Back in 2005, my wife and I watched Dawn run the Philadelphia Marathon. As we watched her cross the finish line — looking totally miserable — I found myself asking, Why in the world would anyone ever do this?
In all candor, I still don’t have an answer to that question regarding real marathons. But in light of the way the early primaries have gone, I’m starting to agree with George Will regarding a “marathon” presidential race:
A marathon would reveal almost everything relevant about the candidates. If, afterward, either party suffers buyers’ remorse, the buyers will have no one to blame.
Think about it. In 2000, the Republican primaries were virtually over after then-Governor Bush triumphed in South Carolina. In 2004, the Democrats didn’t have much to do after Iowa, where Senator Kerry made a big move. Is that necessarily the best way to do things? I’m not sure it is. And I suspect the Democrats — who in 2004 were quickly asking, without any ability to change it, What did we do? — would agree.
So, a marathon primary campaign — one lasting past February 5 into many different states, and maybe even to the convention — could be good for our country. And I think it would also be good for Governor Romney, if it would be good for any particular candidate.
It’s not what anybody planned for, of course, but the reality is that neither Iowa nor New Hampshire saw a victory by a mainstream conservative. In Iowa, we saw a candidate triumph whose every foreign-policy statement bespeaks unseriousness and whose economic views mirror are more similar to those of John Edwards than Ronald Reagan. And then in New Hampshire, a candidate won after spending much of the last decade picking fights with the conservative movement — on critical issues like taxes, climate change, and immigration. That leaves a window open.
And if you had to pick somebody to climb through that window over the next few months, who would it be? Congressman Paul? Don’t make me laugh. Congressman Hunter? Sorry. Mayor Giuliani, the pro-choice candidate who’s not even competing in the first half-dozen primaries? Well, that doesn’t strike me as the most obvious person for conservatives to run to. Senator Thompson? So far, his primary showings have been embarassing, and he’s out of money. Supposedly he’s putting all his chips on South Carolina — but not long ago we were hearing he was “all in” on Iowa.
No, I think if you were a conservative frightened by the prospect of a GOP nominee who shares very few of your values, you might pick the guy who’s been endorsed by National Review, who’s proven himself an excellent leader, who’s an across-the-board conservative, who’s competitive in the primaries, and who’s got the financial resources and campaign organization to keep fighting. And I don’t think I’m the only post-February 5 voter who’s thinking that way. If and when this marathon gets down to my neck of the woods (Virginia), which it seems it will, it will need a conservative standard-bearer. And I think we’ve got somebody for that role — straight from Central Casting, as they say.