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As two Democrats stumble, a Republican surprises

Published February 18, 2007


WASHINGTON - Two Democratic presidential candidates with national campaign experience are stumbling. A Republican candidate who has run only municipal campaigns is confounding expectations, calling into question some assumptions about Republican voters.

John Edwards has learned that two women employed by his campaign have Internet trails of vitriolic anti-Christian, and especially anti-Catholic, rants.

When the women's works became known, it was reported that they were, or were going to be, fired. Thirty-six hours later, after left-wing bloggers rallied to their defense, Edwards' campaign said they would be retained. Edwards explained that the women had assured him that "it was never their intention to malign anyone's faith, and I take them at their word."

He really does? The two women - both of whom have resigned, pronouncing themselves, of course, victims of intolerance - are what they are, and are unimportant. But the fact that a prospective president is so pliable under pressure, and so capable of smarmy insincerity - what does he think were the women's intentions? - is very important.

In New Hampshire recently, Sen. Hillary Clinton said, "Now that we have a Democratic president ..." Quickly correcting this slip, she said she meant "a Democratic Congress," but added: "If we had a Democratic president, we would end the war."

Well. She and others say they can "end the war." That phrase is a flinch from facts. They mean they can end U.S. involvement in the war. No one believes the United States has the power to prevent the war from raging on.

But if a Democratic president would implement withdrawal, the Democratic Congress could, by forbidding further spending to sustain forces in Iraq. So why is Clinton not voting for a policy she considers proper?

Regarding the Republican race, for many months commentators have said that when the Republican base learns the facts about Rudy Giuliani's personal life an annulled first marriage, a messy divorce, then a third marriage and views on social issues (for abortion rights, gay rights and gun control, in each case with limits), support for him will evaporate. But such commentary is becoming self-refuting. The insistent reiteration of it during Giuliani's coast-to-coast campaigning is telling activist Republicans - the sort of people who read political commentary - the facts about Giuliani. And so far those facts are not causing a recoil from him: According to the USA Today/Gallup Poll, his lead over John McCain has risen from 31-27 in November to 40-24 today.

This does not mean that the social issues have lost their saliency. People for whom opposition to abortion is very important might, however, think that in wartime it is not supremely important. Or they might reason, correctly, that presidents can change abortion policy only by changing the Supreme Court, so Giuliani's pledge to nominate justices like Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito and John Roberts is sufficient.

Markets are mechanisms that generate information. The political market is working: Americans are learning much about the candidates, and themselves.

George Will's e-mail address is

2007, Washington Post Writers Group

[Last modified February 17, 2007, 20:56:17]

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