Republicans Eating Their Own

The Republican presidential race has been particularly difficult to analyze because there is no clear frontrunner. Rudy Giuliani is leading in the national polls. Mitt Romney is leading in the early state polls. Mike Huckabee is making a serious run at winning the Iowa caucuses on a shoestring budget. John McCain is showing signs of life in New Hampshire. Fred Thompson is performing well in South Carolina. And Ron Paul is unquantifiable because his support is cobbled together from a variety of unlikely constituencies.

This disarray has led to a variety of campaign strategies. Rudy Giuliani, for example, has been trying to bide his time until Super Tuesday when he could virtually run the table despite potentially losing Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Michigan. Mitt Romney is placing all his chips on Iowa and New Hampshire with the hope that victories there would create enough momentum to stop Giuliani. Mike Huckabee can be a giant-killer in Iowa and take Romney out of the race with a victory there. Fred Thompson could perform well in South Carolina, which could validate him as the South's preferred candidate who would be a foil to the moderate Giuliani. John McCain could win New Hampshire and Michigan, thus taking out Romney and providing a more conservative alternative to Giuliani with stronger national security credentials. And Ron Paul's shadow campaign has produced some astonishing results in terms of fundraising, so nobody really knows just how well he'll perform and where his support lies.

Earlier in the race, the Republicans were commonly using Hillary Clinton as a convenient foil. Scaring Republican voters about "another Clinton presidency" and "Hillarycare" was an easy applause line and an effective way to fill the GOP candidates' campaign coffers. It was common for them to bash Clinton in their presidential debates, much like the way the Democratic candidates bash Bush in their forums. Last month I wrote about the psychology behind the Republicans' attacks on Clinton. In that post I listed six theories on as to why Republicans needed her. Those reasons still stand, but the sixth idea I mentioned has taken on a whole new meaning in light of how nasty the Republican race has become:

"If the Democrats nominate someone other than Hillary Clinton, the Republicans would be scrambling to find a new political villain."
Republicans seem unaware of the fact that by attacking Clinton so much, they may be contributing to her own demise...in the Democratic primaries. Questions about her electability are surfacing again as her lead in the polls dwindles and she receives more negative media coverage. A Clinton defeat would be the death knell for Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney in particular because their convenient bogeyman would no longer exist. And the longer they spend attacking Clinton instead of promoting their own agendas, the more they risk being seen as emperors having no clothes in the event that Clinton does not secure the nomination.

And the increasing disarray among the remaining GOP candidates is only making this situation worse. Now the Republicans are turning their firepower on each other. And in some cases, they are beating each other up with the same Clinton club. Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney in particular are going at each other's throats. Not wanting to be left out of the fireworks, Fred Thompson called Mike Huckabee a "pro-life liberal," implied that Giuliani is not credible when it comes to gun rights, and accused Romney of "manufacturing ideas" when it comes to abortion.

Because there is no consensus frontrunner on the GOP side of the ledger, it is safe to say that Republican voters and their loyalties are splintered. As these candidates bloody each other, they risk driving up their own negatives and alienating various parts of the Republican base. Conservatives most certainly don't want to be reminded of Giuliani's social liberalism or Mike Huckabaee's tax increases. These voters don't want to be reminded of Romney's flip-flops on abortion or Fred Thompson's federalist approach to gay marriage. How will the eventual GOP nominee heal this fractured base and energize them in time for the general election? And what if their opponent is not Hillary Clinton? Media coverage already seems to be shifting in Obama's favor.

The main points I'm getting at in this post are that 1) repeatedly attacking Clinton is akin to investing all your money in a company that is at an increased risk of going bust, 2) the crowded and confused field is creating a restive Republican base will be harder to inspire, 3) the Republicans' attacks on each other are further alienating this already restive base, and 4) the longer they spend attacking Clinton and each other, the less reason voters will have to vote for them as opposed to voting against someone else. And this will only succeed in decreasing voter turnout. Imagine what a depressed GOP vote would mean for Senate and congressional races next year!

What's happening in the Democratic race to the nomination is clearly affecting the Republican race. You don't hear the Democrats attack Giuliani and Romney nearly as often as the Republicans attack Clinton. The Republicans' bravado and "Democrat Equals Hillary" mantra may placate individual segments of the base, but it could also be setting them up for total disaster next November. Turning their guns on each other also doesn't help.


Nikki said...

AAAAHHHH!!!! The Republicans.....I spoke to a fellow Mormon friend the other day and he said "please tell me you don't like Mitt Romney" He was undoubtedly shocked to hear me say I did but I am not so sure anymore. But clearly he does not have 100% of the Mormon vote. I don't mind his flip-flopping, but I have been rubbed the wrong way lately with his EXPECTING the Mormon vote, not to mention his name dropping of "close friends" of the higher-ups in our church. His electability is in question. evangelical christians are not just bigots against blacks, gays and Jews, but anyone NOT in the evangelical Christian world and that includes Mormons. Quite frankly I don't know who I support. You are right this political schizophrenia is hard to pin down on the right.
Quite frankly I pounded the pavement for Bush in '04, I was living in AZ and it was considered a swing state at the time. I don't see me pounding for any of these candidates, especially Huckabee who has said negative comments about Mormons. They all have really. Enough of the religious side. Just thought I would chime in from a "Mormon" point of view.
good read.

Schenck said...

Well put, Palmer; I like your insight regarding the possible (hopeful) future absence of the convenient Hillary foil.

As for me, I'm glad I'm not conservative because I wouldn't know who the hell to support. My father, who adamantly supported Bush both times around, is leaning towards Thompson because they met in the supermarket once and Freddie looked him in the eye while he was talking... so it really is all up in the air.

Silence Dogood said...

Evangelicals? Sounds like some people are forgetting the 11th comandment. Hillary not capturing the nomination early would indeed set the Republican field even futher ablaze and really allow room for a dark horse to crop or really give a suprise unpunditable (just coined here on Palmer's blog!) future to the Republican primary. Ron Paul? Brokered Convention? Who's knows, but politico's like myself live for such chaos and I would love to see things shake up on the Democratic side if Hillary wins striaght out, I may snooze so hard I fall asleep and miss the primary/general election.

Anthony Palmer said...


I think almost all politicians "flip flop" as their thinking matures and their life experience accrues. There's nothing wrong with that. The problem is when these candidates describe themselves as holding steady beliefs and being rock solid in their convictions in the face of all the evidence to the contrary. Mitt Romney AND Rudy Giuliani are both guilty of that. Should either of them be the nominee, the "flip flop" weapon will not be a part of their arsenal because it will backfire everytime.



2008 seems to be a lousy year for voters of all stripes who want a viable, credible, decent candidate. Republicans have no idea whatsoever who they should support because all the candidates have some fatal flaw. And many Democrats are equally frustrated because the three candidates who are getting the most attention are the three weakest ones. If the general election comes down to Romney or Giuliani vs. Clinton, I really think a lot of people will sit this election out. But Clinton's looking less and less impressive by the day. Did you see her cocky interview with Katie Couric? Ugh.



I am definitely with you when it comes to living for political drama. I mean, even Trent Lott managed to drop a stinkbomb in the race. It's great stuff! By the way, if Clinton wins the nomination, who's to say that there won't be a band of delegates at the convention that will revolt against her? Could Gore actually receive the nomination without running? And the GOP convention will be an absolute mess, especially since they won't be able to ignore Bush. The drama continues...

Schenck said...

Palmer, I'm definitely disappointed in the MSM-chosen candidates, having recently flung my support to Obama, whom I believe is a competent, understanding, intelligent individual capable of leading this country, yet still excited by Joe Biden and Mike Gravel (to whose campaign I made my first donation ever... I want my money back). I will say one thing: I am an adamant ABC/ABH and will never support her. I do not see her as a woman, as a former White House resident, or even as a Clinton; rather it is her (lack of) character which i find repugnant. I did not see the interview you speak of, but I did read an excerpt I believe you were referring to. If Hillary is not afraid of losing, why won't she tell us what she stands for? And if the election comes down to Hillary vs. ________, I'll go third party (for the second time in a row).

Whooo, trying to stay civil here.

Stevencap said...

We’re inviting North Carolina and South Carolina media to attend a national Town Hall meeting hosted by John Ratzenberger (Cliff on ‘Cheers’) at 6:30 pm on Wednesday, Dec. 12, at The Freedom Center, 215 E. Main Street, Rock Hill, SC, 29731.

I’ve pasted some info on the event below. Please feel free to contact me if you might be interested in attending and/or covering the event. I’d also be very grateful if you could please post this notice or pass it along to anyone who might be interested in attending or blogging live at the event.

Many thanks,
Steven Capozzola
Communications Director
Alliance for American Manufacturing
Phone: (202) 393-3430

A national “Keep it Made in America” Town Hall meeting, hosted by John Ratzenberger, will be held in Buffalo, NY at 6:30 pm on Wednesday, Dec. 12, at The Freedom Center, 215 E. Main Street, Rock Hill, SC, 29731. Media (including bloggers) are invited to attend and cover the event. A brief summary:
1. The Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM), a national, non-partisan organization based in Washington, DC, is sponsoring the event.
2. The meeting will be hosted by TV’s John Ratzenberger (‘Cheers,’ The Travel Channel’s ‘Made in America’).
3. The event will focus on South Carolina manufacturing and textile jobs. Voters will be encouraged to demand answers from Presidential candidates as to how they’ll help to strengthen U.S. manufacturing.
4. Attendance is free, and is open to the general public. Bloggers are encouraged to RSVP in order to reserve media seating and prime Internet access.
5. Post-show interviews with John Ratzenberger must be arranged via RSVP before the event.
To RSVP, or if you have any questions, please contact Steven Capozzola at: scapozzola@aamfg.org, 202-393-3430. Official website: http://www.americanmanufacturing.org/keep-it-made-in-america/

oso diablo said...

i strongly object to nikki's perjorative against evangelicals, a sprawling and diverse group representing 25-30% of Americans. Her comments are out of line.

Nikki said...

Hey Anthony I watche only a bit of tonights debate I hope to watch the full program later, I am sure it will be re-run. I look forward to reading what you thought about it. I definately have my opinions, but without seeing it in its entirety I will hold off. Right now it looks like Mike Huckabee really shined.
Oso Diablo.....feel free to post your objection on my blog. I will gladly discuss the subject there.