neither do any of the other declared (or all-but-declared) candidates. That leaves Bush with only one obvious protector and defender of his legacy. It is a strange irony: John McCain as the last Bush Republican.

The 'rifts' between Bush and McCain over the past few years have been carefully stage-managed. Take, for example, McCain's "torture amendment." Very publicly, McCain railed against the Bush administration's unwillingness to refuse torture. Eventually, the White House "came around" to McCain's position and signed it into law. Immediately afterwards, they declared that it didn't actually apply to them. McCain and Bush got what they wanted -- McCain looked like a winner, Bush looked like a compromiser, and the status quo remained intact. As I said at the time, it was little more than kabuki theater, designed to make McCain look independent.

None of this is to say that the fight between Bush and McCain in 2000 was anything less than authentic. The Rove-direct smear campaign against McCain in South Carolina was truly one of the most disgusting things I'd ever seen, only to be duplicated nationwide against John Kerry in 2004. For McCain to cozy up to Bush after that says a lot to me about his character and his hunger for power, no matter what kind of ethical compromises it takes.

The way I see it playing out, the Republicans are going to pretend that 2008 is a complete changing of the guard -- from Bush to McCain. But it will just be more of the same. McCain will no doubt put a friendlier face on the politics, but the policies will remain bad none the less, because as Lizza says, at the end of the day McCain really is "the last Bush Republican."

McCain Hires Bushie for Faltering Presidential Campaign

Down at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference last weekend, The Hotline ran a straw poll measuring support for the presidential ambitions of leading Republicans. Historically, the SRLC straw poll has been seen as an effective way to gauge the race for the GOP nomination, with George W. Bush win in 1998 presaging his eventual success in the 2000 Republican primaries, for instance.

Sensing imminent defeat in the SRLC polling, Senator John McCain, a favorite of the national media, decided to "swing his weight" behind the President, telling conference attendees to write in George W. Bush in the straw poll as an indication of unwavering support for the White House. The trouble for McCain is that we saw through this not-so-subtle ruse and noticed that even if all write-ins for President Bush were counted as votes for McCain -- and even that's a stretch -- McCain's anemic 4.6 percent support would still be unimpressive at 15.9 percent, nowhere near a level of support that would warrant such glowing coverage from the national media.

The fact of the matter is that as of today, John McCain does not have a path to the 2008 GOP nomination -- and he know's it. It's no surprise, then, that McCain is so clearly and unabashedly embracing President Bush in an effort to endear himself to the Republican base. This effort is not limited to stale rhetoric at a conference of Republican insiders or stumping on Bush's behalf during the 2004 election. Today, the AP's Ron Fournier reports that McCain has hired a top Bush strategist and continues to woo another in an effort to breath some life into his faltering presidential campaign.

With an eye toward the 2008 presidential campaign, GOP Sen. John McCain of Arizona has hired one of President Bush's top re-election advisers to help run his political action committee.

Terry Nelson, political director of the Bush-Cheney campaign in 2004, will be senior adviser to Straight Talk America, according to several official familiar with the hiring. They spoke on condition of anonymity so as not to pre-empt an announcement by McCain's committee.

[...]

McCain is courting Bush's supporters, major fundraisers and advisers. Mark McKinnon, the president's chief media strategist, has signaled his willingness to help McCain unless Secretary of State     Condoleezza Rice or Florida Gov.     Jeb Bush gets in the race.

Both Rice and the president's brother have said they will not run.

Fournier hypothesizes that McCain's hiring of Nelson "may help McCain cast himself as the early front-runner and potential heir of Bush's political machine." Front-runner? I'm not sure that someone who could garner less than 5 percent support among key GOP activists could be labeled a front-runner, even in the inside-the-Beltway lalaland in which Fournier resides.

Political reporters and analysts need to wake up and realize two facts:

  1. John McCain is not the leading contender for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination; and,
  2. John McCain is not a rebel or a maverick who is interested in cleaning up Washington but instead a party hack willing to sell out what little principle he once had for a shot at the Republican nomination -- and a small shot, at that.

Once the media gets beyond the storyline that a Hillary/McCain matchup is inevitable, voters can begin taking a good look at who they actually would like to see in the White House. It's not Fournier's job to crown the next GOP nominee, or even grant a candidate "front-runner" status, nor is it Dick Morris' place to annoint Senator Clinton the shoo-in for the Democratic nomination. No, it's primary voters across the country who have a voice in the process, and, to a lesser extent, activists voting in straw polls like the one at the SRLC (or the one on MyDD, for that matter). And when voters have the actually have the opportunity to make a choice, the cocktail dinner types living in Georgetown might be surprised to find out just how out of touch they themselves actually are.

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Giuliani Mythology

In preparation for 2008, a great deal of mythology is going to be created for each potential candidate. But no candidate requires as much work as Rudy Giuliani. Most pressingly, he's got to prove to the Republican base that he is, in fact, a conservative. While he's certainly got the bad attitude and near-authoritarianism down pat, there are whole raft of other issues he and the Falwell crowd may not exactly see eye to eye on.

At The Fix, Chris Cillizza makes "The Case Against Rudy Giuliani," point out that he's got too much socially-liberal baggage -- pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, pro-gun control, etc. -- to win a Republican primary. This is something quite a few of us have been saying for a long time. But Paul Waldman of The Gadflyer takes exception to the back story Cillizza creates for Giuliani to explain these positions. I'd have to agree with Waldman -- it's pretty lame.

But being elected mayor in the Big Apple required Giuliani to adopt views on social issues -- he's pro-abortion rights, pro-gay marriage and pro-gun control -- to make himself an acceptable to his hometown's liberal-minded voters.

"...required Giuliani to adopt views"? What exactly does it mean when you "adopt" a view? Well, you take a view that's not your own, and make it your own.

Here's an idea: maybe Giuliani actually believes what he says he believes....

Now, Waldman and I come at this from slightly different perspectives. I don't think this is a case of Cillizza being cynical in assuming Giuliani "adopted" those views for political convenience. I think that's actually what Cillizza believes. After all, that's the mythology Giuliani's trying to build for himself.

Back in January, TIME documented Giuliani's efforts down South to suck up to figures on the religious right, like Pat Robertson and Ralph Reed. Last fall, Giuliani campaigned the fringe right candidate Charlie Winburn in the Cincinnati mayoral primary. After having vigorously described himself as pro-choice and pro-gay rights, that's a pretty wide swing.

Clearly, Cillizza's right that Giuliani's "adopted" some of his principles out of political expedience. Like Waldman though, it seems more likely to me the that it's the new Rudy Giuliani that's the front, not the old one. However, the most important point remains unchanged -- Rudy Giuliani has no trouble selling out his principles to get what he wants.

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The Dubai Ports Deal, Free Trade, and 2008

David Sirota uses a story in the Wall Street Journal as a jumping-off point for a really interesting look at the 2008 Democratic contenders and their positions on free trade, or as he puts it, "free" trade. Since the Journal article is subscription-only, he quotes from it liberally, and shows that it gives a mixed review at best to global trade policies of the last few years. The Journal also makes the case that the public outcry against the Dubai Ports World deal shows that the American people are also not quite sold on free trade ideology, and are increasingly willing to say so. It doesn't take a anti-capitalist radical to hold the opinion that maybe selling off all of our vital national infrastructure is not the best idea.

Sirota sees in this rejection of unfettered free trade ideology some serious implications for the 2008 Democratic primaries and I tend to agree with him. The relentless corporate sucking from Bush is one of the factors that people are likely to be fed up with by the closing months of his term in office. Economic populism has been growing in popularity in Democratic campaigns for some time now, and eight years of Bush's fealty to corporate power and wealth isn't going to have diminished it.

With this in mind, he sized up a handful of likely Democratic candidates, ranking them into four tiers on trade. He places New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and Senator Evan Bayh in the first category, calling them "ardent 'free' traders, many of them personally responsible for the trade policies that are destroying America's middle class." Into the second category go the softer free traders, who have supported quite a few trade agreements, but bucked the trend and rejected others. The candidates he lists are Senators Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, along with Virginia Governor Mark Warner. He only lists one candidate in each of the next two categories, and if frustration with free trade agreements do indeed become a main issue in 2008, they have the most to gain from it.

The third category is candidates with mixed voting records on trade, but who have displayed a genuine interest in rejecting the free-trade-at-all-cost dogma. The only candidate in this category is John Edwards, who voted against some of the corporate-written trade deals that came down the pike during his Senate term, and who has made a class-based "Two America's" message his signature theme.

And the final category is candidates who have loudly opposed all of the sell-out trade deals, even when that opposition has been politically unpopular. Again, this is a one-candidate category right now, and that candidate is Russ Feingold - a guy who has not only voted against selling out America, but has made the issue central to his public image by airing campaign ads about his courageous stands on the issue.

Personally, I find a candidate who's experienced something a conversion on trade to be the most attractive and credible. That mirrors the experience of many people and shows that the candidate learns from experience. But that's realy just nitpicking. If there's one thing we'd definitely both agree on as it relates to this issue, it's that candidates like Richardson and Bayh will have real trouble explaining their unflinching support for "free" trade deals (now he's got me doing it) to Democratic primary voters who feel disenfranchised and disempowered by such policies.

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