Re: Iraq Encouragement

I attended a panel discussion on the surge back in March that featured Kenneth Pollack (see my post here), and while it is true that he supported the strategy, he was very skeptical that it would work. The reason he gave for supporting it at the time was that the surge was the only option on the table that, if successful, could prevent a full-blown civil war. To him, the risks associated with withdrawal were greater than the risks of trying the surge. So, Jim is right to point out that he has been a supporter of the war, and not some lefty who had a road to Damascus moment when he visited Iraq. However, by the same token, he has had a very measured approach to Iraq, and should not be seen as some ra-ra pro-war Bill Kristol type.

I think all of us war supporters should heed Jim’s criticism of “the eagerness to cry ‘turning point’ whenever there is any encouraging data without waiting to see how long it lasts.” Indeed, from the fall of Saddam’s statue, to the capture of Saddam himself, to the elections, to forming a government, to the killing of Zarqawi, to various months in which violence decreased, those of us who support the war have gotten our hopes up before, only to be disappointed when a wave of new violence breaks out and the situation turns sour. I’m encouraged by some of these positive reports, but I’ll only start thinking of it as a “turning point” if the situation continues to improve through at least the end of the year, and real political progress gets made. With that said, I’d love to wait “to see how long it lasts.” Unfortunately, Democrats in Congress and opponents of the war have already declared the war a lost cause, and they want to start withdrawing our troops ASAP, without giving the surge a chance. So, to me, the question is not whether we are at a turning point. The question is whether there are enough encouraging signs in Iraq to justify giving Gen. Petraeus more time to implement the new strategy. I think there are.

Is Rudy Leading in the Early States?

The conventional wisdom is that Mitt Romney is the favorite in Iowa and New Hampshire, and that he hopes to build momentum by winning those states, while Rudy Giuliani is looking beyond the early states in hopes of winning Florida and the big states that are up for grabs on February 5.

Today, the Giuliani campaign is touting a new ARG poll actually showing Giuliani with thin leads in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. A few cautionary notes. When I say “thin leads,” I mean it. In the polls, Giuliani is only up one point over Romney in Iowa and New Hampshire, and one point over Fred Thompson in South Carolina. Also, most of the polls I have seen have shown Romney with comfortable leads in Iowa and New Hampshire, and until I see more polls, I’ll still consider him the frontrunner in those states.

With that said, if these ARG poll numbers get replicated in other polls, it will represent a major problem for Romney. Given that he consistently has weak showings nationally, the only justification for him being considered in the top tier is his strength in the early states. He has spent millions on television ads introducing himself to voters there, and Romney’s supporters have pointed to his movement in the polls as an example of what happens when people get to know Romney. But Giuliani just started placing radio ads in Iowa and New Hampshire this month, and he finds himself in the lead in both states. Compared with last month, Giuliani has gone up four points in Iowa (so has McCain), while Romney, who had made gains every month since February, dropped four points from where he was in June. In New Hampshire, meanwhile, Giuliani surged eight points since the last poll.

I’ll be watching closely for more Iowa and New Hampshire polls, and if any Romney supporters believe there’s a reason why the ARG poll should be discounted, let me know.

UPDATE: Jonathan Martin has video of Donna Sytek, Romney’s New Hampshire co-chair, saying it is “cloudy” whether Romney would win in the general election.

Rudy and Judi

If you visit the Vanity Fair website, right under video clips from Gisele Bundchen’s cover shoot, you’ll find this trashy hit piece on Judi/Judith Giuliani. Jim Geraghty has done a good job with the blow by blow, but I just wanted to cite one part that I found particularly indicative of the shoddy journalism, in which author Judy Bachrach speculates that there may be trouble brewing between Rudy and wife number three:

There have been other moments of vulnerability. At the close of the May Republican debate, Judith leapt onstage eagerly, her face beaming with delight. Giuliani, it was noted, appeared strangely disconcerted. “It did not look like he was happy to see her. It looked to me like he was estranged,” says Barrett. “He was cold.”

That Barrett would be Wayne Barrett, the Village Voice scribe who is pathologically obsessed with bringing down Giuliani, having already written two attack biographies on him, the first going after his father, and the second arguing that Giuliani’s image as a great leader on 9/11 was a myth. So, the author quotes this Barrett’s speculation as to what happened after the debate, and passes it off as if it’s evidence of deeper problems. Another source for the article, I might add, was her ex-husband Bruce Nathan.

There’s no denying that both Rudy and Judi have had messy personal lives, and I’m sure that will bother a certain portion of the electorate. But I admit that it’s difficult for me to assess how a tabloid story such as this may affect the election, because I never find this type of stuff very interesting.

Iraq and 2008

Gallup is out with a poll today on how much Americans trust the leading presidential candidates on major issues, and it has what I believe to be a significant finding that offers some hope for Republicans, and should worry Democrats. Despite President Bush’s low approval ratings and overwhelming public opposition to the war, the poll found that Americans trusted Rudy Giuliani and John McCain to handle the Iraq War slightly better than any of the leading Democrats. Specifically, 55 percent trusted both Giuliani and McCain, 54 percent trusted Obama, 51 percent trusted Clinton, and 50 percent trusted Edwards (just 39 percent trusted Thompson and 37 percent trusted Romney). What this suggests to me is that Americans are not necessarily looking for somebody in 2008 who opposes the war, but somebody who is competent. Because both Giuliani and McCain are well regarded by the general population, Americans are inclined to trust them on Iraq, even if they may disagree with their actual stances on the war. For Democratic candidates, this means that merely opposing the Iraq War will not be sufficient to earn American’s confidence.

To me, this poll also reinforces the electability case for Giuliani. If Republicans have any chance of winning in 2008, they have to choose a candidate whose own brand transcends the Republican brand, which is badly damaged. The public’s trust in Giuliani extends beyond his signature issue of terrorism (in which 69 percent trust him, more than any candidate on any issue). Giuliani is also the most trusted Republican on economic and healthcare issues. Based on this poll, you could also make a general election argument for McCain, who still performs competitively among the broad electorate. As for Romney and Thompson, it seems as though both of them perform as generic Republicans might, that is to say, not very well. Thompson still has an excuse. For Romney, the “low name recognition” defense for his weak showing in national polls is wearing thin.

Re: Thompson Fundraising

It’s worth noting that on a quarterly basis that would be less than John McCain raised in the second quarter. To be fair to Thompson, his candidacy is still in the “testing the waters” phase, and under typical circumstances, it may be impressive for a non-candidate to raise more than $3 million in a given month. On the other hand, Thompson has chosen to do things the way he has, and skyrocketed to the top tier by dipping his toes into the race late, at a time when the waters were inviting for a viable conservative alternative. There are advantages to “testing the waters” (and avoiding a lot of disclosure requirements), but this is another example of the disadvantages. While this may be a fine number under normal circumstances, given all of the buzz Thompson is generating, it will be portrayed as a disappointment.

Meanwhile, Dave Weigel comments on a Thomspon speech on Saturday:

On Saturday Thompson spoke to the American Legislative Exchange Council conference in Philadelphia and ditched his usual conservative sloganeering for a speech on federalism. Depending on who you ask it either was politely, gamely received or it was a snoozer that was easily upstaged by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. “We had to nudge a woman at our table to wake her up,” one attendee told me. Larry Eichel’s report in the Philadelphia Inquirer found people who liked the speech but in a very meta sense: “it takes courage to do something more thoughtful and philosophical in this sound-bite culture.” In other words: “it was boring but it’s what he needs to do.”

RE: Rudy Rx

I was on the conference call as well, and thought it would have been more useful if it were  held  after Giuliani's speech tomorrow morning, which would have allowed  his advisors to offer more details and enabled reporters  to ask more pointed questions. Much of what I heard, I liked–particularly about the opposition to mandates, and making it easier to purchase out of state healthcare. The Giuliani campaign cautions that while Rudy will be putting more meat on the bones tomorrow, he will not be unveiling a detailed, book-sized plan for healthcare at this point. Rather, this is just another step in the ongoing process of putting together a plan.

Politically, healthcare is  one area where Giuliani clearly has an opportunity to position himself to the right of Mitt Romney, whose Massachusetts universal healthcare plan imposed mandates. One of the biggest fears I have about a theoretical  Romney presidency is that he would try to push through a similar plan at the federal level, rounding up Republican support in Congress by making the argument that if we don't pass a "market-based" universal healthcare plan, we'll end up with socialized medicine, and making the political case that it would be a way for Republicans to eliminate the Democratic "advantage" on healthcare. If you recall, this is how the Medicare prescription drug plan got passed. In this sense, a Romney presidency may make universalized healthcare a more realistic possibility than a Clinton or Obama presidency, because Republicans would fight like wolves to stop any healthcare plan coming from a Democratic president. Romney has said that he wouldn't use Massachusetts as a model for healthcare reform at the federal level, but given his penchant for political expediency, I have no reason to believe that he would stick by that commitment if his pollsters advised him otherwise.

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Progress in Iraq

Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution, who have both been critical of President Bush’s handling of the war, have just come back from Iraq and have taken to the NY Times op-ed page to report genuine progress taking place. They note high morale among the troops, better cooperation between U.S. soldiers and their Iraqi counterparts, and more and more responsibilities being taken on by Iraqi security forces. They also note that “General Petraeus’s determination to hold areas until they are truly secure before redeploying units, and the increasing competence of the Iraqis has had another critical effect: no more whack-a-mole, with insurgents popping back up after the Americans leave.”

While a lot of challenges remain–especially on the political front–the authors conclude, “there is enough good happening on the battlefields of Iraq today that Congress should plan on sustaining the effort at least into 2008.”

Fred Thoughts

Jennifer, I think you’re getting way too much in the trees with your analysis of Thompson, trying to interpret every interview, every staff change, every throwaway statement, as having major implications on the viability of his campaign. To some extent, all of the campaigns went through this stuff months ago: Giuliani, if you remember, was being criticized for having no organization, for not making an official announcement, for not holding town hall meetings or submitting himself to difficult interviews. The difference here is that Thompson is getting a late start, so while all of the other candidates have their organizations largely in place, have been campaigning for months, are rolling out advisors and policy specifics (though McCain has had some recent staff changes), etc., Thompson is just getting started, so the contrast between him and the other campaigns is greater, and everything he does is getting much more scrutiny.

Personally, I don’t think Thompson has said or done anything to generate the level of enthusiasm he has been generating and some of the arguments I’ve heard made from Thompson supporters are downright silly. It’s especially disappointing for me to hear conservatives cite Thompson’s Michael Moore video as a reason for supporting him. I thought the video was clever myself, but we’re talking about choosing the leader of the free world at a challenging time in history, and so I think making a choice based on somebody’s ability to confront an insignificant documentary filmmaker seems to me a very shallow way to choose a president.

But while I don’t think Thompson has done anything to justify his level of support, on the flip side, I think it’s too early to suggest that his campaign is in trouble based on some staff changes and softball interviews. If this stuff is still going on a few months from now, I’ll agree that it’s a problem. But even though I support Giuliani’s presidential bid (and think he’ll be the nominee) because I believe he would be the best leader to fight terrorism and because he has the most impressive record of accomplishments, I recognize that a lot of people are not too keen on his positions on social issues, and since Romney and McCain haven’t made the sale, there’s still an opening for a viable conservative candidate. To echo Quin, if Thompson can fill that void when people actually start voting in January, he’ll be in position to capture the nomination no matter what is happening in the middle of the summer.