Friday, January 11, 2008

Which Democratic candidate should the GOP be rooting for?

I'm always hesitant to wish to run against a certain candidate of the other party because of the famous stories about how the Carter team was pulling for Reagan to win the nomination in 1980 because they thought he'd be so easy to defeat. Campaigns have a way of surprising people and bring unknown qualities, good and bad, out of the candidates. Kimberley Strassel today analyzes the strengths and weaknesses of Clinton and Obama in terms of which would be easier or harder for the Republicans to run against. Since a campaign against Hillary Clinton would be quite different than one against Barack Obama, Republican voters have to consider which of our candidates would match up better against which Democrat. And we have to make that decision without knowing how the Democratic race will turn out.
How it does play out will obviously depend on the Republican nominee. Mrs. Clinton is a unifier -- at least of Republicans -- and her nomination would arguably be better for a John McCain or a Rudy Giuliani. Both have their problems with the Republican base, but voters might be willing to overlook these if it meant keeping Mrs. Clinton out of the White House. On the flip side, a Clinton matchup with Mitt Romney or Mike Huckabee could be to her favor, allowing her to more ably contrast her Senate and White House national security experience with their scantier foreign-policy résumés.

Mr. Obama is surely hoping to draw a Republican opponent with as little foreign-policy experience as he has. The challenge for a GOP candidate in tackling the fuzzy Obama juggernaut will be to draw big contrasts, say on foreign policy (McCain, Giuliani) or the ability to manage a fragile economy (Romney). And can you imagine the gaseous war of eloquent words that would be an Obama-Huckabee race? We really would need a climate-action program.
So Republicans must be in the position of not only considering which candidate they like the most, but also vote defensively for the one best able to win the general election.

I've thought for about a year that Obama would be a lot more difficult for the Republicans to run against. Neither Hillary Clinton nor the Republicans can depend on the media to explore the gauzy air promises of the Obama pledges to be a different type of leader. I believe that there would be so much excitement about voting for the first black president that it would overshadow all substance. And no Republican can try the crying in the diner maneuver to stir sympathy. But with Hillary, there are a lot of Democrats who just don't want to have that couple in our lives again for another four or eight years. Certain of the Republican candidates could really exploit the large pool of negative feeling against Hillary and pull over some of those dissatisfied Democratic voters. I just don't see these guys doing much to pull away those voters who are practically trembling with excitement at the thought of Obama's Kennedyesque pose.