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I’ve landed in Washington DC for the CPAC conference tomorrow. I’m not staying at the Omni Shoreham, where the conference is being held; I got my reservations too late to get a room there. I’m nearby, in a hotel where the accommodations can best be described as “prison chic”. The bed appears to be the Mahatma Gandhi model offered at finer hotels everywhere, but it’ll do. I don’t plan to spend much time here anyway.
The Internet show tomorrow will feature at least one interview, with Arkansas Governor and Presidential contender Mike Huckabee. Describing himself as the one true conservative in the race, and one of the few Republicans running with extensive executive experience in public office, Huckabee wants to re-enact 1992 when another Arkansas Governor came out of nowhere to win the nomination. I’ll also update listeners on the events at CPAC, and take your calls at 646-652-4889.

Early Polling Shows Obama Gaining On Hillary

Keep in mind that polling this early in a presidential cycle has the same level of predictive value as Uncle Earl’s trick knee has in alerting you to bad weather. With that in mind, if not in knee, the front-page article at the Washington Post on their latest polling does show some developing storms for the presumed frontrunner in the Democratic Party nomination race:

The latest poll put Clinton at 36 percent, Obama at 24 percent, Gore at 14 percent and Edwards at 12 percent. None of the other Democrats running received more than 3 percent. With Gore removed from the field, Clinton would gain ground on Obama, leading the Illinois senator 43 percent to 27 percent. Edwards ran third at 14 percent. The poll was completed the night Gore’s documentary film “An Inconvenient Truth” won an Academy Award.
Clinton’s and Obama’s support among white voters changed little since December, but the shifts among black Democrats were dramatic. In December and January Post-ABC News polls, Clinton led Obama among African Americans by 60 percent to 20 percent. In the new poll, Obama held a narrow advantage among blacks, 44 percent to 33 percent. The shift came despite four in five blacks having a favorable impression of the New York senator.
African Americans view Clinton even more positively than they see Obama, but in the time since he began his campaign, his favorability rating rose significantly among blacks. In the latest poll, 70 percent of African Americans said they had a favorable impression of Obama, compared with 54 percent in December and January.

That contrasts with a poll taken by CNN, which shows black voters giving Obama a “cool reception” and favoring Hillary by 15-20 points. However, as poorly predictive as a February 2007 poll is to the 2008 primary races might be, it still has more credibility than a poll conducted in the first week of December. That’s when CNN took the poll that for some reason they released last night:

The CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll conducted December 5-7, 2006, found that 65 percent of whites thought America was ready, compared with 54 percent of blacks. The poll’s margin of error was plus-or-minus 5 percentage points.

I’d say it was plus-or-minus 12 weeks.
The Washington Post poll has more interesting data in its internals. Hillary has now dropped below 50% in favorability, with a thin +1 differential and only a 3-point undecided margin. Obama has a 53% approval rating and a +23 differential. It shows two candidates going in opposite directions, and with Obama scoring better among black voters, both trends will probably continue.
Over on the GOP side, Giuliani continues to outstrip the competition. He’s extended his lead over the #2 man, John McCain, from 7 points in January to 23 points now. Newt Gingrich scores a third-place position without having made any moves to join the race, garnering 15%. If he is removed from the equation, most of his support goes to Giuliani, a dynamic that seems very strange on policy, but very predictable based on leadership. Mitt Romney continues to trail in the polling, coming in a distant fourth at 4%.
These numbers will get plenty of discussion — and plenty of criticism — at CPAC, which starts tomorrow. I’ll be traveling after work tonight to DC to attend the conference and look forward to seeing all of the Republican candidates make their cases for nomination to the gathered conservatives. (Well, almost all.) Keep checking back during CPAC for interviews and assessments during the day.

Citadel Of Capitalism Demands Government Subsidy

When relatives come to the Twin Cities for a visit, natives usually have to endure at least one trip to the Mall of America. The largest shopping mall in the US sports three levels of retail stores and restauarants, and a walk around each level will put three-quarters of a mile on the pedometer. With the revenue that the mall generates, one could feed a small nation — and yet, when the owners want to add more parking as part of an expansion project that will generate even more revenue, where to they go to cover the cost?

This year, the megamall wants $181 million from state taxpayers to build an 8,000-space parking garage. That’s the centerpiece of a package of state and local subsidies worth about $234 million, money the Mall of America says it needs for a $1.9 billion expansion that would double its size.
Last year, state legislators didn’t vote on a measure that would have redirected more than $200 million of its future property tax bill toward construction. This time, the mall wants city and state taxpayers to share the burden.
In meetings with legislators, lobbyists representing the mall have insisted that taxpayers will more than earn back these subsidies through higher sales tax revenues, more jobs and extra tourism generated by an even larger megamall. The proposed expansion is known as Phase II.
It will include four hotels, an National Hockey League-size skating arena and a 6,000-seat performing arts center.
“As the biggest beneficiary of this economic development project, the state of Minnesota has the most to gain or lose if this project does not go forward,” Bloomington Mayor Gene Winstead and Bloomington Port Authority President Robert Erickson wrote in a Feb. 26 letter to lawmakers.

One part of me almost shrugs at this request. After all, the state will build and then give away at least one stadium to a professional sports team over the next few years, and almost certainly two of them. Legislators gave all sorts of strange reasons to give away hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money to the Minnesota Twins, a private enterprise owned by a billionaire who employs millionaires to play 83 games a year here in Minnesota. Why not give hundreds of millions to a multi-billion-dollar developer whose property employs thousands of ordinary Minnesotans?
Well, one reason would be that the government shouldn’t use tax money to subsidize private enterprise, unless the government owns a stake in the enterprise itself. Minnesotans will “subsidize” the mall as they see fit by shopping there, if they desire; if they do not, then the government doesn’t need to bail out the developer. All of the citizens of the state would have to see their tax money go to expand the already-massive MOA, regardless of whether they like the mall — and regardless if the mall competes with their own business.
Proponents of the subsidy justify it as an investment in future tax earnings by the state. Perhaps that might even be true — I’d like my friend and super-economist King Banaian to judge that — but that’s true of every significant private commercial construction project in the state. If the state should foot the bill for MOA’s new parking structure, why shouldn’t taxpayers pay the bill for every single new build or remodel of commercial property?
Government should use taxes for public projects: roads, schools, security, and the like. If we have enough money in the budget for subsidizing stadiums and parking garages for private enterprises, then we have collected too much money in taxes. Let the Mall of America pay for its own expansion, and then lower the taxes all of us have to pay. Let the individuals choose which enterprises they want to “subsidize” through a free market and normal competition. That makes much more sense and will have a much better effect on the state economy in the long run.

Sadr City Showdown

Combined US and Iraqi forces swept through Sadr City yesterday, arresting more than a dozen suspected militia members and making a statement about the lack of limitation on the new surge operation. The US characterized their targets as “rogue” elements of the Mahdi Army and the captured could include as many as ten Iraqi policemen:

American and Iraqi troops on Tuesday stormed several buildings in Sadr City, Baghdad’s main bastion of Shiite militancy, and detained at least 16 people suspected of participating in militia violence including killings, kidnappings and torture, the American military and local officials said.
The early morning raids appeared to be the largest military operation in Sadr City since the new American-led crackdown began this month, intended to wrest control of Baghdad, the capital, from sectarian militias.
American and Iraqi forces have conducted aggressive sweeps through neighborhoods abutting Sadr City, but Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has resisted a large-scale push into that teeming, working-class district itself for fear of antagonizing the Mahdi Army, the militia loyal to the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr that is entrenched there.

Conflicting reports of attacks arose yesterday. News agencies reported that a bomb had exploded in a playground, killing at least eighteen, most of them children playing soccer. However, Centcom insisted that no attack had taken place at the location cited in the reports, which is adjacent to an American military position. The only explosion Centcom knew about on Tuesday was the one they caused themselves when they blew up an ammunition cache. They miscalculated the force of the blast, and it blew out nearby windows and created a scare for the neighborhood’s residents.
Even better news came from Ghamas, in the southern part of the Diwaniya province. Security forces arrested over a hundred followers of the Shi’ite splinter group that attempted an attack on the Shi’ites in Najaf. The aim of the Soldiers of Heaven cult group was to eliminate the traditional Shi’ite religious leadership there and take over the town. Instead, hundreds of them died fighting the Iraqi Army, supported by US forces.
The latest push shows that the Maliki government meant what it said when it gave the green light to the new rules of engagement in Baghdad and around the country. Shi’ite militias have been confronted and shut down, including “rogue” Mahdi elements. Sadr City is no longer a sanctuary for death squads. If the Mahdis continue to stand down, the pacification of Sadr City may come sooner than expected — and the surge will have proven itself successful.

How Discovery Channel Lost Its Groove

The news that the Discovery Channel, a leading organization in the attempt to make science and education more attractive and entertaining, would broadcast a documentary by James Cameron and Simcha Jacobovici claiming to have found the bones of Jesus and evidence of his marriage has begun to backfire. Archeologists have condemned the conclusions drawn from the evidence by Cameron and Jacobovici, including one who ran the site from which the ossuaries come:

Leading archaeologists in Israel and the United States yesterday denounced the purported discovery of the tomb of Jesus as a publicity stunt.
Scorn for the Discovery Channel’s claim to have found the burial place of Jesus, Mary Magdalene and — most explosively — their possible son came not just from Christian scholars but also from Jewish and secular experts who said their judgments were unaffected by any desire to uphold Christian orthodoxy.
“I’m not a Christian. I’m not a believer. I don’t have a dog in this fight,” said William G. Dever, who has been excavating ancient sites in Israel for 50 years and is widely considered the dean of biblical archaeology among U.S. scholars. “I just think it’s a shame the way this story is being hyped and manipulated.” …
Similar assessments came yesterday from two Israeli scholars, Amos Kloner, who originally excavated the tomb, and Joe Zias, former curator of archaeology at the Israeli Antiquities Authority. Kloner told the Jerusalem Post that the documentary is “nonsense.” Zias described it in an e-mail to The Washington Post as a “hyped up film which is intellectually and scientifically dishonest.”
Jodi Magness, an archaeologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, expressed irritation that the claims were made at a news conference rather than in a peer-reviewed scientific article. By going directly to the media, she said, the filmmakers “have set it up as if it’s a legitimate academic debate, when the vast majority of scholars who specialize in archaeology of this period have flatly rejected this,” she said.

The Cameron/Jacobovici hypothesis fails on a number of points. First, Jacobovici claims that having the names of Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and Judah (noted as Jesus’ son) defies odds in a range between 600:1 and 2 million:1. That’s a very wide range, and completely inaccurate. Other archeologists note that the names listed by the documentarians were the most common names in use at the time for Jerusalem. They also dispute that the name ‘Jesus’ on the ossuary is confirmed; some believe it is an early version of the name Hanoun.
Magness has more objections about this than the media hype. She also finds the names interesting, but for a different reason. Recall that the Bible refers to Jesus as Jesus of Nazareth, not Jesus ben-Joseph. The patronymics on the ossuary would have been appropriate for Judeans, not Nazareans, which indicates that the family uncovered in the Talpiot tomb were native to Jerusalem or its environs. The use of stone ossuaries rather than graves also indicates a middle-class status or above for the family, rather than the poor and/or ascetic life of Jesus of Nazareth and his family.
All of these are facts that archeologists like to take into consideration before leaping to conclusions. They especially tread with caution when trying to determine whether the evidence they have contradicts written history from the period in question. Archeology involves a level of speculation, but the true scientists make sure to minimize it as much as possible — and this documentary amounts to nothing but speculation.
Who will bear the brunt of this fiasco? James Cameron will go on to make more big-budget Hollywood movies, unless he’s dumb enough to make another Terminator sequel. Simcha Jacobovici will continue with his “Naked Archeology” series on History International, an entertaining but usually unconvincing half-hour of pop archeology that presaged this disaster. Discovery Channel, however, will take a hit to its reputation for serious science.

Quid Pro Qu’Iran

The Bush administration has reversed its position on engaging with the two terror-sponsoring nations in the Middle East to help stabilize Iraq. After rejecting the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group to start conducting diplomatic talks with Iran and Syria, Condoleezza Rice announced that she would be doing just that — but only after the White House forced Iraq to forge an agreement on its toughest internal issue:

American officials said Tuesday they had agreed to hold the highest-level contact with the Iranian authorities in more than two years as part of an international meeting on Iraq.
The discussions, scheduled for the next two months, are expected to include Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her Iranian and Syrian counterparts.
The announcement, first made in Baghdad and confirmed by Ms. Rice, that the United States would take part in two sets of meetings between Iraq and its neighbors, including Syria and Iran, is a shift in President Bush’s avoidance of high-level contacts with the governments in Damascus and, especially, Tehran.
Critics of the administration have long said that it should do more to engage its regional rivals on a host of issues, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Lebanon. That was the position of the Iraq Study Group, the high level commission that last year urged direct, unconditional talks that would include Iran and Syria.

It’s no secret that the government of Nouri al-Maliki wanted the US to open talks with Iran. They haven’t been quiet about it, and they have insisted that Iraq will have diplomatic relations with Teheran regardless of what the US says. The Bush administration used this as leverage to get the Iraqis to move on the oil revenue plan, a longstanding issue that created political tension and mistrust between the Sunnis and the Shi’ites and Kurds that control the oil.
So perhaps the Bush rejection of the ISG recommendation could be seen as tactical rather than strategic, but just the same, this is a reversal of their position on Iran at the least. The US and Syria have diplomatic relations — strained, but they exist — and so opening a dialogue with Damascus doesn’t represent as much of a climbdown as including Iran in regional talks does. The White House, especially Dick Cheney, had insisted that Iran could not be a viable partner for Iraqi security while it sponsored terrorism throughout the Middle East.
Somehow, that view has changed, and it could mean something significant in the balance of power in the Bush administration. It seems like Condoleezza Rice may have prevailed over the Vice President, whose influence appears to be waning in the last two years of the Bush presidency. The abrupt replacement of Donald Rumsfeld and the questionable resolution of the Korean crisis indicates a softening of the approach taken by the administration, at least in tone.
The State Department disagrees with this analysis. Philip Zelikow, who recently departed from Rice’s senior staff, told the New York Times that the intent of the rhetoric was to get the Iranians to take us seriously. We saw the result of that effort this week in Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s loss of face over his own careless rhetoric. Now that the Iranians understand that we mean business, Zelikow says, we can do business.
Well, perhaps. If so, then the brinksmanship was also tactical rather than strategic. However, the fact remains that Iran sponsors terrorism in and out of Iraq, and its interests in doing so exist in almost complete contradiction to our interests in the region. We can jaw jaw instead of war war, but unless Iran stops sponsoring Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, and other regional terror organizations, they will continue conducting war war whether we jaw jaw or not.

Meanwhile, Iran Has Its Own Problems

While the US chews over the change in policy regarding engagement with Iran, the Iranians have a burgeoning leadership crisis of their own. With Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini falling more seriously ill, the future leadership of the Islamic Republic seems up for grabs — and Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani is not too shy to make his move before an abrupt departure creates chaos:

After Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s recent defiant announcement about installing 3,000 uranium enrichment centrifuges in Natanz, signs of an emerging leadership crisis in Iran have appeared. They expose the power group of Ahmadinejad and his Revolutionary Guard supporters (usually backed by the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei) and the more “pragmatic,” though no less extreme in their final goals, clerical leadership.
In a speech on January 8 Khamenei warned against any withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear program by any person or Iranian official in the present or in the future. Recently there have been rumors that Khamenei is seriously ill, and may die soon. His speech seems to be the proclamation of a dying man’s will.
Simultaneously, former president Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, the recently elected chairman of the Experts Assembly, which has the authority to select the supreme leader, had an intensive two-day meeting with the top-level ayatollahs in the holy city of Qom. The most important issue discussed was the selection of a new supreme leader. Rafsanjani asserted in his speech in Qom that the Experts Assembly should choose the leader soon, in order to keep the regime safe and avoid a future power struggle after his death.

What happens if Khameini goes to his 72 virgins without having established a successor? The nation turns its lonely, veiled eyes to a triumvirate of officials to act in his stead until the Assembly of Experts can select the next true power of Iran. Right now, that triumvirate would consist of the head of Iran’s Supreme Court, a representative of the Guardian Council, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as President. All of these will be hard-liners and radicals, making the appointment of a radical most likely.
Rafsanjani wants to keep that from happening. Towards that end, he has done something rather unprecedented: he has started campaigning for Khameini’s post while Khameini has the bad taste to still be alive. This sounds more dangerous than it is, mostly because Khameini’s latest speech on the nuclear program — which echoed Ahmadinejad’s lunacy of late — has rattled some within the regime. Rafsanjani is gambling that the mullahcracy will not allow Khameini to choose his successor now that he seems both close to death and less rational, although given Iranian mullahs, it must be hard to tell the difference on the latter score.
Rafsanjani has gone on Iranian television to speak about his qualifications for the role. Considered something of a clerical lightweight, he has engaged interviewers on the subject of Islam in order to improve his reputation. He even tells the story of how he convinced Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the father of the Iranian Islamic state, that mullahs should run the government and not just lead in spiritual matters, and Khomeini replaced Abulhassan Bani-Sadr as a result.
Why is that important? Bani-Sadr was not a mullah. Neither is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The internal dissent within the mullahcracy appears to have grown. The military pressure placed on Iran by the US and the British have had a dividing effect on the Iranian government, with the first official objection within Teheran to the nuclear program’s continuance coming last week. Rafsanjani may use this dissension to press for an impeachment of Ahmadinejad and his ascension to the post, perhaps sooner than later. American attempts to open a dialogue on Iraq may be complicated by the lack of a clear contact within the Iranian government, if Rafsanjani continues his efforts.

Look Who’s Coming — And Not Coming — To CPAC

The American Conservative Union must have its staff on call this week, because they keep getting last-minute RSVPs for the CPAC event that starts Thursday. No, I don’t mean attendees, I mean speakers — especially those who want the Republican nomination for the Presidential election next year.
In the past couple of days, almost every GOP candidate announced and presumed have been added to the CPAC agenda. Today both Duncan Hunter and Tom Tancredo announced their addition to the list of impressive speakers addressing conservative activists:

ALEXANDRIA, VA—The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) announced today that California Congressman Duncan Hunter will address the nation’s oldest and largest gathering of conservatives on Saturday, March 3, 2007 at 8:30 a.m. in the Omni Shoreham Hotel’s Regency Ballroom in Washington D.C.
“For more than a quarter of a century, Congressman Duncan Hunter has been a strong and reliable voice in the U.S. House for conservatives, fighting the good fight to keep our military up to speed, up to date, and up to the dangerous tasks our nation asks of them,” said J. William Lauderback, Executive Vice President of the American Conservative Union (ACU), CPAC’s lead sponsor. “What some conservatives may not know is that also during that quarter century Congressman Hunter has proved himself as a Member of solid conservative credentials on a host of other issues important to conservatives, as reflected by his ACU Lifetime Rating of 92. We look forward to hearing from our friend and ally,” concluded Lauderback. …
“Few Members of Congress consistently display the brand of conservative leadership Tom Tancredo exhibits,” said J. William Lauderback, Executive Vice President of the American Conservative Union (ACU), CPAC’s lead sponsor. “He is a man of principle, honesty, and distinct courage. While Tom’s Lifetime ACU Rating of 99 makes him an obvious friend of ACU and CPAC, it is his willingness to stand up and fight for what he believes in that makes him a hero to so many of our 5,000 grassroots activists. We look forward to hearing his views on the state of the border enforcement debate in Congress and other important issues of our day,” concluded Lauderback.

They join other late arrivals, such as Sam Brownback, Mike Huckabee, Jim Gilmore, and frontrunners Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney. As this is the last CPAC conference before the primaries begin, it makes sense for the presidential hopefuls to make their case to the activists they hope to engage in the primaries. For Rudy and Mitt, it makes the most sense; they have some work to do in building bridges to the conservatives in the party, and they will never have a better chance to win them over than at CPAC.
All of which makes the absence of John McCain even more curious. McCain has argued that he has the most solid conservative record of all the major contenders, and with some cause. Yet it is hardly a secret that the Senator has a rocky relationship with conservatives in the Republican Party. After the McCain-Feingold assault on political speech, his work with Ted Kennedy on immigration, the Gang of 14 rebellion that allowed the Democrats to filibuster judicial nominees for appellate assignments for the first time in American history, and a generally hostile attitude until just recently towards social conservatives, McCain has more work than most to convince conservatives to support him.
That’s why his absence makes little sense. If he wants to win conservatives, he needs to make an effort to meet them — literally. CPAC provides a golden opportunity to do so. It’s one of the oldest conservative forums in existence, and it gathers opinionmakers on the Right from across the country. If he can’t be bothered to go out of his way to face conservatives there, where exactly does he plan on addressing them?
A pass on CPAC would be a bad mistake for McCain, especially since all of his competitors have already committed to being there. I’m guessing that the Senator will see that by tomorrow and make the necessary efforts to join the conference and engage with those he claims he best represents. Otherwise, it will be hard to see how conservatives will take his refusal as anything but a badly-timed snub — and whatever one thinks of John McCain, he’s smarter than that.
Addendum: I’ll be traveling tomorrow night to DC for the CPAC conference. I’m one of the credentialed bloggers and will be reporting constantly during the event. Here’s a list of the other terrific bloggers I’ll meet there.

Democrats Hit Reverse On Hitting Reverse

Democrats have delayed further consideration to restrict or cripple the Iraq war deployments, apparently stunned by the lack of cohesion among their own caucuses and fearful of the backlash their efforts might produce. Harry Reid has delayed the progress of a Joe Biden bill to revoke the 2002 AUMF, and Nancy Pelosi has started to distance herself from John Murtha (via Memeorandum):

Democratic leaders backed away from aggressive plans to limit President Bush’s war authority, the latest sign of divisions within their ranks over how to proceed.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Monday he wanted to delay votes on a measure that would repeal the 2002 war authorization and narrow the mission in Iraq.
Senior Democrats who drafted the proposal, including Sens. Joseph Biden of Delaware and Carl Levin of Michigan, had sought swift action on it as early as this week, when the Senate takes up a measure to enact the recommendations of the bipartisan Sept. 11 commission. …
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., meanwhile, said she doesn’t support tying war funding to strict training and readiness targets for U.S. troops.
The comments distanced her from Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., who has said he wants to use Congress’ spending power to force a change in policy in Iraq, by setting strict conditions on war funding.
Pelosi said she supports holding the administration to training and readiness targets, but added: “I don’t see them as conditions to our funding. Let me be very clear: Congress will fund our troops.”

It appears that the Democrats may have misinterpreted their mandate, and that they have finally discovered that they’re on the brink of demanding surrender while at war. While a majority of Americans have serious doubts about the management of the war, most understand that pulling troops out of a fight means surrender and retreat, and they don’t see how that makes America any more secure. In fact, a surrender to terrorists in Iraq will make this country a good deal less secure and embolden the terrorists to continue attacking our interests, and the Democrats seem to be the last to that realization — or the realization that Americans understand these stakes.
Now the Democratic leadership has to backpedal from their enthusiasm for defeat. John Murtha made the mistake of talking too much about the purposes of the Democrats to force an end to the Iraq deployment by starving Centcom of supplies and fresh troops. Now Pelosi has to assure angry voters that she will not defund the troops fighting in the field. She won’t even publicly support putting conditions on the pending $100 billion supplemental that Congress must approve in the coming weeks.
This is a major step backwards for the Democrats, and it doesn’t come a moment too soon. They have earned the reputation as defeatists already, but they came close to owning responsibility for that defeat, and even members of their own ranks pointed that out. The attempt to double down after the failure of the non-binding resolutions has backfired, helped in large part because the new efforts would have had an actual impact on operations, crossing a line at which some supporters of the non-binding resolutions balked.
Make no mistake, though; as Harry Reid told his caucus, “Iraq is going to be there — it’s just a question of when we get back to it.” They’re going to redeploy over their political event horizon to find some other strategy to appease their anti-war activists while avoiding responsibility for the consequences of their actions. Perhaps the third time will be the charm, but it seems more likely that they will experience a slow bleed of their credibility across the political spectrum.

Rudy Going Reaganesque

Rudy Giuliani, out to an early and somewhat surprising lead in the Republican presidential primary race, has begun addressing conservative groups to make his case for the nomination. The New York Sun reports that Giuliani has adopted a vision-style approach while retaining his strengths in policy, painting a future for the GOP as the party of freedom:

Mayor Giuliani is calling on the Republican Party to redefine itself as “the party of freedom,” focusing on lower taxes, school choice, and a health care system rooted in free market principles.
Delivering a policy-driven overview of his presidential platform yesterday, Mr. Giuliani outlined the agenda in a Washington speech before a conservative think tank that sought to make clear distinctions between his vision and that of the Democrats, if not his rivals for the Republican nomination in 2008. The former New York mayor’s proposed redefinition of the Republican platform would signal a shift away from any focus on social issues, on which Mr. Giuliani is much less ideologically aligned with the party.
Mr. Giuliani reserved his strongest criticism yesterday for Democrats, but he also said the government’s handling of the war on terrorism had done “damage” to America’s reputation abroad.
“We have to say to the rest of the world, ‘America doesn’t like war,'” Mr. Giuliani said. “America is not a military country. We’ve never been a militaristic country,” he added, saying national leaders have fallen into an “analytical warp” by defining the battle as a war on terrorism and not, as he deemed it, a “war of the terrorists against us.”

Sounds a bit like “Morning in America” again, an approach that will help garner support for Giuliani among conservatives — at least on vision. On policy, they will likely continue to challenge Giuliani, as the attendees at the Hoover Institution did yesterday. Giuliani apparently included a Q&A session as part of his presentation yesterday, and the Sun reported that some of the questions were “pointed” — not surprising, given Rudy’s policy differences on abortion and guns.
Russell Berman did not include the content of the questions except for one on Giuliani’s foreign-policy experience. Opposition and Democratic activists have questioned the amount of experience the former Mayor could have, considering the local nature of his only public office. He gave a pretty good answer. As Mayor of New York, the position has responsibilities that outstrip some governors, especially in terms of population; Rudy had more citizens in his executive responsibility than does Tim Pawlenty now as our governor. Giuliani also talked about his dozens of international trips and meetings with heads of state or their senior staffs. He also runs an international consultancy, giving him free-market experience in foreign policy as well.
That fits well with his emerging campaign theme. He wants to emphasize a more libertarian approach for the Republican Party — free markets and smaller government. School vouchers fit into this vision, as well as continuing support for public education. Health care reform is important, but the solutions must use free-market principles rather than top-down government control. It’s a moderate policy that fits within a conservative vision, which could be a winning combination, especially in attracting moderates and independents.
Giuliani will have an opportunity to test this approach at CPAC, especially if he follows his Hoover appearance with a Q&A. He needs to engage conservatives directly in order to gain their trust, and it looks like he’s made the decision to do so. This should make for an interesting appearance, one among several for Presidential candidates. Those who have not yet committed to CPAC had better not let Giuliani, Mitt Romney, and Mike Huckabee steal a march on their campaign.