A new AP-Ipsos poll shows that if Fred Thompson gets into the race for the GOP nomination, Mitt Romney, the richest and biggest fundraiser of the pack, falls to fourth place. I had been wondering whether Thompson would draw more votes from Romney or Giuliani; now we know. Giuliani leads with 27 percent, followed by McCain (19 percent), Thompson (17), and Romney (10). I’m a little surprised by McCain’s continued strength: he’s hated by most movement conservatives and his debate performances have been lackluster or worse. Nor is he the anointed paladin of the media this time around. But he has a well-organized campaign, and he still has enough star-power and charisma, evidently, to pull the poll responses — though time will tell whether that translates into votes.
I agree with the conventional wisdom that says Giuliani and McCain skipping the Iowa straw poll reduces it to an irrelevance. It’s a fraud anyway: candidates pay to ship in voters, so it would be expected to go to the biggest spender anyway. It’s true enough that the polls so far don’t count for anything, either: maybe Romney’s spending in the early primary states will buy him a few early wins and enough momentum to win. Giuliani’s 27 percent, if that’s even an accurate gauge of his support, is hardly insuperable.
But I still think Giuliani will win: the moving of the California and New York primaries (among many others) to Feb. 5 will give him a tremendous edge. (And while the California GOP may or may not be as liberal as Giuliani, the unusual way in which that primary will award delegates will probably benefit him.) The accelerated primary schedule has a lot of potential to bring back some backroom dealing: if, as seems likely, over half of the GOP’s delegates are chosen by the middle of February, the candidate in third may have enough delegates to play king-maker between the two top candidates — and even more interesting things could happen if the vote is split more widely among the top four or five or more candidates.
Of course, since all of the other top-tier candidates have more to fear from Giuliani than from anyone else, maybe they’ll start to train their fire on him and bring him down. There’s a mile-wide trail of dirt behind Giuliani, that’s for sure. I don’t think he can, or should, win the general election: he would be even worse than Hillary or Obama.
On a side note, am I being too hard on Romney? Two of my friends have made weak but plausible cases for Romney (so far as viable contenders go — both acknowledge that Paul is preferable). One suggests that Romney’s flip-flopping may actually be an encouraging sign that he doesn’t care much about politics and will make an unremarkable — and this not remarkably evil — unambitious chief executive. The problem with this idea is that it’s just what was thought by many highly intelligent people about President Bush in 2000 — and look how that turned out. My other friend argues that Romney’s business record is impressive and that Romney’s will at least be a business-friendly administration. He could be Calvin Coolidge. That’s a pleasant thought, but Romeny’s socialist health care scam in Massachusetts suggests otherwise to me, and I expect we’ll get from him the same kind of foreign policy that every other Republican (except Ron Paul) is offering. Most Democrats (except Mike Gravel and maybe Kucinich) are offering that kind of foreign policy too, of course.
The present war debacles, however, are widely seen as Republican messes, however, and I expect that no Republican can win in 2008. At this stage I expect that the congressional races will also be a bloodbath for Republicans. Well done, President Bush: you started an unnecessary war, got a tremendous political payoff in 2002 and 2004, but ultimately destroyed your party.