I thought I would put together some final reflections from this weekend. Here are my thoughts.
- The big story is obviously Huckabee. While Romney won the straw poll, it’s Huckabee who gave himself the biggest boost. A lot of people are going to watch the debate very closely tonight to see whether he can continue his strong performance. I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets as many questions as Fred.
- More on Huckabee–he’s become the intriguing candidate on the Republican side, taking that mantle from Fred. Long campaign seasons may be tiring, but they may be exactly what Huckabee needed. He has had months to organize his campaign, while remaining out of the spotlight as an unknown. The long campaign has been largely bad for Romney, whose missteps and negatives have been featured more widely. And while Huckabee has significant downsides, he could be building momentum at just the right time.
- This article is required reading for people interested in Huckabee. It’s an extremely insightful (and depressing!) analysis of Huckabee’s potential effect on the Republican party by Erick at RedState. Seriously–required reading.
- I don’t want to take too many cues from Daily Kos, but they are salivating at having Romney in the general election. And nearly everyone I talked to this weekend is dreading it. He’s not going to escape the Kerry comparison. As one person put it, “The target on his back is huge.” That’s problematic for those who want to back Romney over Huckabee for “electability” reasons.
- Melinda Penner has already raised concerns that Huckabee is presenting himself as the “Pastor-in-Chief.” I think they’re mistaken. One of the more interesting parts of the weekend was Huckabee’s press conference after his speech. He handled several difficult questions deftly, including one interviewer who asked him if he could define “Islamofascism.” Huckabee responded with a two-minute explication of not only what that particular movement with Islam stands for, but its major proponents in the Middle East and their method of promoting their ideology. It was, to be frank, an impressive display of knowledge that made it clear he isn’t all rhetoric on foreign policy issues and that he isn’t limited to making arguments with Biblical language (never mind that Biblical language has always been a part of American campaigning, even for the highest offices). If Huckabee’s camp has the video of this press conference, they would do well to release it, as I’ve hunted on the internet and haven’t found it.
- This weekend was the nail in Fred’s quickly built coffin. In two or three weeks, expect his poll numbers to drop considerably. I talked with no one except one very earnest, die-hard policy wonk who was excited about having Fred Thompson as our president. It would be nice if he would drop out soon, in fact.
- Oratory on life support in Republican party. Besides Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, Rudy Giuliani and Star Parker (who gave a fiery and passionate address), no one seems to know how to prepare and deliver a speech.
- We like the guys with the four letter names. Rudy, Mitt, Fred, Huck (as many people call him)–we should have eliminated anyone whose names or nicknames had more or less than four letters weeks ago.
- The “Christian nation” thesis is alive and well in the social conservative movement. This was mildly depressing to me, actually. The fusion of social conservatism, Christianity and nationalism doesn’t exist in every corner of the movement, but in this sizable arena it was frequently palpable. And I think it’s counter-productive to the social conservative cause. I understand the need to bring in speakers that the general public knows and trusts, but I would love to see FRC sprinkle some more intellectually oriented speakers into the main-session mix, if only to attempt to raise the level of conservative political discourse on the popular level.
- Where do I stand? I’m struggling to understand the relationships between charisma, leadership qualifications, and policy when making a political decision. The first criterion is the most problematic, so let me briefly defend it. In this political climate, where the media shapes so much of public opinion, I want someone who can reach down and connect with people to make complex issues clear and to effectively defend his decisions. Romney, for all his virtues, failed to “connect” with the audience. It is my impression that in a previous age, that would be an idiotic reason to not support someone for the Presidency. But this is not every other age, and the failure of the current President to communicate regarding the war has been devastating to ensuring its long-term success.
- Politics is like a drug. In some ways, I understand why there is often a lot of intrigue and politicking in churches–there is something about it that is invigorating for some people, and I am definitely one of those people. Put me in a politically saturated environment, let me figure out the lay of the land a bit, and I’ll have an enormous amount of fun. It’s a good thing I only go to DC once a year.
Probably going to live-blog tonights debate and then work toward turning Mere-O back to its non-political nature, unless I hear otherwise from readers.