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A GOP racing form
By PHILIP GAILEY, Editor of Editorials
Published November 25, 2007
St. Petersburg will host a Republican presidential debate on Wednesday evening, and just by showing up the candidates may do their party's eventual nominee some good in the general election. The Democratic candidates are boycotting Florida as punishment for moving its primary to Jan.29. Last week, Florida Democrats got the news they will have to pitch a tent if they show up in Denver for their party's national convention. They have been denied hotel rooms. Recent polls suggest that voters in the nation's largest battleground state, including many independents, will remember the snub when their votes really matter.
Anyway, this week's nationally televised debate is a chance for the Republican hopefuls to score some points, change some minds and give voters a better sense of where they would take the country as president. National polls suggest the 2008 election will be about change, but so far the Republican candidates sound as if they are running to give George W. Bush's presidency a third term.
I have to say, all their talk about military action against Iran and their defense of torture is a little unsettling. Mitt Romney, a pretty face unencumbered by convictions, advocates a military blockade or "bombardment of some kind" if Iran continues its nuclear program. And Rudy Giuliani, who fancies himself as the terrorists' worst nightmare, said a military strike against a nuclear Iran was a "promise," not a threat. He sees military action against that Islamic country not as a "war" but as a precision strike. Sounds as if Giuliani is listening to the same nutty neocons who predicted a cakewalk in Iraq.
When they are not threatening Iran, Romney and Giuliani are attacking each other for being soft on illegal immigration, even though their rhetoric is at odds with their records, Romney's as governor of Massachusetts and Giuliani's as mayor of New York City. Giuliani once praised the contributions of illegal immigrants to his city, offered them social services and benefits and help put them on the path to citizenship. As a presidential candidate, Giuliani wants to erect a "technological fence" to secure the nation's borders and use high-tech ID cards to monitor the movements of "every noncitizen" in the country.
Giuliani, who holds a comfortable lead in Florida polls, comes across as a New York tough guy, and that makes me a little nervous. I think he may be the only GOP candidate who would bite the head off a chicken for a few votes. The former federal prosecutor and Big Apple mayor apparently thinks that dealing with America's enemies is like busting the Mafia or putting Times Square porn shops out of business. If you want shock and awe, at home and abroad, Giuliani of 9/11 fame is your candidate.
John McCain, whose campaign is running short on time and money, needs a miracle in New Hampshire if he is going to make it to Florida. He is not perfect, but he is the closest thing to a principled presidential candidate in either party. He has refused to pander to his party's conservative base in his support of immigration reform and free trade and his opposition to torture (it's a subject he knows firsthand from his days as a Vietnam prisoner of war). He has championed the unpopular troop surge in Iraq even as he has leveled blistering criticism at the Bush administration for its mismanagement of the war. His stance on Iraq has cost him his most-favored-candidate status among the commentariat and probably the presidency that once seemed within his reach.
We're hearing the horse to watch in the Republican race is the man from Hope, who is suddenly surging in Iowa. Both Mike Huckabee and Bill Clinton are from Hope, Ark. Both served as governor of their state before reaching for the White House. Both are charmers, perhaps the best campaigners in their respective parties. But I don't have a clue as to what kind of foreign policy Huckabee would pursue, and apparently, neither does he. We do know the ordained Baptist minister believes in creationism. If you are looking for a president who doesn't confuse religion and science, the man from Hope probably is not your man.
Fred Thompson, the former U.S. senator and actor, was riding high in the polls until he made his candidacy official. Now, he is close to being an also-ran. His plodding campaign lacks energy and focus, but at least he deserves credit for touching the so-called third rail of presidential politics - Social Security reform. Thompson proposes changing the way Social Security benefits are calculated by linking them to the increase in the cost of living rather than the growth in wages - a change that would mean smaller annual increases for Social Security recipients.
If none of the above appeals to you, there is Ron Paul, a Texas congressman with a strong and cranky libertarian streak. If you're in the market for a real antiwar candidate, he's your guy. He opposed the first Gulf War and the invasion of Iraq and voted against the Patriot Act. He wants to return to the gold standard, legalize drugs and revoke by constitutional amendment the automatic grant of citizenship to anyone born on U.S. soil.
You have to admit, even though none of them has admitted seeing a UFO, the Republican presidential field is a more interesting variety pack than the Democratic lineup of conventional politicians.