Last July, I weighed the odds and said if I had to place a bet, I would bet that Hillary Clinton would be our next president. I still believe she will be even though I am rooting for Barack Obama. Here is why.
First, I am calling the Republican nomination for John McCain. (I wisely did not place any wager on the Republican nominee.) This may seem a bit hasty prior to Super Tuesday. By picking McCain, I line up with the current conventional wisdom. I might add that I am one of many who are surprised by his sudden ascent. If you had asked me last autumn if he would be the nominee, I would have judged him as one of the least likely. Rudy Giuliani had the money and the momentum and Mitt Romney had an unlimited bank account. McCain was broke and took the desperate step of buying a life insurance policy, which he used as collateral, to keep his campaign going.
Then one of those political stumbles that I wrote about occurred. Namely, America got to know Rudy a little better and decided they did not want another arrogant prick in the Oval Office. His ship struck a fatal leak when word got out that the citizens of New York City had been subsidizing his immoral lifestyle when his current wife Judith Nathan (Wife #3) was just his mistress. Apparently, New York City’s finest provided her security (maybe from Wife #2?) and even walked her dog. It did not help that Giuliani’s choice for police commissioner, Bernard Kerik (whom he recommended as a new chief for the Department of Homeland Security) was indicted on multiple charges. More astute political observers knew all along that Giuliani was an extraordinarily vindictive and petty man. Like our current president, he had few qualms about breaking city ordinances in order to get his way. While he looked good in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, his actions prior to 9/11 contributed toward many deaths. For example, he centralized the city’s emergency response center within the World Trade Center. In addition, although brought to his attention he did not address the issue of incompatible communications devices between the city’s police and fire departments. Real leaders work to prevent tragedies from occurring in the first place. Giuliani offered only a lot of moral support after the tragedy happened.
So McCain is the fortunate beneficiary of an imploding Republican Party. The conservative wing of the Republican Party is having a hissy fit with McCain’s ascendancy. He represents something close to pragmatism and moderation, which is anathema to their ideology. Repressed moderate Republicans are emerging all over and many are running for president too.
Nonetheless, all the Republican candidates are paying homage to Ronald Reagan, but it is largely because they feel they must. The reality is there is virtually nothing left of the Reagan legacy left to run on. Reagan had one great idea that proved successful: end The Cold War by outspending the Soviet Union. Beyond that, his policies proved to be failures. Tax cuts only seemed to generate demand for more tax cuts, but never plugged the deficit. Our prosperity under George W. Bush has proven tenuous and was made possible due to the largess of foreign creditors. If these supply side policies had solid moorings, we would not be dealing with recession fears today.
The reality is that because its policies have failed so universally, the Republican Party is splintering, much like the Democrats in 1995. The social conservatives hate the green eye shade moneyed Republicans, who always treated them with condescension. Old guard Republicans want to go back to Dwight D. Eisenhower and Gerald Ford and be a party of sensible moderation, not a party enamored by extreme ideology, endless tax cuts and more debt. The Reagan Revolution is dead and George W. Bush put a stake through its heart. In a way, he did the Republicans a favor. Now they must reinvent themselves as a party with some grounding in reality. Currently, they have zero credibility.
Republicans who vote are more pragmatic than the ideologues running their party. They realize that if they want to have any chance of winning the general election they need a moderate who can draw a clear distinction between himself and President Bush. McCain can potentially win many independents so he is the sensible choice. The price is that McCain will return the Republican Party to its pre-Reagan pragmatism.
Therefore, John McCain will get the nomination, against the general wishes of the party leaders. However, he is still likely to lose the general election. I could say it is because his call to stay in Iraq and Afghanistan indefinitely is a loser politically. I could add that his age (71) is part of the calculus too. Both are true but there is a more obvious reason. Look where the energy lies. In states that offer both Democratic and Republican primaries and caucuses, look at the numbers turning out. In South Carolina, for example, Hillary Clinton lost to Barack Obama, garnering only 27% of the vote. Yet she pulled in nearly as many votes (141,128) as John McCain, who won the Republican primary with 147,283 votes. Every candidate running is pitching change. Yet voters are dubious that Republicans can bring any meaningful change. If you are a Republican and want to embrace real change then your only choice is a radical like Ron Paul. This probably explains much of his appeal.
Yesterday I sent another hundred bucks to the Barack Obama for President Campaign. Obama is riding a lot of momentum. His rallies are packed to overflowing. Sometimes people are left outside unable to get a seat. I plan to vote for Obama the following Tuesday when Virginia has its primary. Do I think Obama will win the Democratic nomination? While I am hopeful, I am also realistic. Hillary Clinton has the advantages. Obama is closing the gap but depending on which polls you read he is about five points behind Clinton nationally. If you look at state polling in the Super Tuesday races though the outcome looks clear. It is possible that in the few remaining days that Obama can close the gap. However, Clinton remains comfortably ahead in the delegate rich states of California and New York, as well as most of the Super Tuesday states. She has the edge.
Moreover, Clinton has a likely secret weapon: superdelegates. These are delegates who are not apportioned based on primary or caucus votes, but who represent the political establishment. One of these superdelegates is Bill Clinton. Any guess which way he is going to vote? Roughly twenty percent of the delegates at the convention will be superdelegates. Currently Clinton has accumulated roughly twice the superdelegates that Obama has. Most likely, those who run the party will lean toward the more established candidate, so Clinton is likely to maintain a majority of the superdelegates. This in turn gives her an extra edge.
Therefore, I also predict that Hillary Clinton will be the eventual Democratic Party nominee. Republicans also prefer Hillary Clinton as their nominee because she has high negatives, which means she gives their nominee a fighting chance. Their dislike of Clinton will doubtless help the Republicans raise plenty of money to defeat her. I doubt very much that their attempts will succeed. The energy in this election remains with the Democrats. Polls indicate that Independents are leaning close to two to one toward Democratic candidates in general. It is hard for me to see how these dynamics can be changed, even though November is a long way off. Add in the likelihood of a recession and it is understandable why disproportionate numbers of Republicans in Congress are finding convenient reasons to retire.
While I root and work hard influencing friends, family and neighbors to vote for Obama, I am also realistic. As I predicted last year, I still expect Hillary Clinton to be our next president. I can be happy with Hillary Clinton as our party’s candidate, but my heart is with Obama. I hope I prove myself wrong.