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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Will GOPers Take a Dive in ’08?

Over at The American Prospect, Tom Schaller goes through the various reasons that conservatives are unhappy with the Big Three Republican front-runners for the 2008 presidential nomination–Giuliani, McCain and Romney–and comes up with an interesting suggestion: GOPers could decide it’s more important to make a “statement” of conservative principle than to win, and may prove it by uniting behind a second-tier candidate that they, but not general-electorate voters, like.I’m with him on his brisk diagnosis of the problems conservatives have about the Big Three. Giuliani is unacceptable to social conservatives on the issues social conservatives most care about. McCain has accumulated a long record of heresies, concluding with his terrible mispositioning on the emerging hot-button issue of immigration. And Romney’s Massachusetts record and Mormon religion are big millstones.But the problem with Schaller’s hypothesis is that there’s not an obvious vehicle for the let’s-take-a-dive-for-conservatism bandwagon. Looking at the GOP field, Tancredo for sure, and probably Brownback, have views too extreme to qualify them for the consensus-conservative mantle.Huckabee and the Thompson Twins could each serve as conservative lighting rods, but they’d probably become viable general election candidates if they got within striking distance of the nomination.The only potential candidate who meets Schaller’s congenial-loser profile is Newt Gingrich. And just today, on Good Morning America, the Newtster invited speculation that he may indeed toss his well-worn tinfoil hat into the ring.But in order to emerge as the Good Loser candidate, Gingrich would need to make a big splash in Iowa. He’s repeatedly said he won’t announce any candidacy before the end of September, and Iowa is the worst possible place for a late start.So Schaller’s hypothesis is interesting as an abstract exercise in what a conservative party might do given a not-so-conservative field of front-runners, but perhaps not terribly relevant to the actual conditions of Campaign ’08. My own opinion, for what it’s worth, is that Fred Thompson’s still the New Candidate To Watch. Check out the large, puffy profile of Ol’ Fred that recently appeared in The Weekly Standard. Remember that his proto-campaign was first launched in the media by that reliable sounding board for cultural conservatives, Bob Novak. Check out today’s report that religious conservatives are active in promoting his candidacy.And remember–particularly if you, like Tom Schaller, believe that Republicans have become the Party of Southern Identity–that Fred Thompson is from the South, and unlike Newt Gingrich, looks and sounds the part.Fred’s underwhelming by many measures, but he’s not an obvious general-election loser, and he may be the best the Right’s got in their spring of discontent.

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