John McCain Is Running For President

I know this is the most shocking news of the year, but a certain Arizona Senator announced today that he’s running for president. You can read the whole speech here. One thing that I found interesting is that it provides a preview of how McCain intends to distance himself from President Bush without going so far that it would alienate the Republican base. Given the president’s low approval ratings, this is a tight rope that all the candidates will have to walk.

McCain said:

“We all know the war in Iraq has not gone well. We have made mistakes and we have paid grievously for them. We have changed the strategy that failed us, and we have begun to make a little progress. But in the many mistakes we have made in this war, a few lessons have become clear. America should never undertake a war unless we are prepared to do everything necessary to succeed, unless we have a realistic and comprehensive plan for success, and unless all relevant agencies of government are committed to that success. We did not meet this responsibility initially. And we must never repeat that mistake again.

“We must also prepare, far better than we have, to respond quickly and effectively to another terrorist attack or natural calamity. When Americans confront a catastrophe, natural or man-made, they have a right to expect basic competence from their government. They won’t accept that firemen and policemen are unable to communicate with each other in an emergency because they don’t have the same radio frequency. They won’t accept government’s failure to deliver bottled water to dehydrated babies or rescue the infirm from a hospital with no electricity. They won’t accept substandard care and indifference for wounded veterans.

“That’s not good enough for America. And when I’m President, it won’t be good enough for me.

He used the last line as a refrain throughout the speech, as he went on to discuss spending, entitlements, taxes and dependence on foreign energy sources.

In honor of his campaign announcement, his friends over at the Club for Growth are showing him some love.

Ron Paul Says He’s the One To Unite the GOP

Texas Congressman Ron Paul, the anti-war conservative and libertarian cult figure, dropped by Grover Norquist’s Wednesday meeting to discuss why “the Republican Party is in a lot of trouble,” and why he’s the presidential candidate who can get the party out of it. Paul, who just signed Norquist’s taxpayer protection pledge, said that in order to win a candidate has to be able to put together a coalition of Christian conservatives and economic libertarians. On foreign policy, his main point of departure from the Republican base, Paul said that traditionally, the Republican Party has been one of peace and it has historical won elections by beating Democrats who got America too involved overseas. Republicans cannot win in 2008 by sticking with a position on Iraq that is opposed by 70 percent of Americans, he said. In addition, Paul advocated talking to Iran and Syria, and said that the people who accuse those who oppose the war of being isolationists are actually “diplomatic isolationists.” Paul also said that our current policy toward Israel does the Israelis no favors, and if we stopped sending them money it would encourage them to speak with “moderate Arabs.” The congressman did not elaborate on which moderate Arabs he had in mind.

The Leaping Giant

The NY Times profiles Walter Thomas, a mountain of a defensive tackle with only two games of college playing experience in the last two years who is turning the heads of NFL scouts before this weekend’s draft because of his combination of freakish size and agility:

Big Walt, as he is known, is a 6-foot-5 defensive tackle who wears a size XXXXXXL jersey. He bench presses 475 pounds and squats 800 pounds. Weight lifters at the Galveston Health and Racquet Club stop their workouts to watch him.

Football teams everywhere are filled with big men, but many of them can barely move. Thomas has run the 40-yard dash in 4.9 seconds, faster than some N.F.L. tight ends. He is the rare tackle who can catch a running back from behind.

“The guy is a dadgum Russian gymnast,” said Randy Pippin, the head coach at Northwest Mississippi.

Thomas’s flexibility has become part of his lore. He does handstands and handsprings, broad jumps and cartwheels. When he gets excited, he will do a back flip.

Stay tuned.

Thompson Debuts in the YouTube Wars

An AmSpecBlog commenter has pointed out a recently uploaded YouTube clip of Fred Thompson expressing his views on abortion in what I assume* to be a 1994 U.S. Senate debate. Because his historical views on abortion have been the subject of a lot of discussion on this blog, I decided to transcribe his remarks in full:

QUESTION: Mr. Thompson, do you support or oppose laws that prohibit abortions for convenience?

THOMPSON: I do not believe that the federal government ought to be involved in that process. I think that we should not have federal funding for abortion. I think that states ought to be able to have reasonable controls over that in terms of parental notification, which I believe my opponent has opposed in times past. As far as notice requirements and things like that are concerned, I believe those are reasonable. I think that when you get right down to the question you posed: should a government come in and criminalize let’s say a young girl and her parents and her doctor, which as aiders and abeters that would be involved? I think not. I think that problem is going to be ultimately resolved, and I think favorably, in the hearts and minds and communities and families across America. We’re learning more about it, and what it does to women and so forth. And I think that battle will be won, but it shouldn’t be a political football, and it shouldn’t be won in the courts.

If this is representative of the types of statements Thompson was making during the period in which he was considered pro-choice, I think he’ll be able to handle the abortion issue rather deftly. This is nowhere near as damaging as the clips that have surfaced of Mitt Romney in 1994 and 2002, and if anything, the clip shows Thompson has been a longtime advocate of federalism. Also, his statement that “we’re learning more about it” gives him wiggle room to say that he has become more pro-life over time (especially given his babies’ sonograms).

*I assume this video clip is from 1994 because Thompson is identified onscreen as a “U.S. Senate Candidate” rather than as a U.S. Senator, so this made me conclude that it had to be from his initial Senate run.

Fear Obama

I just read the prepared text of Barack Obama’s foreign policy address in Chicago yesterday, and while I disagree with the policy implications, I think it’s quite effective as a political speech and reinforces my belief that he isn’t just a flash in the pan, but a formidable presidential candidate.

Substantively, the speech was anchored by five main foreign policy points: ending the Iraq War, increasing the size of the military, conducting a international effort to stop the spread of WMD, rebuilding global alliances, and doubling foreign aid to $50 billion by 2012 as part of an effort to combat the “root causes” of terrorism.

Though I did not hear it delivered, the text was not dominated by the type of angry anti-Bush rhetoric that often overwhelms Democratic political speeches. To be sure, he did say: “This President may occupy the White House, but for the last six years the position of leader of the free world has remained open.” But much of the speech wasn’t about bashing the president or blaming America, but on celebrating the tradition of America’s leadership role in the world. “I still believe that America is the last, best hope of Earth,” he said. “We just have to show the world why this is so.” Toward the end of the speech he said: “Now it’s our moment to lead – our generation’s time to tell another great American story.”

Another thing that Obama has going for him is he is a candidate with a very clear brand–his message of spreading hope and opportunity is integrated into both his foreign and domestic policy, and is rooted in his life story.

By no means am I jumping on the Obama bandwagon, but I think conservatives have largely underestimated him. Conservatives have been so geared up for a Hillary Clinton candidacy, that they run the risk of getting caught flat-footed by Obama. And Republicans cannot hope to win by making hay out of his middle name, connecting him to a madrassa, or assuming he’s a fad that will quickly pass. Clinton may have a powerful political machine behind her, but I fear her less because she doesn’t make progressive ideas sound very good. If she were elected and sought to implement liberal policies, Republicans could portray her as a radical and thwart her efforts as they did on HillaryCare in 1993/94. Obama’s charisma, oratorical skills, and sunny optimism would not only make him tough to beat in a general election, but were he elected, he’d be a much stronger advocate for progressive policies. He has the ability to make liberalism sound appealing in the way Reagan made conservatism sound appealing.

When I talk to conservatives who are dismissive of Obama, I am reminded of that Bob Dylan line: Something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is.

More Huckabee

In addition to taking jabs at his rivals this morning, Mike Huckabee explained some of his policy views.

He said that his criteria for taxes are that they should be: flatter, fairer, finite and family friendly. Typically, when people talk about a flat tax, they do so in the context of discussing tax simplification. I asked Huckabee how he could reconcile making the tax code simple with a desire to make it more family friendly, which often involves tax credits. (Personally, I believe in the principle of tax neutrality, i.e., that the tax code should be used exclusively for raising revenue, not for social engineering experiments). But Huckabee disagreed that there was an inherent contradiction between making the tax code family friendly and making it flatter, and pointed to ending the marriage penalty as an example of a policy that accomplishes both.

When discussing gun control in the wake of Virginia Tech, he invoked the Bible, as he did on several other occasions. He said when Cain killed Abel, God didn’t call for “club control.” God understood the issue “was evil in the heart of Cain, not evil in the substance of the club,” Huckabee said.

On foreign policy, in a break from the Bush Administration, he called for talks with Iran and Syria. Huckabee said that talking isn’t the same as negotiating, and if we were to at least talk to Iran, even if it didn’t lead anywhere, it would give the U.S. more credibility with the international community if we eventually had to take military action against Iran. He also said we should have more discussions with Russia. And, tugging at the heart strings of your humble correspondent, he quoted from the Godfather Part II: “Keep your friends close, keep your enemies closer.”

For a take on his comments about the South Korean free trade agreement, check out the Club for Growth. Human Events has more on the Huckabee talk here.

Fred Thompson Puts The Smack Down on Ponnuru

Fred Thompson looks more and more like he’s in the early stages of an unconventional run for the presidency. Today on RedState, Thompson responds to a Ramesh Ponnuru column from last Friday in which Ponnuru criticized Thompson’s support for tort reform. Kudos to Thompson for tackling Ponnuru’s points head on, and offering a thorough response devoid of the usual spin. His post ends with an eloquent defense of federalism:

As I understood it, states were supposed to be laboratories that would compete with each other, conducting civic experiments according to the wishes of their citizens. The model for federal welfare reform was the result of that process. States also allow for of diverse viewpoints that exist across the country. There is no reason that Tennesseans and New Yorkers should have to agree on everything (and they don’t)…

Adhering to the principles of Federalism is not easy. As one who was on the short end of a couple of 99-1 votes, I can personally attest to it. Federalism sometimes restrains you from doing things you want to do. You have to leave the job to someone else – who may even choose not to do it at all. However, if conservatives abandon this valued principle that limits the federal government, or if we selectively use it as a tool with which to reward our friends and strike our enemies, then we will be doing a disservice to our country as well as the cause of conservatism.

If Thompson doesn’t end up running for president, he’ll make a great blogger.

UPDATE: Ponnuru strikes back.

Huckabee Says He’d Be Best Against Hillary

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee said this morning that he understands Hillary Clinton better than any other Republican candidate in the presidential race, and thus would be her most formidable opponent in a general election.

Speaking to reporters at an American Spectator Newsmaker Breakfast held at Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, Huckabee also took thinly-veiled shots at some of his Republican rivals in an effort to establish himself as the most conservative candidate.

“I have a consistency about what I’ve said and what I’ve done that is unmatched by virtually any other candidate,” Huckabee said in a clear dig at Mitt Romney. “There’s not going to be any YouTube moments of me saying I was once pro-choice and now I’m pro-life. Once for same-sex relationships now I’m against it. Once I was for the Brady and assault ban treaties, now I’m against it.”

Although not by name, he also took a shot at John McCain for his previous opposition to the Bush tax cuts: “I’m not one who just decided to be for the Bush tax cuts because I am running for president. If you want to check the record you’ll find that some candidates have had some recent adult epiphanies.”

In a likely reference to Rudy Giuliani, Huckabee said: “The worst argument I’ve heard is that we need to nominate somebody who is left-of-center, because that way America will vote for them…Do Republicans really want to go out and vote for someone who is more of a Democrat than a Republican?”

When pressed by Terry Jeffrey as to whether a good Christian who opposes same-sex relationships and abortion should vote for a third party candidate if Republicans nominated Giuliani, Huckabee warned that if Christians just vote for whoever is the Republican nominee rather than the president “they become just another partisan special interest group.” He said he considers himself a “Christian first, and a Republican second.” Asked whether that meant he himself would vote for a third party candidate if Giuliani were the nominee, he was evasive. Huckabee said that by nominating himself, the party wouldn’t have to face such a choice. Though he complimented Giuliani’s accomplishments in New York City, he was dismissive of Giuliani’s chances of capturing the nomination. “I don’t think we’re going there, I really don’t.”

Meanwhile, he said his experience with the Clintons in Arkansas would make him the strongest Republican candidate against Hillary.

“Nobody knows her better who is in the Republican race for president,” Huckabee said. “Nobody would be able to wage a more effective and skilled campaign against her.”

I’m off to another event now, but I will have more details on some of his policy views later in the day.

Fred Thompson Sighting

Ran into Fred Thompson after last night’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner. He shook some hands and signed a few autographs, but didn’t look like he was enjoying himself. He was preoccupied and seemed like he wanted to be somewhere else. When John Tabin asked him whether he was going to run, Thompson said, “We haven’t decided that yet.”