No new sale yetSince Fred Thompson's sudden but not-at-this-point unpredictable exit from the Presidential campaign Tuesday, people have been asking me who I might endorse for the Republican nomination. A couple of people even took the time to ask me that question while I was vacationing this week at Harrah's (I heard the news about Fred's withdrawal right after getting out of the jacuzzi). I can understand why people might be curious what direction I might be leaning since some folks have been quite forward about where they are going. Some people have "changed planes" so quickly that it really makes one think they already had their second choice in mind.
Truman Bean of Tennesseans for Thompson endorsed Mitt Romney less than an hour after he broke the news of Fred's withdrawal. So fast was the Bean's declaration for Mitt that I wondered if Mitt weren't his second choice-or his initial first choice-all along. Romney was the initial choice of conservative Tennessee Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn, but like most of us she dropped what she was doing when Fred got in the race in order to back him. Now she says she will likely return to the Romney camp. Congressman Jimmy Duncan had originally backed Romney too, and that initial choice had led me to wonder what the grand old man of Tennessee conservatism was thinking at the time. Perhaps he saw that Romney was like the energizer bunny-he could keep going and going and going. John Duncan Jr. is someone I have a tremendous amount of respect for and his opinion has always carried a great deal of weight with me. I also know that prior to Fred's entry into the race, Mitt Romney had a great organization here in Tennessee and many of the pieces of that puzzle are still around. It ought to come as no surprise that the Romney apparatus is very quickly coming together again.
Other Thompson supporters are making a break for Fred's old personal friend John McCain. Fred himself was making fundraising calls for McCain six months ago, which makes one wonder if the rumors that Fred really wanted the Number Two spot might have something to them. There is a widespread belief among GOP insiders at this point that we are down to a "stop McCain" or a "stop Romney" campaign. McCain is being seen as the anti-Romney, but do McCain's people really have cause to try and trash Romney considering McCain's very spotty record on conservative issues?
The truth is that from a conservative perspective, there are real problems with both McCain and Romney. John McCain has a history of selling out conservatives on issues such as so-called "campaign finance reform" (something that Fred Thompson actually supported also), as well as on judicial filibusters. McCain's record on illegal immigration is so horrible that it makes Mike Huckabee look very appealing on that issue. It is true that John McCain has a lifetime 85 rating from the American Conservative Union, but that rating has taken a very significant hit in recent years because of McCain's terrible votes on issues that conservatives care about.
Mitt Romney has been trying to position himself as the candidate of conservatives since the campaign began. Mitt is the good Mormon who (as his wife rightly pointed out) is a faithful husband and it is hard to say his personal values aren't genuine. Yet the Romney who now tells us how he is pro-life and will appoint strict constructionist judges to the bench was telling the people of Massachusetts in 2002 how "pro-choice" he was and how he had no plans to pursue a conservative agenda while in office-and he did not. The Romney we now hear sounds completely different than the Romney of even three years ago. When the current Mitt Romney speaks, you really want to believe the man. It sounds so grand, and when he talks he sounds like the most conservative man in the field, but his recent past actions tell another tale. Either he was being dishonest to the people of Massachusetts then (this is my theory), or he is being dishonest with Middle America now. It is possible that Mitt Romney has undergone a real Pauline-style see-the-light experience, but what seems more likely is that Romney underwent his conversion not on a "road to Damascus," but on the road to Des Moines.
Then there is Mike Huckabee. Like McCain and Romney, Huckabee presents conservatives with real issues, especially on the matters of immigration and taxes. He has made an attempt in recent weeks to come up with an immigration plan and even got the endorsement of the founder of the Minutemen. Mike Huckabee can't erase his past record either, and like McCain and Romney, Huckabee can only prove that he is authentic if we hold our noses and give him the opportunity to govern. One thing that I personally find palatable about Mike Huckabee is that we know without question that he is pro-life and will do his best to appoint judges who hold the necessary constitutional opinion that ultimately would reflect a pro-life worldview. He is also pro-Second Amendment and his administration is likely to reflect that view better than the present one. Aside from his spotty-to-poor record on other important matters, those good things are also overshadowed by the reality that Huckabee's numbers are not only the highest among the evangelical wing of the Republican Party (that is to be expected), but his numbers in other core groups of the GOP are incredibly low. Mike Huckabee very likely does not have the cross-party support necessary to win the nomination in spite of his great early showing-and we know he doesn't have the money, so that means he needs to fare very well on Super Tuesday to remain viable-something I think is increasingly unlikely.
All of this leaves me in the unenviable position of not knowing what to do. I am still very much open to giving one of these candidates an endorsement, but as of yet I just don't feel comfortable doing so. Nicole told me that on Super Tuesday she is still voting for Fred despite the fact that it really will be a wasted vote. If Fred should win Tennessee (which is now significantly less likely) those delegates will essentially go to the convention uncommitted and probably be thrown behind whoever the nominee is anyway. (People often forget that in a Presidential Primary you are voting for a slate of delegates, not directly for a candidate). I will vote on February 5th and will vote for President in the Republican Primary-I am just not sure yet for whom.