[M]any Republican faithful, from the grass roots to the Capitol, have concluded that Fred Thompson, the preternaturally avuncular actor and former Senator from Tennessee, is the cure-all for their party's ills. Thompson has yet to enter the presidential race. He has, in fact, postponed until after Labor Day an official announcement that was supposed to be made in July. And yet Thompson already shares front-runner status with former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani in some national polls of G.O.P. voters. "People are not inspired; everyone's flat-lining," says Ken Duberstein, former chief of staff for Ronald Reagan. "Right now, Fred is all things to all people. Everyone's waiting to see if he can live up to expectations."
Yeah, it turns out he can't and isn't. That's probably why the announcement that was scheduled for this month has been put off until the end of summer -- although Thompson's staff spins it in the opposite direction. "Sources close to the presumptive campaign tell NBC News that Fred Thompson's fundraising is down 'markedly,'" reports NBC's Kelly O'Donnell. "One claimed it has 'slowed down big-time.' The pace is described as a consequence of the delayed announcement to enter the race."
See how that works? Effect precedes cause. The announcement wasn't delayed because of poor fundraising, poor fundraising is because of the delay. It begs the obvious question; if it wasn't the fact that Thompsons' campaign is cash poor that delayed his campaign, then what the hell was it?
The fact is that, among the Republican contenders, Giuliani still leads. In fact, a Diageo/Hotline Poll shows that without John McCain in the race (a near certainty for the near future), Thompson loses what is now basically a neck and neck race to Giuliani. With McCain, it's Thompson 19%, Giuliani 20%. Without, Rudy hands him his ass -- 21% to 36%.
Here's my educated guess -- McCain's support comes from those few remaining war supporters and a chunk of the evangelicals. McCain spent a lot of time kissing up to the religious right and it can't be that it didn't entirely pan out. Giuliani gets the yay-for-war/we're-not-freaked-out-enough-about-terrorism voters that McCain had and the evangelicals, who won't back Giuliani, split among the rest of the field. A sort of weak proof of this is that antiwar candidate Ron Paul polls 2% with or without McCain. Call him the control in my little thought experiment. It's extremely unlikely that Paul has either Iraq war fans or 'values voters' -- hence, no change.
This gives us a glimpse of a possible future. As GOP campaigns fall by the wayside, Giuliani gains more than most. The warheads jump on Rudy's bandwagon and the evangelicals keep splitting their vote among the rest of the crowd. At this point, the man I'd originally thought had no chance at all looks like a shoe-in.
Which is bad news for the Republican Party. The same poll I cited earlier asked respondents, "Now thinking about the next election for president in 2008, if the election for U.S. president were held today, would you be voting for the Democratic candidate or the Republican candidate?" Only 27% answered "Republican Candidate," while 51% said "Democratic Candidate." The GOP looks screwed now and, if the religious right thinks they have no one to vote for, they'll just stay home or vote for some third party nut. For the 'values voter,' purity is everything. Without them, the Republican candidate goes from slim chance to none.
Rudy Giuliani may being doing the nation an unintended favor here. If he drives the religious nuts away from the polls in '08, that means other races will also suffer the loss and it'll be 2006 all over again. Putting ideological purity above all only works when your ideology is a rising star. After that, you do what Democrats have been doing for years -- you take what you can get and grassroots-lobby the living crap out of them to do what you want them to.
Of course, the Evangelicals probably think they don't have the time. Republican Jesus is coming pretty soon and if they don't have all their ducks in a row, He'll be even madder than they think He is now. Then there'll be trouble.
Guys like Fred Thompson may look good now, but they'll look a lot different as they get closer to the elections. They'll do internal polling, see who their supporters are, and try to out-crazy each other to get the religious nuts to the polls. 'The base,' that big block of lunatic voters they think they'll need, is actually a minority of the minority. And the strategy of polarization, divide and conquer, only works when your segment of the division is bigger. At 27% to 51%, that's not the case. GOP candidates absolutely have to siphon off a lot of voters currently leaning dem. And there's no way they can do that by closing ranks.
The religious right, once the GOP's driving force, has become it's biggest problem. I couldn't be happier.
Technorati tags: politics; Fred Thompson; Ron Paul; Rudy Giuliani; John McCain; Iraq; war; If the Republican candidates rely on the religious right in the 2008 elections, they're crazier than the 'values voters'