LOS ANGELES – What’s with the Republican field?
Not to take anything away from Mike Huckabee, who has caught Mitt Romney in Iowa, but when a candidate who has been consistently ranked in the “second tier” and has raised in a year what Hillary and Obama have done on good days, or weekends anyway, you have to ask what it says about the Republican field.
The one word answer is: weak.
Huckabee is an interesting guy. He is a straight shooter, a former Baptist minister, a born-- not born-again--conservative.
But as a Democrat, am I worried about Hillary or Barack taking on this former Arkansas governor?
Not a little. Certainly not a lot.
Not only is he out of step with the rest of America, as opposed to the right tail of the right tail of the Republican party, which is to say the religious conservatives who dominate the caucus and primary process, on social issues, but his proposals in such areas as federal taxation and especially Social Security are enough to make any Democrat’s mouth water.
Not that anyone loves taxes, but eliminating the IRS and progressive tax system and replacing it with one that puts a flat tax on all consumption, which is the most regressive way to pay our bills, doesn’t have political winner written all over it. It’s one of those ideas that people with no chance of winning run and lose on. Think Steve Forbes. It’s not one you want to defend in the World Series.
But that’s nothing compared to his proposal to get rid of the payroll tax for Social Security, and his support for private retirement accounts. Did anyone say Florida?
The very ideas that his conservative defenders point to in answering the criticisms that he’s not conservative enough to be earning the support of the true believers are the ones that would give Democrats a chance to put Willie Horton in a swift boat, as it were. Not pretty, but likely to be very effective. Grandma, are you ready to give up your Social Security? Ready to see your tax bill skyrocket? No? Then don’t take a chance.
Then there’s the matter of electing a former Arkansas governor. I know, it’s worked before. But times were different.
The conventional wisdom used to be that governors had the easiest time making the case that they were ready to be president, because of their executive experience. But that was before 9/11, before terrorism became the country’s greatest fear and the war in Iraq our primary preoccupation.
If you asked people today, my guess is that most would say that George Bush’s experience did not prepare him for the challenges he faced, and contributed to the mistakes the country very clearly thinks he has made as president. And he was at least the governor of Texas. Arkansas? An election in which foreign policy, terrorism, and toughness are likely to be dominant issues is not one that has the name of a former Arkansas governor with no foreign policy experience written all over it.
Which is not to say he couldn’t get the nomination. He could. That’s the beauty -- or perversity --of the nomination process. The ability to win the nomination has much less to do with the ability to win the election that any rational system should.
A general election candidate has to appeal to the middle to win; a caucus and primary candidate can win by appealing to the ideologues. A general election candidate has to run, if not in 50 states at once, at least in a majority of them; he, or she, has to sell nationally. A nomination campaign, on the other hand, even in this frontloaded system, retains major elements of retail politics, often feeling more like a series of discrete governor’s races, at least in the early days, than like a national campaign.
For all the talk of whether Hillary can take a hit, maybe the real question should be: how many can Rudy take? This has not been a good week for the former mayor. It may be nothing more than an accounting kerfuffle-- all this business about his trips to the Hamptons with his then-girlfriend, and the police chauffering her around, and the various payments back and forth to cover the expenses-- but when you have a guy like Bernard Kerik, who’s already plead guilty to state charges and is facing federal ones, and has ex-girlfriend problems of his own (hello Judith Reagan) defending you, as Rudy had this week in the form of his pal and former police commissioner, it’s not the best time to be running ads about restoring “accountability” to government, much less to be running against a former minister whose appeal to conservatives is a bit more straightforward than Giuliani’s, to say the least.
As for Mitt Romney, who has run 5,000 ads in Iowa to Huckabee’s none, until this week, to find yourself in a dead heat with a guy who’s not supposed to be in the same tier as you .... well, enough said. The Democratic race may be fluid, but as of now, it’s beginning to look like the Republican contest hasn’t even gotten to the jello state yet. And I don’t mean Iowa.
Susan Estrich is the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California. She was Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and the first woman President of the Harvard Law Review. She is a columnist for Creators Syndicate and has written for USA Today and the Los Angeles Times.
Estrich's books include the just published “Soulless,” “The Case for Hillary Clinton,” “How to Get Into Law School,” “Sex & Power,” “Real Rape,” “Getting Away with Murder: How Politics Is Destroying the Criminal Justice System” and "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women.”
She served as campaign manager for Michael Dukakis' presidential bid, becoming the first woman to head a U.S. presidential campaign. Estrich appears regularly on the FOX News Channel, in addition to writing the “Blue Streak” column for FOXNews.com.