Newsweek‘s latest poll has some interesting numbers. Keeping in mind how little polls mean and how relatively unreliable polls of merely registered voters are, the poll shows that the four named Republican candidates continue to lose against the three named Democratic candidates, no matter the matchup. Romney and Fred Thompson fare worse than Giuliani and McCain, but only by a half dozen points or so. The trends in the primaries right now are moving in the opposite direction: Romney and Thompson are gaining strength, while the others are faltering. In what seems to be some confirmation of Giuliani’s alleged “crossover” appeal, he performs slightly better among “blue state” respondents than his GOP rivals, but still loses to whichever Democrat is opposing him. Importantly, Giuliani and McCain both perform noticeably better among red state respondents than Romney and Thompson, which may suggest that the latter two are still not well known enough or, possibly, that their candidacies somehow actually have less appeal in states that voted for Bush than those of their rivals.
Giuliani partisans will make use of this to show that their guy is the best option for a bad election year. However, supposing that ’08 is going to be a losing year anyway, which is what all signs at the moment would suggest, wouldn’t Giuliani and his backers want to fail in this primary go-around and be positioned for ’12 with the argument that the GOP failure in ’08 was the result of sticking with the same-old, same-old rhetoric and strategy of a Romney or Thompson nomination? (This could be a sort of reverse image of Reagan’s return as the presumptive favourite in 1979-80.) Conversely, might not conservatives actually want a Giuliani nomination as a way to ensure that the drubbing the ticket takes in ’08 is not attributed to the same-old, same-old strategy that the base currently seems to prefer? Personally, I think all of the four leading GOP candidates would make pretty poor Presidents (for starters, their foreign policy views are all rather wretched or uninformed or both), so in that sense I am pretty indifferent to which bad nominee goes down to defeat. Romney is a fraud, McCain is a jingoistic madman, Giuliani is a dangerous authoritarian and Fred Thompson now appears to be running more and more as Cheney’s proxy–it is not at all obvious to me that any one of these is the “lesser of two evils” when compared with their counterparts on the other side.
However, the symbolism surrounding the different nominees will affect the narrative told about the election when it is over: if Giuliani were to be nominated but then lost in the general election, this would help to weaken the appeal of the idea that the “big tent” can be an electoral success, while a Romney or Thompson nomination perversely sets up a Giuliani or someone like him for ’12 for a much easier run at the nomination and probably a better chance in the general election after the public has had some time to experience united Democratic governance once again. Likewise, someone more like a standard conservative Republican candidate (or even someone just pretending to be one) stands a better chance of following the Reagan example of making a respectable, but ultimately failed run at the nomination this time and then returning after four years of Carteresque Obama/Edwards/Clinton rule to the rapturous applause of a grateful nation, etc. This approach relies on the assumption that any one of the major Democratic candidates would prove to be such a disaster as President in his first term that re-election of the incumbent was far from guaranteed. Given the major candidates on offer, I think this is a likely outcome, though Mr. Bush has been such a disaster that anyone else, no matter how poorly he performs, might appear brilliant and successful by comparison.
In what appears to be a partial confirmation of the conventional wisdom that I denounced as hallucinatory (because it made absolutely no sense), the poll shows that Republicans would be slightly more likely to vote for Bloomberg than Democrats (24% v. 19%) and it seems that more Democrats are certain (it is “not at all likely”) that they would not vote for Bloomberg than is the case with Republicans (51% for Dems v. 43% of GOP). This may be a reflection of the attitude I described in one of my posts last week when I said that there would be Democratic resistance to a third-party run out of fears of creating another “Nader” effect that would cost the Democrats the election. In the end, in any proposed three-way matchup Bloomberg manages to get no more than 14%. While there is some slightly greater draw from the Republican side, I am surprised at how Bloomberg draws from both sides more or less equally. This doesn’t make a lot of sense, and so I assume it is a function of people not knowing very much about Bloomberg. These numbers may reflect the willingness to support any remotely competitive third-party challenge. These numbers may actually reflect the greater Republican dissatisfaction with their candidates than it does greater Republican interest in a Bloomberg candidacy as such.