According to famed columnist George Will, the 2008 GOP presidential field is down to two men: John McCain and our guy. What’s more? “That is good for only one of them: Romney,” he claims.
This has happened, Will writes, through the re-election “fumbles” (no word on whether the football pun was intended) of Sen. George Allen. Will writes:
Even before the votes are counted, over the Republican Party a “thick darkness broodeth”–words from a Victorian hymn, for a party with a Victorian tendency. But one Republican, who is not running for anything this year, will emerge from this bruising season with enlarged prospects. Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s hopes for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination have been enhanced by Virginia Sen. George Allen’s difficulties.
Romney’s most formidable rival for the Republican nomination is John McCain, who needs a crowded field of Republican aspirants to prevent the conservative majority of the party’s nominating electorate from quickly coalescing around a single candidate. Allen once seemed likely to compete with Romney for conservatives’ support.
But Allen, who makes no secret of finding life as a senator tedious, is fighting ferociously for another term, a fate from which his Democratic opponent, Jim Webb, is close to rescuing him. As a result, Allen is dabbling in literary criticism. He has read, or someone has read for him, at least some of Webb’s six fine novels, finding therein sexual passages that have caused Allen–he of the football metaphors, cowboy regalia and Copenhagen smokeless tobacco–to blush like a fictional Victorian maiden and fulminate like an actual Victorian man, Anthony Comstock, the 19th-century scourge of sin who successfully agitated for New York and federal anti-obscenity statutes and is credited with the destruction of 160 tons of naughty printed matter and pictures.
Webb, a highly decorated Marine veteran of Vietnam combat, includes sexual scenes in his fictional depictions of young men far from home and close to combat, something about which he knows a lot and Allen does not. Allen says the scenes are demeaning to women and are evidence of flaws in Webb’s character.
This ham-handed grab for women’s votes may help Allen win but will not help him escape the perception that, as a presidential aspirant, he is problematic. His ragged campaign has made him seem accident-prone, and by Tuesday he probably will have burned through all the money he could raise. But to be competitive in the nomination contests that begin with the Iowa caucuses in January 2008, a candidate probably needs to have at least $60 million by December 2007. Allen would have to raise that amount in 60 weeks. A million dollars a week is a daunting challenge.
To be clear, we here at EFM do not delight in Sen. Allen’s troubles. Republican control of the Senate may turn on his seat, and losing it would be very bad for the war effort and judicial nominations (to pick just two of the issues you hear us addressing the most). I myself will be voting for him on Tuesday. He is a good senator.
But as Will points out, the senator isn’t exactly blameless in all of this. Leaving aside the poorly handled “macaca” moment, he hasn’t given Virginia conservatives (like yours truly) many reasons to get excited. His campaign’s exploration of the novels of Jim Webb (his opponent) was pathetic, bringing to mind the fools who want to ban Huckleberry Finn from schools because it includes accurate depictions of racial prejudice. (Similarly, Webb’s novels include accurate depictions of things he saw in Vietnam or elsewhere.) The same goes for his efforts to paint Webb as an enemy of women because of the things he has written about gender relations in the military. And I could go on. The point is–George Allen is a good senator, but as regards ’08, he has made his bed and now he is going to sleep in it. No one made him say the sort of things he has been saying in this truly disappointing ’06 campaign, and he has shown, amply, that he isn’t the kind of communicator Gov. Romney is.
Nor, I would add, is he as prone to standing on principle. Look at it this way: One of these Republicans courageously fought embryonic stem cell research in Massachusetts, of all places (ask Cal Thomas, who is also featured on our Notable Quotes page), whereas the other has belittled conservative positions on women in the military in a red state. Any questions?