Republican voters apparently have come to the conclusion that the GOP has already lost the White House next year. They're looking for a messiah type, a knight riding a white horse who can swoop in to save the day for them. It's interesting that there's no media coverage about the phenomenon, especially the blatant way the GOP is considering general election "electability" as a key characteristic this time around. In 2004, when media outlets weren't uncritically passing along already-discredited lies about Kerry, they devoted hours of airtime and thousands of words to the idea that Democrats really didn't care who
they nominated, as long as that person seemed "electable" enough, appealing enough to the mythical moderates and imaginary independents that populate the play world of pundits and Democratic consultants.
To a certain extent it was true: Democrats had long tired of Bush's assault on the Constitution and his callous disregard for both our soldiers' lives and the boundaries of sovereign nations. We wanted somebody who could sway enough people to switch sides so we could win. We accepted, with Carville, Shrum, Begala and the rest of the useless consultants leading the way, every silly insult, smear and attack the GOP had ever used against us and found a candidate we thought would negate those attacks.
And President Fly-By-Night - remember the mission to Mars, billions to fight AIDS, even the faith-based intiatives, none of which have ever amounted to anything? - was therefore able to bumble along in his fake cowboy hat on his fake ranch, acting as if he actually stands for anything other than a naked grab for power and profit, and everyone bought it. Once again the GOP stood firm on "principles" while the Democrats flitted around, pandering to all our special-interest groups.
What's happening right now is nothing less than a complete reversal. The progressive blogosphere is holding the Democratic candidates' feet to the fire, forcing even Hillary Clinton* to start to take actual stands on issues. Democrats in general are upbeat, confident and usually of the opinion that even if one's favorite candidate doesn't get the nomination, we're still in good shape not only electorally but in terms of how our candidates would govern.
The GOP field has seen John McCain, once again, go from prohibitive front-runner to flameout, his temper and his "maverick" reputation coming back to haunt him as they always do outside Arizona's borders. Rudy Giuliani has used his heroic
press conference on 9/11 and his ability to out-crazy even Dick Cheney to take the lead in the polls - at least until this week.
Enter the GOP faithful's next Messiah: Fred Thompson, who is now tied with John McCain
for second place according to Gallup, and who actually leads the Rasmussen poll
, beating Giuliani by one point, making it a statistical tie for first.
Not too long ago I said
that Giuliani was in first place only because a minority of GOP voters actually knew his pro-choice record. Thompson's entry into the race is proof that the movers and shakers of the GOP - not
the Religious Right - have understood this for a while and have been actively looking for and recruiting someone to take Giuliani's place, knowing that instead of his "moderation" attracting independents and Democrats it would keep the Religious Right home on election day.
Fred Thompson did not join the cast of Law & Order
to prepare for a presidential run. Fred Thompson did not put his own name out there as a possible candidate. Even his friends know that he's too lazy for that, and anyway he doesn't have the type of national political name recognition and history to seriously run for President. But the GOP leadership has had great success with running fake cowboys for office, people who can look like a good ol' boy with the right clothes and the right accent. Fred Thompson, like Ronald Reagan, George W. and even George Allen - another actor/politician who would be in front place if he could have kept his vicious racism under wraps - can convincingly wear a cowboy hat, speaks in a gravelly southern accent and just generally seems like a regular guy, full of folksy wisdom and down-home values.
But his candidacy is not one of strength. Already his religious credentials
are being challenged, and the GOP will find it a bit harder to run against Hollywood both because of Thompson's full acceptance in Hollywood and because of the last 30 years of demonizing it - an effort that was still in its early stages when Reagan ran for President. The corporate masters of the GOP want to keep the tax cut and deregulation gravy train coming, but they don't want another religious looney who actually believes that Jesus "saved" him from alcohol. They know that having a true believer in the White House will only mean that Democrats will be more motivated and organized, more willing to take clear stands on issues where we actually have the upper hand.
By contrast, putting a Jesus freak - and that is the term used in the back rooms, believe me - in the White House means that the Religious Right becomes even more demanding as they start to see their pet causes addressed with more than rhetoric. That more than anything is going to doom Thompson's candidacy, just as it did McCain's and is in the process of ending Giuliani's real chances of becoming the nominee.
When it becomes clear that Thompson can't win, the corporate masters will look for someone else, and try it again. They've been working on Chuck Hagel, of course, but he's holding out for some reason, most likely to be able to set more of the terms of his own candidacy. I still see him announcing in early September, giving Thompson enough time to flame out and benefiting from the traditional season to announce new things.
*I want to separate Hillary the candidate from Hillary the person. Hillary the person is great and I love her. Hillary the candidate is too tied to the DLC, Republican-lite, cowardly-consultant wing of the Democratic party, and I can't support that.