(This letter was written to a Democrat
living in Kansas)
Thanks for your note, my lapse in responding is due in large part to a resonance effect of not wanting to write about my personal pain. Imagine my surprise when your note included a query I could really sink my teeth into!
"Who is running for President in 2008?"
The question "who is running?" is a game in certain circles. The following list is almost certainly incomplete and incorrect. For example, in 2004 who would have guessed that Bob Graham would drop out early and Wesley Clark would enter late? Not me, and I was heavily involved in the Dean Campaign back in 2003 before both of those events occurred (I even met Graham in Iowa). The real campaign will start this November, about a day after the midterm elections. That said, it is obvious that an awful lot of people on both sides of the aisle are angling for a spot. This may be the most invigorating Primary Season since the Primary process was opened to the voters, as there is no incumbent or heir-apparent candidate in either party running (for the record, here's the reverse order of established candidates: Bush 2004, Gore 2000, Clinton 1996, Bush 1992, Bush 1988, Reagan 1984, Carter 1980, Ford 1976, Nixon 1972, and Humphrey nominated without winning a single primary [following RFK's assassination] in 1968 begins our contemporary process).
I have a list of candidates for you, with two simplistic analyses. First is their position on Iraq, the defining foreign policy question of the election of 2008 (since Bush has made it clear that we will still be there) and their pet project or angle for gaining the nomination.
The Democratic Field:
Hillary Clinton: Let me first say, I'm still not convinced she's running. Everything she's done before this year has indicated that she has no higher ambitions. Her actions of the past year are consistent with a candidate for the presidency — or someone who wants to be the Democratic power broker. As I said in 2004, when there was a buzz about her running: "She doesn't want to be President. She wants to be Ted Kennedy."
Now, I might be wrong. In fact, recent events would seem to suggest that she thinks she can do it. That being said her position on Iraq will be whatever is slightly to the right of the Democratic mainstream in 2008. As the country has lurched left, she has nudged left. Her dressing down of Rumsfeld last week suggests that she has a perfect political ear. Partially (or mostly) because she's a woman, she has to appear tougher than the guys. Jack Murtha is the Democratic point man on Iraq, because he's an ex-marine. Given the difficulties facing any woman in running for President, it makes sense that she's got a 'tough' façade. I'm sure she hates it. But she's too good to let slip what she actually thinks.
Her angle is obvious, her biggest strength and her biggest weakness. She generally creams the other guys in all the polls right now, but this is a function of name recognition. She has the same attraction that Lieberman had the same time last cycle — people know her, some people like her, a lot of people don't. She scores high because people recognize her. As the campaign begins, her numbers will plummet. As her numbers fall, people will see her numbers fall, and begin to desert her. This vicious cycle is why Lieberman got fifth place in New Hampshire (a neighboring state to CT). I don't think she'll run. But if she does, she will lose.
John Kerry: He is almost as sad as Joe Lieberman. I loved John Kerry. He was definitely in my top 10 and maybe my favorite Senator before Iraq. He voted for the war, and violated every principle he ever enunciated before that day. The courageous young man who marched to Washington leading Vietnam Vets Against The War voted for the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in order to further his career. 'Tis the stuff of Greek Tragedy.
He was, of course, wrong. He knew he was wrong on the merits. But he committed a worse mistake. He miscalculated politically. He saw the support in the polls for a war with Iraq, and remembering the political price that politicians paid in 1992 for voting against the first gulf war, he voted for the second. He's a pretty smart and introspective guy, and I'm certain this mistake haunts him as much as the ghosts of the people he killed in South Asia.
Oh, and he got the nomination in 2004 based on the argument that he was "elect-able". He lost. No second chances for people whose sole claim to office is that they can win, and then lose.
Al Gore: He isn't running, but if he does, he will win.
On Iraq, he was right, both times. He voted for the first war with Iraq, and opposed the second. His position on Iraq is now the majority opinion, and will become the super-majority position by 2008.
He's the only politician that can get every single Democrat's vote in 2008. His impassioned disagreement with the decision to go to war, harsh critique of the Bush Administration, and early endorsement of Howard Dean in 2004 secured the loyalty of the Liberal Wing of the party.
His loyal service to Clinton, pragmatism, and Southern background prove to the conservatives/moderates that he won't rock the boat, but will instead return us to the peace and progress of the 1990s, without the "zipper problem".
Think about it: do you know any Democrats who won't vote for Al Gore?
And his pet issue is the environment, more particularly, saving the world. He's like a liberal super-hero right now.
Too bad he's not running.
Evan Bayh: Conservative jack-off Senator from Indiana. He's got a history of being pretty hawkish, he voted for the war, but the clearest statement he's made to date is that he's signed onto the Levin-Reed proposal for gradual withdrawal. This tells me that he's stuck in Senate-ese.
His gimmick is to be an attractive conservative from a Red State. But I have a feeling that after the Kerry loss, Democrats might sour on the electability argument. And there are a couple of Southerners running, if you like that sort of thing.
Also, he's stupid. The guy just isn't that smart. That worked to Bush's advantage in 2000, but I don't think it'll play well with Democrats in 2008.
Chris Dodd: The senior Senator from Connecticut. Your quintessential Northeastern Democrat. Voted against the war. I'd be interested in hearing more from him, but he has a Lieberman problem. He worked hard to win the primary for Joementum, and now he's supporting Lamont. I'm pretty sure he'll fade out like Graham in 2004, or Hatch in 2000.
John Edwards: He voted for the War. And then he penned a public mea culpa in the Washington Post. Now he's calling for withdrawal. Savvy political moves. People reward a convert well.
His main issue is eliminating poverty. If nothing else unites the Democratic Party, it's working to ameliorate the pain suffered by those on the bottom rung of the income ladder.
Polls in Iowa have him winning. Any question about his experience or ability was ended when Kerry picked him as his running mate. Also, he's a southerner. He could win this thing.
Russ Feingold: Really don't like George Bush? Here's your guy. Not surprisingly, he's my guy. He voted against the war, and was the first Senator to call for an exit strategy. He motioned to censure Bush for wiretapping all of us.
His angle is that he's the only honest person in Washington. You may remember him from Campaign Finance Reform; he's the second half of McCain-Feingold. He seems like the only Senator who's bothered to read the constitution. My only worry is that politics is such a nasty business, and he might not be nasty enough to knife the other guy. But President Feingold sounds like a miraculous dream to me.
Mark Warner: Technocrat is an underused word in our political discourse, but it fits Warner to a T. He's a cell phone millionaire, and a dedicated Democrat from a red state. In fact, he might turn Virginia blue.
And he's managed to win a significant amount of support in the liberal blogosphere without ever giving an opinion on Iraq. That's impressive.
Nice guy, wish I knew what he stood for.
Joe Biden: Yuck. He's running. And with Lieberman no longer a Democrat, he's now the most hawkish Democrat in the Senate. He has no chance of winning, and he'd better be careful, or he might find an unpleasant primary challenge in his future.
Wesley Clark: General Clark has the luxury of being incredibly liberal, and being called moderate because he's a former general. He's a southern Technocrat, like Warner. Unlike Warner, he has a position on Iraq. Well, several, really. He uses a lot of military terminology when talking about foreign policy. I have no idea what he'd actually do. He conveys at the same time both an admission that the war is a failure and plans for how he would have done it. But Iraq is such a clusterfuck that he constantly has to change his analysis.
He's got a really neat socialist vision of America, focusing on education and health care, sort of giving every American the option of serving their country (in multiple ways), and providing the same benefits the Army provides to its soldiers to everyone.
The true story is that he's too much of a science nerd to be elected President. You heard it here first.
Tom Daschle: Watching him run is kinda like watching George McGovern run for President in 1984.
The Republican Field:
Condi Rice: She's not running. Total distraction.
Sam Brownback: Your Senator! I'm sure you love him. He's also known as "God's Senator" in circles that matter. Occasionally he does something actually Christian, like working for greater foreign aid to the third world.
He hasn't done anything interesting on Iraq yet (as you know, almost all Republicans must support the President… you don't understand the power of the dark side.)
In fact, he hasn't done anything remarkable that's reported in the media for a while. My hunch is that he's meeting with Christian Rightists all over the country and explaining his firm conviction that he hates my friends.
From him, like most decent Republicans, expect a double campaign. He'll run a popular one highlighting his concern for the world's poor to most people, and explain why he hates gays more than anyone else to the vicious Christians who determine the Republican Presidential Nominee.
George Allen: Wow. What an empty suit! That worked out well for them last time, though, so this guy is the favorite for the Republican nod. He's a shitty Senator though, and there's a slight chance he might lose to Jim Webb in a couple of months (he's up for re-election this year). If he does lose, buy Warner stock, because he's targeting him.
Nothing interesting in his Pro-Bush Iraq position.
In fact, nothing interesting about the guy at all, except that the Republican cabal that decides these things has decided he's their guy. (That same sentence could have described Bush in 1999.)
Mitt Romney: A Mormon! From Taxachusetts! If Allen's got the rich guys, Browback's got the Christian guys, then Romney's got the smart guys. Too bad they don't know how much the Evangelicals hate Mormons.
No Iraq position yet. Angle is that he won in liberal Massachusetts so he can run the table on the Dems. But Conservatives think that they're a majority everywhere, so they won't bother with electability concerns.
Bill Frist: Haha. DOA since Schiavo. His plan was to be Bush's heir apparent since Cheney isn't going to run. I almost feel bad for the guy.
John McCain: As we all know, he's to the President's right on Iraq. Bomb the motherfuckers more! I'm not sure that's a winning message anymore.
McCain's real problem is that people like me liked him in 2000. With the albatross of Iraq around his neck, and increased visibility of the past 6 years, he's got a real opportunity, and real trouble.
The McCain Paradox: Right now, even after sucking up to the right for 6 years, he would still win the Presidency in a landslide. But, in order to win the Presidency, he must win the nomination. And in order to prove himself to the GOP core, he must swerve far right (and pick off the three GOP factions I mentioned earlier). But any move to the right will alienate the centrists who will give him the landslide.
My bet is that he can't swing it.
Rudolph Giuliani: Currently in the lead in most polls for the nomination. That'll change once they learn he's pro-choice. Brownback and Allen will enjoy gutting him in primetime. Even worse than Hillary, "America's Mayor" won't survive scrutiny once his name recognition effect wears off.
Mike Huckabee: The only one that scares the shit out of me. Governor — so not affected by Iraq. As Christian as Brownback, but not as scary. And he performs well sending coded messages to both major American tribal groups, with his health message.
He was a big fat guy whose Doctor told him he'd die if he didn't clean up his act. So he got on a health kick, lost a bunch of weight, and wrote a book about it. This story is now the main component to his stump speech, exhorting people to eat and live better.
To Liberal audiences, he sounds like a sensible Republican talking about a terribly important and ignored public health issue. To Conservative audience, this story is a conversion story, analogous to the terribly clever one Bush used in 2000 when talking about quitting drinking with the Lord's help.
Thankfully, the money men aren't giving him the time of day. Hopefully it stays that way.
I know there are more Democrats on this list than Republicans. That's probably my bias, since I follow my party more closely than the opposition. It also might be the case that most Republicans I know are trying to salvage the Bush Failure and not looking too hard at the future. But expect more to run than the ones I've listed. Hell, I wouldn't be surprised if somebody like Dobson jumped in the race. Although Brownback's presence might forestall that.
BTW, your Governor, Kathleen Sebelius, is probably on the shortlist for any Democratic Nominee. She's an impressive force, and I expect to see her make a mark on the national stage sooner or later.
I've gotten a few replies to this piece that deserve mention.
Jet-Poop says Two corrections for ya — which you may not wish to add since that's just a reprint of an already-sent letter — but George Allen is interesting because he's a pro-Confederate racist; and you missed the most interesting Democrat who's most likely to win: Me. :)
You're right that the letter, although long, was not supposed to be a comprehensive analysis of everyone running for President, merely my impressions of them. And I'm pretty sure Allen will manage to keep his Confederate past either hidden or disguised enough. Is anyone surprised that a Republican from Virginia is a racist? No, what's more surprising is that Allen grew up in California and became a racist after he moved to Virginia. He's not a good old boy like Trent Lott, he's even worse because he consciously chose to become a bastard.
unperson says Seems like in the section on Feingold it'd be worth a mention that he was the *only* senator that voted against the USA PATRIOT act. It sort of makes your point about how different he is. As for McCain, I'd guess that there are at least some people like me who used to sort of respect him back in the days of McCain-Feingold and when he called out the religious right, but now see him as a big hypocrit for turning around and kissing their asses.
Right you are regarding Feingold's vote against the Patriot Act, although at the time he said he was voting against it because he hadn't been given enough time to read it (the thing was shoved down Congress's throat). Apparently he's likes to actually read bills before voting on them. As far as McCain goes, your opinion is an example of McCain's paradoxical election strategy I mention above. In order to win the nomination he'll have to abandon everything that makes him attractive to moderates and liberals.
Also, after reading this I recognized that I left out perhaps the most interesting politician running for the GOP nomination:
Chuck Hagel: The Senior Senator from Nebraska has been the only Washington Republican to seriously challenge the administration on Iraq repeatedly over the past few years. A Vietnam Vet, he chaired McCain's campaign in 2000. Although the two remain friends, Hagel has diverged from McCain and the Republican establishment seriously, comparing Iraq to Vietnam, and echoing Democratic calls for withdrawal. For this reason, he satands no chance of securing the nomination.