Frank Rich is right to note that Obama is a far more formidable candidate in a general election than Hillary Clinton; and that the old-guard GOP elite is desperately hoping to run against her next year. The remarkable flip-side to this is the respect for Obama on the right of center - and burgeoning support among Independents:
Despite the thuggish name-calling of a few right-wing die-hards (e.g., Rush Limbaugh mocking “Barack Hussein Odumbo”), the dirty secret of a number of conservatives is that they are disarmed by Mr. Obama even though they know his record is more liberal than Mrs. Clinton’s.
The drumbeat of approval has been remarkably steady. Last year Mark McKinnon, a top adviser to both the 2000 and 2004 Bush campaigns, admiringly called Mr. Obama “a walking, talking hope machine” who “may reshape American politics.” Andrew Ferguson devoted pages in The Weekly Standard to raving about “Dreams From My Father,” Mr. Obama’s memoir, before dismissing its political sequel, “The Audacity of Hope.” Rich Lowry, the editor of National Review, keeps trying to write anti-Obama articles but they’re so mild that they never really contradict his judgment of a year ago that the senator from Illinois “is the only presidential candidate from either party about whom there is a palpable excitement.” Even Tom Tancredo, the most virulent immigration demagogue of the G.O.P. presidential field, has spoken warmly of Mr. Obama.
The key is that the old red-blue, right-left boomer paradigm is fading; Obama offers exhausted Republicans a way out: a Democrat they can vote for. Many do not actually like the party they have become, and want to move forward into a less nasty, cramped and vicious direction. That's why Huckabee is rising too.
What do they have in common? Huckabee is a conservative whose character appeals to liberals; Obama is a liberal whose temperament appeals to conservatives. Both represent a deep desire to get past the hideous, nasty polarization of the last few years. Obama doesn't despise conservatives the way Clinton does. Huckabee doesn't repel Democrats the way Giuliani and Romney do.
How about an Obama-Huckabee general election? It could happen. It's what this country wants: "Goodbye To All That."
(Photos: Huckabee by Stephanie Kuykendal/AFP/Getty. Obama by Scott Morgan/Getty.)