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Boring wins the race? 16 Jan 2008

Posted by Watts in Uncategorized.
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While CNN’s election article is breathlessly titled “Romney’s Michigan win shakes up GOP race,” does it? He’s placed second twice and first twice (if you didn’t live in Wyoming, you’ll be forgiven for not knowing they had a Republican primary already). But more astonishingly, as Matthew Yglesias notes, Romney has 51% of the committed Republican delegates so far.

I think the appearance of shake-up comes from the fact that, not to put too fine a point on it, Romney is boring. He lacks the Southern preacher charisma of Huckabee, the thundering pugnaciousness of Guiliani, the amiable moderate realism of McCain. All right, one might argue that McCain is neither particularly moderate nor particularly realistic, but in terms of coverage, you know what I mean, right? In New Hampshire, McCain successfully sold himself as the independent choice.

Well, you know, I think Romney may have a pretty good chance at the Republican nomination. Here’s why.

In the recent past, the Democrats have always been the fractious party, with multiple competing interests failing to decide on who the best candidate is to represent them. Howard Dean? John Edwards? Joe Lieberman? The perception doesn’t quite match reality—Dean’s more conservative and Lieberman’s more liberal than common wisdom holds, for instance—but generally speaking a primary vote for one of these candidates made a statement: Dean a rebuke of DLC left-centrism, Edwards a return to economic populism, Lieberman an endorsement of hawkish foreign policy.

So we ended up with: John Kerry.

Don’t get me wrong. I liked a fair amount of things about Kerry. He seems to be an extremely smart guy, pretty honest given how long his political career has been, and willing to stand up and fight when necessary. And unlike everybody else in the 2000 race save McCain, he actually was a decorated war hero, and the attacks against him from the Swift Boat group represented one of the most disgraceful smear campaigns I’ve seen since I’ve been aware of politics.

But in the Democratic primary, a vote for Kerry made only one possible statement: I have no statement to make at this time. It’s as if the various competing interests on the left coalesced around the least offensive guy, somebody who few Dems could get excited about, yet few would say “anybody but him!” about. It’s also perhaps the strongest circumstantial evidence you could present to make the case that it’s the party bosses who still anoint the nominees.

I think what we’re seeing now on the Republican side is that they’ve become just as fractious as the Democrats. And without anyone obvious to line up behind—nobody from the current administration stepped into the race—they’ve ended up with a lot of candidates who want to make statements. And those candidates are going to excite some Republicans, but make other Repubs cry, “anybody but him!”

Which just may be why Mitt Romney, the most boring big name candidate in the field, the one who makes the statement I have no statement to make at this time, is leading the pack—and might keep doing so.

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