The ABM Vote: Anybody But McCain

With sturdy Fred Thompson gone from the GOP race, and Gov. Huckabee fading, Governor Romney and Mayor Giuliani remain in contention to capture the ”ABM” vote:  Anybody But McCain. Each of the two have strengths that will make the choice of just one of them a challenge in the weeks lefts before Super Tuesday and the lesser dates in February that will dominate the choice of the nominee.  At the same time, each of them has the same weakness, that is, history.  To nominate either of them would be unprecedented for the Republican Party not because of their politics, or character, but because of their proud and clear self-descriptions — Mitt Romney as a capitalist, and Rudy Giuliani as a New York mayor.

Mitt Romney is a very smart man, and his remark on the very day of greatest market turmoil is a measure of his experience in the world of free enterprise:

“I can tell you from my own personal experience that every time I’ve seen things really get scary and the markets really collapse that I put aside that fear for a moment and say, ‘Ah-ha, is this a buying opportunity?’ Because my experience has always been what goes down, comes back up.”

Everything is right about this observation, from the advice to buy when there’s blood in the street to the long-term regard for sound investments in growth.  At the same time, Mr. Romney also identifies himself as completely a capitalist bull.  This is a traditional weakness when you are running for POTUS.  There has never been a successful nominee of either party who identified himself primarily as a capitalist.  A century ago, such a title would have pushed the candidate into the Carnegie-Morgan-Rockefeller division of the GOP and would have been ruinous at the general election.  Carnegie cost Harrison in 1892; and Morgan and Wall Street likely cost Taft in 1912.  Even the Bull Moose himself, T.R., fled capitalism when he ran as a breakaway in 1912. 

Half a century ago, Governor Romney’s remark would have associated himself with the men in the gray flannel suits, the corporation man, and this became a negative on the campaign trail after the travails of former Ford boss McNamara with the Kennedy Administration, and even was a drag on Governor Romney’s former American Motors boss father in the 1964 GOP. Bluntly, there is no precedent for the electorate to choose a “capitalist tool” over a military man like McCain. If and when it happens, Mitt Romney will be the new mold all by himself (Willkie is an outlier and unclassifiable even as a Republican), and will introduce a new phase to the GOP that has avoided the Wall Street mantle for its choices for one hundred years.

With Mayor Giuliani there is the historical weakness that the GOP has never chosen a New York City official for a nominee.  That too would be unprecedented.  After Garfield’s horrible end, a lingering death from assassination, the former Collector of the Port of New York Chester Arthur served out the term; however he did not run for election, and this does not qualify as precedent.  TR himself might satisfy except for the fact that he added governor of New York and vice-president to his profile before he ascended by the accident of assassination and won re-election accordingly.

What’s wrong with a mayor of the largest city becoming a Republican nominee?  Chiefly, it’s because New York City is a Democratic stronghold.  It voted against Lincoln twice and has voted against as many Republicans as it can find since.  Rudy Giuliani is an Achilles in the Troy of the Democrats.  He is an exception to everything about the Republican Party’s history.   What makes him colorful and effective in New York also makes him over the top and even shocking to the GOP states, and might make him unacceptable to the ABM crowd that identifies immigration and abortion as touchstones. 
If and when Mr. Giuliani becomes the Republican nominee, it will be so surprising that the party may have to rename itself something up to date, such as the Grand Old Borough.

When Bob Novak writes that the Republican elite is struggling to accept that John McCain is the party’s likely nominee, after these may years of friction and food fighting between the Arizona senator and the conservative base, it has more to do with accepting the weight of party history than with discovering how to live with the unimaginable. 

Republican.  History is a mighty river.  It flows where it wants to and it wears down any obstacle.  What old school John McCain has on his side right now is that his major opponents are new, much too new, and they’re swimming against the current.


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