A few months ago, I was telling people, “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’ll probably end up voting for Hillary Clinton.” Not because I didn’t like Barack Obama, but because he seemed to be falling short. Not because I couldn’t vote for any Republican against Clinton. But I knew I couldn’t vote for Mitt Romney, the presumed favorite with all the money. The Reeps I could tolerate seemed unlikely to survive the gantlet.
All of that has changed.
After Iowa, I agree with RealClearPolitics’ John Ellis. Romney is finished. The Republican establishment that was backing him will drop him if he can’t be competitive with Mike Huckabee–a thoroughly unacceptable candidate–and will choose from among John McCain, Fred Thompson and Rudy Giuliani to lead the Anyone-But-Huckabee brigade. All of whom I like at least a little better than the egotistical, robotic Romney.
Huckabee is here because Romney conjured him, like the sorcerer’s apprentice. Romney, a moderate, formerly pro-choice Republican primarily known for his business acumen, cynically tried to turn himself into a “values” candidate to appease the GOP’s social conservatives. It wasn’t real. The evangelical voter is not going to be led in a values campaign by someone who practices a religion for which, let’s face it, evangelicals have contempt. They might have tolerated him, but he asked for more. Romney put the question out there to the Christian right: Who will lead you? Who will bash gays for you? Who will deny women’s rights for you? The answer came back: Some guy named Huckabee. Not you. He’s a Christian. You’re not.
Romney’s only real choice was to run as a Republican Gary Hart, the candidate of “new ideas” for a party in desperate need of same. That would have at least given him the flexibility to play to his strengths; his intellectual prowess, his business acumen, his demonstrable executive skills and his admirable personal qualities. And it would have enabled him to attract a wide array of advisors and intellectuals to help him think through innovative policy positions on what appear to be intractable issues.
Hillary’s not quite as far down the Loserville vortex as Romney, but tonight’s Iowa vote was as much a repudiation of her — and of the Clinton gang including her husband — as an endorsement of an Obama future. But she has already signalled what she’ll say tomorrow and for the rest of the campaign. Politico’s Ben Smith got a copy of the talking points.
— The race begins here in Iowa but it ends when Democrats throughout America have their say. Hillary remains more than 20 points ahead nationally, 7 points ahead in New Hampshire and ahead in Nevada, South Carolina and the large Feb. 5th states
— Hillary has the resources to run a national campaign where she will compete across the country in the weeks ahead. This campaign was built for a marathon.
And so on. She’s not giving up. She’s going to try to take Obama apart. Suddenly, it will be Hillary playing a Giuliani-like role, scaring everyone about 9/11, 9/11, do you really trust Obama to handle another 9/11? Among the dumbest political prognostications of the last week was the claim of Hugh Hewitt — a helplessly smitten Romney fanboy — that the assassination of Benazir Bhutto was going wake up voters to the need for a “serious” candidate:
Senator Obama has to be reeling as voters realize that impressing Oprah has very little to do with being Commander-in-Chief in wartime, and Governor Huckabee’s “aw shucks” shtick is suddenly and transparently exposed as inadequate to the task ahead.
This is the tack Hillary will surely take against Obama — and y’know, I hope she does. He was not the front-runner until a poll showing him with a big lead came out in the Des Moines Register a few days ago. He has not gotten the scrutiny a front-runner must get. He hasn’t had to keep his composure against a wave of attacks, only some of which will be visible to us.
As I write in the middle of the night, I’m sure Team Clinton is working the phones, trying to staunch a flood of campaign money flowing in the winner’s direction. The Clinton machine will not quit. It is the most ruthless, single-minded campaign organization since Richard Nixon’s.
At least that’s the reputation.
I want to see how Obama handles Clinton’s coming assault. I suspect and hope he’ll show grace under pressure. He’ll make mistakes but the genius is in the way you recover from those mistakes. I believe Obama will demonstrate his complete “adequacy to the task ahead.” So, yeah, Hillary, do your worst. Bring it on. You’ll be doing your country a service — showing us what this potentially great new American leader is capable of.
And if Obama should succumb? It’ll be a sad day, but it’s better to find out now.