In less than three weeks, voters will begin to have their say. Among Republicans we have a five man race in which any of them can win. The eventual nominee likely will face either a bloodied Hillary Clinton (who has reminded voters how negative and aggressive the Clinton machine can be) or an utterly untested and naïve Barack Obama who seems blissfully unaware of the dangers America faces. How would any of the top GOP contenders would position themselves against either Clinton or Obama for the general election?
Any would offer a contrast with the Democrats on the economy. The Democrats, as previewed in Charlie Rangel’s mother of all tax bills, are itching to raise taxes. On Iraq both Hillary and Obama argue for withdrawal of American forces from Iraq regardless of the circumstances. All of the GOP top contenders vow to get the job done. Hillary and Obama can be counted on to appoint judges who will continue to meddle in social policy while the Republicans will seek judges who, well, stick to judging. Finally, Hillary and Obama will promise to “end the gridlock” while the GOP nominee can argue that it would be dangerous to give the White House to the Democrats so long as Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi are on the loose. A veto pen must be at the ready, the GOP nominee will argue, to prevent their agenda of retreat and profligacy from coming to fruition.
These stark policy choices put the Republicans on sound footing. Moreover, each of the top contenders brings unique talents and experiences that further boost the GOP’s prospects of retaining the White House.
Mike Huckabee has a tough as nails immigration plan and a sunny disposition that appeals to average voters. If Huckabee is the nominee there will be a clear choice: Democrats who can’t bring themselves to deprive illegal aliens of drivers’ licenses or Huckabee’s enforcement only plan. If alternative to Huckabee is a Democrat who offers amnesty and drivers licenses to illegal aliens, Huckabee will find most of the country on his side. On a broader level, this is one Republican Hillary and Obama will have difficulty painting as “mean spirited” or “elitist.” His appeal to ordinary Americans has lifted him in the GOP primary race and will be even more effective in the general election as he describes he devotion to education and concern that all Americans have an opportunity to advance. Singing from a populist playbook he leaves little material for the Democrats.
As for Mitt Romney, he offers something no Democrat does: a sharp business mind with a record of accomplishment. If Huckabee offers hope, Romney can best Democrats in the clear-eyed realism department. He can reassure voters that now is the time for a tight-fisted businessman, not a big spender. Reforming broken government is high on the list of concerns for Republicans but also for Independents whose votes will be needed to win. The man who saved the Olympics and turned around businesses will match up nicely against an opponent who never fixed so much as a leaky faucet. If his opponent is Hillary the choice will be stark between a candidate who has lived a scandal-free life and one who has been enmeshed in scandal her entire political career.
Rudy Giuliani in a general election can argue that the justly-maligned Iowa debate moderator Carolyn Washburn had it wrong: foreign policy is the most important issue of our time. His strongest pitch is that there is no one tougher or more feared by America’s foes than he and his opponents have neither the will nor the intention to stare down those who would do us harm. Like Romney he can point to his executive experience and record of governing in a Democrat controlled government as evidence he can restore fiscal sanity and competency to government. On a tactical level he poses perhaps the thorniest problem for the Democrats who will have to defend ground in Connecticut, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington and even Illinois and California, using up valuable time and resources not usually expended to secure these states’ electoral votes.
Fred Thompson would offer a solid contrast of Republican principles but also one of political courage to match up against a Democratic opponent. Unlike Hillary, he is willing to level with Americans and describe his social security plan. Unlike Obama, he will tell voters there is no immediate and easy end to Iraq. As maturity personified and someone who came to politics late in life he cuts a very different figure than the grasping Democrats whose entire adult lives have been spent in public office and the quest for higher office.
With John McCain as the nominee the choice will be clear: someone with decades of military and foreign policy experience or some with practically none. Unlike his Democratic opponents, he actually advocated an Iraq policy that improved our chances for success. Not one to be labeled a “yes man” for the administration McCain is unlikely to be burdened by the shortcomings of the Bush administration. Moreover, his stalwart attack on earmarks and profligate spending cast him, ironically, in the role of the outsider while Hillary and Obama defend their laundry list of government programs.
So long as the GOP contenders maintain a devotion to securing the border first, strengthening free markets and fighting Islamic terrorists each will be well positioned to retain the White House. Conservatives can also take comfort in the knowledge that, despite the naysayers in the MSM, the GOP field is a talented one that matches up well against the competition. 2008 may be a winning year after all.