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The Changing Republican Race

The possible entry of Fred Thompson into the Republican presidential race seems to have changed the standings. The USA Today/Gallup poll taken March 23-25 shows Rudy Giuliani with 31 percent of the vote, down from 44 percent March 2-4, and Thompson, a new name on the list, at 12 percent. Similar results come from the Rasmussen poll announced today. Giuliani still leads, with 26 percent, but that's down from 35 percent in the poll released March 27. Thompson, again a new entry, is at 14 percent. In both polls, John McCain's standing is essentially unchanged and so is Newt Gingrich's. Mitt Romney--the fundraising champ--is in single digits (only 3 percent in Gallup, 8 percent in Rasmussen). One more poll result: Thompson has replaced Giuliani in first place in the 10th week of the Pajamas Media online straw poll. Giuliani had run first on the Republican side in the first nine weeks. But apply several grains of salt. This straw poll doesn't pretend to be a random-sample poll, and look at the numbers: Thompson 46, Ron Paul 27, Giuliani 9. And Intrade numbers now put Giuliani's chances at 34 percent, Thompson's at 22, and McCain's at 20. At one point, McCain was 45 points ahead of Giuliani on Intrade; Giuliani's surge in February and March changed that. Now Thompson's possible entry has changed the odds.

What's going on here? One thing is that the labels we have used for many years now to characterize Republican presidential candidates are irrelevant. Giuliani is described as a liberal on cultural issues and Thompson a conservative, yet some of Giuliani's previous voters seem ready to go over to Thompson. Yes, they may be cultural conservatives who now are moving to a candidate they think more in line with their views. But they must also be people who believe Giuliani and Thompson have something in common that they'd like to see in the White House. What is that?

Strong leadership at a time when we're at risk of attack, I think. A case in point is Thompson, partly as a result of his work as an actor, partly by his recent substituting for Paul Harvey, but also because of his by now long career in public life. One can note that Thompson, unlike Giuliani, has never served in real life in an executive position, unlike the other Thompson, former Wisconsin Gov. and Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, who announced his own candidacy this week. But Tommy Thompson is much less well known to voters, and his folksy Midwestern style does not project the aura of strength that Fred Thompson's bluff southern style does. Tommy Thompson did more than any other governor to advance welfare reform, starting in 1987, and Wisconsin's welfare rolls were cut by more than 90 percent. He showed the way for the rest of the nation; Giuliani as mayor of New York hired one of Thompson's top welfare administrators, Jason Turner, to run the city welfare department. On this issue Giuliani was following in Thompson's footsteps.

Irrelevant Asides Department: At a time when U.S. attorneys are news, both Giuliani and Fred Thompson have experience in U.S. attorneys' offices. Giuliani, as is well known, served as U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York--probably the most important U.S. attorney's office in the nation. Thompson, before he became Howard Baker's counsel on the Senate Watergate committee, was an assistant U.S. attorney in the Middle District of Tennessee, based in Nashville. In 1969-71, when I was a law clerk in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, I used to watch him argue appeals in moonshine cases in the Courthouse in Cincinnati. He struck me as not particularly impressive or well prepared, but then the only issue in most of these cases was the validity of the search, and there wasn't much question about that.

Closing note: But Rudy is still running strong, in the primary and the general, in Florida, according to this Quinnipiac poll

The Changing Matthew Dowd

There's been a lot of buzz around town about the Sunday New York Times story on Matthew Dowd, the chief strategist for the 2004 Bush campaign who now says he regrets supporting Bush and wishes John Kerry had won. Most of the story has focused on the politics of this and has ignored what I think are the most telling parts of the story. Here's the sentence that got me:

"In the last several years, as he has gradually broken his ties with the Bush camp, one of Mr. Dowd's premature twin daughters died, he was divorced, and he watched his oldest son prepare for deployment to Iraq as an Army intelligence specialist fluent in Arabic."

I remember having lunch with Dowd near the Bush-Cheney '04 headquarters in Arlington, Va., sometime in the 2003-04 campaign period. It turns out we had some things in common: He had grown up in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., in a Republican household, one of nine (or some large number) of children. I had grown up in next-door Birmingham, with parents who voted for Eisenhower and, in 1960, Nixon for president and went to a private school in Bloomfield Hills, where the straw vote in the 1960 election was 92 percent for Nixon and 8 percent for Kennedy. (In the most recent straw polls, the school went for Gore and Kerry.) I worked for the Democratic pollster Peter Hart from 1974 to 1981. Dowd worked for a firm with close ties to Democrat Lloyd Bentsen before he went over to Bush (for reasons described in the Times article).

Dowd mentioned at the lunch that his wife had just given birth prematurely to twins and that (my memory is a little hazy on this) they were still in the hospital and in precarious shape. When I read the quoted sentence, I thought: This man's life has fallen into terrible ruins. To watch a child die, to have a marriage break up, to see another son (presumably from an earlier marriage) risk his life in Iraq--this must be heartbreaking. How much disaster can one person take? It's Book of Job country. In our lunch, Dowd talked of possibly running for statewide office in Texas, as a Republican (just about the only way you can win there these days). In the Times article he is quoted as saying, "I wouldn't be surprised if I wasn't walking around in Africa or South America doing something that was like mission work." Some conservative bloggers have scoffed at this. I say, Give the guy a break. His whole world has crumbled around him. He probably thinks constantly about escaping to a whole 'nother world.

The idea that he's flailing around out of deep personal anguish is strengthened for me by the fact that he cites as one reason for his disillusionment with Bush the president's refusal to meet with war protester Cindy Sheehan. But Bush had already met with Sheehan once, and as subsequent news coverage has made clear, Sheehan is one of those war protesters who is, in Glenn Reynolds's phrase, "not against the war. She's on the other side." Times readers may not know that, but Matthew Dowd should.

James Taranto in yesterday's Opinion Journal's Best of the Web led off with an item he called the love affairs of Matthew Dowd and Andrew Sullivan with George W. Bush. He quotes Dowd:

"It's almost like you fall in love," he said. "I was frustrated about Washington, the inability for people to get stuff done and bridge divides. And this guy's personality--he cared about education and taking a different stand on immigration."

Mr. Dowd said, in retrospect, he was in denial.

When you fall in love like that," he said, "and then you notice some things that don't exactly go the way you thought, what do you do? Like in a relationship, you say 'No no, no, it'll be different.'"

And Sullivan:

"What Dowd calls a "love-affair" is sometimes hard to walk away from cleanly or even recognize as a nightmare before it is too late.... The Federal Mariage Amendment obviously hit me in the solar plexus as well. It felt like a gratuitously vicious attack on a minority and a violation of conservatism. I knew my relationship with this president was over by the beginning of 2004."

And then opines, "Something tells us that if we were to ask President Bush to reflect upon his love affairs with Matthew Dowd and Andrew Sullivan, he would look at us as if he thought we'd lost our mind. Are we wrong to think there is something deeply weird about grown men who have trouble distinguishing between politics and affairs of the heart?" That's a bit too snarky for me. Dowd's case I've already discussed. As for Sullivan, he spent an enormous amount of time and emotional intensity in writing a book making a conservative case for same-sex marriage, and he edited and contributed to another book on the same subject. He made a strong and serious case, and I think he really believed that he could persuade Americans--and conservative Americans--to change their minds. In particular, I think he hoped that he could persuade George W. Bush and Karl Rove not to make an issue of Bush's opposition to same-sex marriage. And until the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts's 4-3 decision discovering that the commonwealth's 18th-century Constitution had protected same-sex marriage all along, Bush and Rove did what Sullivan wanted. They downplayed the issue and simply noted (as John Kerry and Hillary Rodham Clinton have done and continue to do) that they think marriage is between a man and a woman. But Bush felt impelled to act after the Massachusetts decision and supported the constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

Sullivan, I think, was heartbroken. His hopes had been shattered. His lofty dream had not come true. Support for same-sex marriage has increased among the public, in part I think because of the persuasive arguments made by Sullivan in his book and Jonathan Rauch in his. But it clearly doesn't have a majority in most states (it seems to run about even in Massachusetts and Vermont, two states that have had either same-sex marriage or civil unions), and all the state ballot measures banning same-sex marriage have passed, except in Arizona, where the ballot measure was attacked as blocking civil unions (which majorities in at least some states do support). My regret is that the Massachusetts court didn't go 4-3 the other way. That would have left an environment in which the arguments of Sullivan, Rauch, and other advocates of same-sex marriage could have a chance to persuade people. Polling suggests that majorities or near-majorities of young voters support same-sex marriage. If this issue turns out to be one of those cultural issues on which people stick to the opinions they've developed when they are young, then in time the voters and their elected representatives may well come to sanction same-sex marriage. But efforts to legislate that will be blocked by the constitutional amendments passed in some states in response to the Massachusetts court decision.

By Michael Barone