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A GOP Clark?


As with Publius, it’s occurred to me looking at the less-than-rapturous reception to Fred Thompson in some of the blogosphere’s conservative precincts that there are may be a loose parallel between Clark’s campaign in ’04 and Thompson in ’08. The surprising early decline in support for the war created an obvious structural problem for the Dems in the last primary campaign: the best strategy was probably to make a strong case that the Iraq War was a counterproductive strategy that undermined national security and the struggle with terrorism. but a candidate that supported the war initially would be fatally compromised in trying to make this case and there was good reason to believe that although he had the right position Howard Dean probably wasn’t the ideal candidate to make the case. Clark — a Southern four-star general who had the right position on the war — seemed right on paper to address this, but his amateur-night campaign made that inoperative. (The great unanswered question is whether Clark had few innate political skills or whether he was just too green. I frankly lean towards the former; the very fact of his bizarrely late entry and decision to skip Iowa when running against two New Englanders doesn’t suggest a political mastermind.) Thompson, similarly, fills an obvious structural void: a plain vanilla Southern conservative acceptable to both pro-business conservatives and their cultural reactionary junior partners. But while unlike Clark he’s run a successful campaign (although getting elected as a Republican in Tennessee isn’t exactly rocket science), I strongly suspect that his good-on-paper candidacy will prove less effective in practice.

Of course, if this turns out to be true, the structural void is still there: somebody who would be disqualified by some factor in a normal year has to win by default. One implication of this is that –while I still don’t think he will win — my categorical assertions that Giulani has no chance are probably mistaken. Part of me is even tempted to say that even McCain could pull off a miracle Kerryesque comeback, although the fact that Steve Hayes and David Broder see it coming means that it’s probably safe to keep writing it off. If it’s not Romney, I still think that Huckabee may be able to appease the business wing of the party enough to be the next most likely nominee.

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