A Race Nobody Can Win

So the latest polls have Mike Huckabee up an implausible nineteen points in Iowa and four points nationally. But he can't win, right? I mean, he's vulnerable on practically every non-social issue, he has a variety of skeletons in his closet, his policy team seems more or less nonexistent, he still doesn't have any money, and he has most of the GOP establishment united against him. He doesn't have a prayer - or maybe that's all he has.

Except, of course, that none of his rivals can win either. If you look at the field, every candidate seems to have near-disqualifying weaknesses (a point Larison has been making for months, I believe), which helps explain why nobody seems capable of getting above 30-35 percent in any national or state-level poll. McCain is still poison to a large chunk of the base and probably doesn't have enough money to capitalize even if he wins New Hampshire - and if he loses there, he's cooked. Mitt Romney is running on a record that would have made him a moderate Democrat in any state except hyper-liberal Massachussetts. Rudy Giuliani is running on a record that would have made him a moderate Democrat in any place except hyper-liberal New York City. Fred Thompson is more ideologically appropriate, but he's lived down to his lackluster record as a politician by running a remarkably lousy and (perhaps unremarkably) lazy campaign. Ron Paul is, well, Ron Paul.

Note that I'm not saying the Republican field is weak, exactly. In a certain sense, it's the most accomplished primary field of any major party in a long time; indeed, you could argue that almost all the GOP candidates (including Huckabee) have more impressive resumes than the three leading Democrats, who between them can boast about ten years in the Senate and the weird quasi-accomplishment of being First Lady. It's just that ideologically-speaking, none of the Republican contenders make nearly as much sense as candidates for the nomination of the present-day GOP as Obama, Clinton and Edwards do as candidates for the nomination of the present-day Democratic Party.

This probably explains why Democratic voters are happier with their candidates than Republicans; it also may help explain why the leading Republicans poll better in general-election matchups than you'd expect, given that 2008 looks poised to be a Democratic year. Say what you will about Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, and John McCain, but judged purely on their accomplishments in life, they're much more impressive figures than, say, a Barack Obama. (And I find Obama's accomplishments impressive!) I don't expect that general-election voters will judge on resumes alone, which is why I expect the Democrats to take the White House. But it's worth keeping this discrepancy in mind once one of the candidates who can't possibly win the GOP nomination actually does.