The Republican Governors Association meeting attracted attention from a wide range of people … even presidential aspirants who have never served as governor. While many expected the RGA meeting to serve as another platform for outgoing Massachussetts executive Mitt Romney for his presidential bid, John McCain raised a few eyebrows by spending heavily on receptions and leaning on his personal connections to steal a little of Romney’s thunder:
Last anyone checked, Senator John McCain of Arizona is not — and has never been — a governor.
But no matter. Mr. McCain turned up on Thursday morning at the Doral Golf Resort and Spa here for a guerrillalike visit to the annual meeting of the Republican Governors Association. That is a group headed by Mitt Romney, the Massachusetts governor who is widely viewed as Mr. McCain’s chief rival for their party’s 2008 presidential nomination.
As Mr. Romney gamely presided over the morning session of the meeting, Mr. McCain commandeered a room at the Doral Resort for eight hours of meetings with nine Republican governors, including Gov.-elect Charlie Crist of Florida, according to Republicans familiar with his schedule.
On Thursday evening, many of those at the conference were bused to an elaborate reception, courtesy of Mr. McCain, at a resort hotel in Miami Lakes. Somehow, no reception rooms were available for him here.
Mr. Romney has hoped, like George W. Bush in 2000 and Bob Dole in 1996, to use the overwhelming support of the Republican governors as a springboard to the presidential nomination. Mr. McCain served notice with his incursion that Mr. Romney could not take them for granted.
McCain even managed to get one very early public endorsement, and this one had to sting Romney just a little. Tim Pawlenty, who will preside over the 2008 Republican National Convention in Minnesota, gave McCain more than just one lift when he drove McCain to the reception. Pawlenty told an interviewer that he would endorse McCain if the Senator decided to run, which as a man who might get some attention as a VP candidate makes an interesting start to the campaign season.
This appears to be part aggression and part anxiety arising from Romney’s ascendancy as a candidate. McCain could have been pardoned for feeling that he would represent the conservatives in the race, but clearly Romney has created a lot of excitement on the Right. As Adam Nagourney notes, Romney has built a lot of credibility with Republican governors due to his efforts in the midterms to help them campaign for office, and his high-wire act in winning two terms as Governor in Massachussetts has some believing that he can attract the independents and the centrists that left the GOP in the midterms.
McCain just served notice (and a lot of shrimp and booze) that he will fight for the nomination anywhere and anytime. He could have ceded this ground to Romney, especially since some of his own allies tried to paint the Governor as exploiting the RGA for his presidential ambitions. Instead, he charged into opposition territory and made sure that he matched Mitt step for step — and even walked away with an important endorsement and possibly a running mate. McCain will be tough to discourage in 2008.
My friend John at Power Line has an interesting look at the Republican contenders for the presidency in 2008, and wonders where the conservatives might turn. It’s a little too long to excerpt to any good effect, so be sure to read it in its entirety.
Conservatives appear to have some slim pickings, at least thus far. John McCain, who could reasonably compete as one, instead had better hope for independent and centrist support after his campaign reform legislation curtailed political speech, and his Gang of 14 shenanigans derailed more than a couple of fine judicial nominees. John refers to his willingness to sell out the Republicans in order to feed his own self-interest, and that’s certainly the perception. Even if I was not willing to go as far as John, and I probably am, he’s certainly proven himself fairly unpredictable, even on core issues such as tax cuts.
Romney looks good at the moment, but he’s had to win twice in Massachussetts, and conservatives just don’t do that. He’s made nice with NARAL on occasion in order to keep himself in power. Now he wants to run as a pro-life candidate, and that might convince enough conservatives to keep an open mind, but he may turn out like McCain: too unpredictable to trust.
Giuliani doesn’t play games with his beliefs. He’s a pro-choice Republican who follows in the Rockefeller tradition of the party. Conservatives have every reason not to like him, and yet he attracts the most interest so far. Why? He acts like an executive. He makes decisions and sticks to them, and he projects strength better than either Romney or McCain. He had his detractors in New York, and like Romney he had to make a lot of compromises with a very liberal constituency. However, he still managed to clean up Times Square, lower crime, and when the catastrophe struck on 9/11, put the city and the nation on his shoulders and carried us until we could carry others.
People crave leadership as opposed to management. Giuliani exudes it in a comfortable and approachable way that tends to disarm other considerations.
But, as I said, he’s not a conservative. So far, the only real conservative in the race is Newt Gingrich. John dismisses Newt as a candidate who “carries more baggage than Northwest Airlines”, which makes me laugh and has more than an element of truth. However, 2008 seems to be shaping up as the Year of the Baggage. Rudy has had a messy personal life in office, as well as a bout with prostate cancer. McCain will be 72 in 2008, and has the Keating 5 scandal in his past. Romney, unfortunately, has to answer a bunch of childish questions about Mormon garments from people who style themselves as the sophisticates among conservatives. And on the other side of the aisle, Hillary has Bill, as well as the Rose law records scandal, the travel office firings, Peter Paul’s legal troubles from his fundraising on her behalf, and so on.
I disagree with John about Newt being an accident waiting to happen on the campaign trail, though. McCain has a much bigger problem with keeping his foot out of his mouth than Newt ever did. Newt’s a pretty sharp politician and could have sat out long enough at this point to have his personal peccadilloes and his political missteps forgiven, at least for the primaries. He’s unassailably conservative, so far the only one even close to being in the running. He also engineered the 1994 Republican revolution, and he might be the man to refocus the GOP back to the same core reform principles that led to that surprising victory.
It’s a long way to 2008, but conservatives might want to start thinking of at least one more credible conservative with national impact to draft into the race.