The Green Papers
The Green Papers

John McCain overcomes eight-year-old
"bad vibes" in South Carolina; also:
as Fred Thompson has gone,
so might go John Edwards?

by Richard E. Berg-Andersson Staff
Wed 23 Jan 2008

Last Saturday (19 January), John McCain won the South Carolina Republican Presidential Primary. It was not necessarily an impressive victory (McCain finished but a few percentage points ahead of the runner-up, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee) but it was, nonetheless, an important one for the Arizona Senator, for it now means that at least one Republican presidential contender has won Primaries (events in which, unlike in Caucuses, voters actually vote by secret ballot and which, in addition, actually pledge National Convention delegates to presidential contenders directly) in two different regions of the country.

Huckabee was clearly quite disappointed, having counted on both his own Southern roots, along with his sociocultural conservatism fostered by a deep religious faith, to carry the day. However, Huckabee's finish in the Palmetto State was respectable enough to keep him around to fight another day (perhaps even, despite what might transpire in Florida come Tuesday 29 January, a day like February's 'Super Duper Tuesday'). Besides, Huckabee's disappointment must have been at least somewhat, no matter how slightly, assuaged by the exit from the stage- on Tuesday the 22d- of former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson, leaving Huckabee as the only Republican presidential contender from a South that will a fair share of votes (in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia and Tennessee) come the aforementioned 'Super Duper Tuesday' (with Louisiana [busily engaged with Mardi Gras on 5 February itself] to follow come Saturday 9 February).

[By the way, I should here mention- if only in passing: on Saturday the 19th itself, California Congressman Duncan Hunter also dropped out of the GOP presidential nomination sweepstakes-- which, of course, begs the age-old question: if a presidential contender has had very little impact on the overall campaign of his Party during the Primary/Caucus "season", when he then leaves, does he- in fact- make a noise? ;-)]

Also disappointed was former Massachusetts Governor- and winner in Michigan only a few days before- Mitt Romney who finished 4th in South Carolina (though, to be fair, not by much) behind the aforementioned soon-to-depart Thompson. But even Romney's disappointment must have also been somewhat, albeit slightly, mitigated by his having "won" the Nevada Republican Caucuses held the same day as South Carolina's GOP vote (and, if Huckabee [and his campaign] is going to still look at Iowa as an important victory for them- as Huckabee supporters pretty much now have to, then they cannot discount Romney's concomitant victories in both Wyoming [back on 5 January] and Nevada).

Nevertheless, to have finished so far behind first-place McCain is a clear indicator that McCain, and not Romney, is the one seen as the "front-runner": any other contender would not find this all that uncomfortable (after all, "running in the shadows" is- at least relatively early on- usually a good thing, while being perceived as the "next thing" is certainly not! [just ask Barack Obama post-Iowa and pre-New Hampshire ;-)]), but Romney has more money than any other candidate, his being a Mormon has- however unfortunately (where not also ignorantly: ignorance of the Constitution, that is- as opposed to ignorance as to the tenets of Romney's Church)- become an issue, and he cannot afford to be so long in those very "shadows" if he wishes to retain his chances at the Republican presidential nomination.

No, though-- instead, the most disappointed GOP presidential contender was not Thompson, not Huckabee nor Romney; instead, it was- you guessed it, gentle reader- former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani:

A week ago as I type this, Giuliani (as I pointed out in my 18 Jan Commentary) was quite happy: Romney had just won Michigan to counter McCain's having taken New Hampshire and it appeared that Huckabee (a Southerner: what else would one expect?) would win in South Carolina with McCain vs. Romney being a kind of "undercard" going into Florida which, although- like South Carolina- a one-time member of the old Confederacy, is such a mix of competing political and socioeconomic demographics as to be open to just about any of the "top tier" Republican contenders. (To be fair, South Carolina has changed, too-- it is, albeit only somewhat, different even from the State in which the wheels began to come off of McCain's challenge to George W. Bush but 8 years before... but, no matter how many 'Hilton Head Island's, South Carolina is certainly not Florida!)

Had South Carolina turned out to be a Huckabee victory, it would have meant that there had been, as yet, no clear consensus as to which presidential contender Republicans might begin to rally around and Giuliani's risky strategy of pinning his best hopes on 'Super Duper Tuesday' with Florida a week before wouldn't look so risky after all...

but such was not to be and, of all the GOP presidential contenders, Giuliani is the most adversely affected by this fact.

First of all, it now puts Florida into the position of a "must win" for Giuliani. Until McCain won South Carolina, Giuliani could still have come in a close 2d (but it would still have had to be close!- that oxymoronic "virtual tie") in Florida and, with however much of a "limp", the former Mayor could continue on into 'Super Duper Tuesday' a week later and still take his best shot at the GOP presidential nomination then. The reason for this was that, even with a close 2d in the Sunshine State, Giuliani would still have been able to raise enough money (in a scenario in which there had been a different winner in each of three pre-Florida Primaries) to keep going for at least one more week (obviously, an outright win in Florida would have greatly increased- as it still will, should Giuliani win the Sunshine State, by the way- the size of his campaign coffers).

Now, however, things have so drastically changed: up until South Carolina's recent GOP Primary, and with no clear Republican favorite having yet emerged, so-called "old line 'establishment' Republicans"- those politicoeconomic conservatives generally found in what once developed as "railroad suburbs" (whether commuter rail lines still run there or not) of Metropolitan America, along with the newer "Edge Cities" ("Newest Suburbia" having grown like mushrooms in what was once seemingly "out in the middle of nowhere" but now not all that far from the intersection of two or more major limited-access Superhighways)- were leaning- however reluctantly- towards Rudy Giuliani. These "old-liners" (and this term would include the middle-aged children, or even younger grandchildren [whether literally or figuratively] of more elderly GOP 'establishment' types) were finding McCain much too "he ran and failed last time" (if not also, perhaps, just plain too old) to win the nomination, let alone the Presidency itself; they also were questioning just how much Romney's Mormonism might end up hurting him politically and they clearly found Huckabee to be much too religioculturally conservative for their own tastes ('establishment' Republicans tend to be so-called "high church")...

Giuliani, on the other hand, was at least far more familiar to them than any of the others: the one-time Mayor of a major city- indeed, the Major City!-- the kind of city these "old-liners" (even if they be denizens of suburbs of, say, Philadelphia or Chicago instead of Giuliani's New York) quite well understand (if not themselves also "escaped"!), even though they may not have any real desire to actually live there. Giuliani had- by virtue of his office- been the de facto Mayor of Wall Street, as much as he was the Mayor of any of the other "lesser" streets that make up that crazy-quilt 5-Borough 'Greater New York': and Giuliani's very insistence, as Wall Street's ex officio Mayor, that the Stock Market get back online as soon as possible after 9/11 so well resonated with these 'establishment' "old liners".

Former Democratic presidential contender Senator Joe Biden of Delaware might well have struck rather close to the mark with his oft-quoted barb that Giuliani's whole campaign solely consists of "a noun, a verb and 9/11" but Biden, nevertheless, ended up missing the mark in any event by not understanding- or, more likely, not wanting to understand- just what "9/11" actually means to these very "old-liners". To most people, "post-9/11" means the physical recovery of New York City (and, let us not forget, the rebuilding of the damaged portion of the Pentagon outside of D.C.) and the emotional/psychological recovery of the Nation as a whole in the wake of the horrific events of that day; but to those most willing to support Giuliani with their dollars, "post-9/11" means the swiftest economic, as well as physical, recovery of his City which, in turn, allowed for the quickest economic recovery of the Nation (precisely because the New York Stock Exchange- though it took a huge hit in the days immediately following its reopening a week after the terrorist attacks- was so quickly back up and running).

Firefighters, police officers and other First Responders (not to also mention Demolition Contractors and their workers) associated with 11 September 2001- along with their families- might well excoriate Giuliani for, among other things, having put the health of these very brave men and women at more than acceptable risk via the haste to clean up the site of the attacks, as well as the surrounding area (which includes Wall Street), in the immediate days, weeks and months after the collapse of the Twin Towers at New York City's World Trade Center but- to these "old liners" of the Republican "Metropolitan 'establishment' "- such haste was not only warranted, it was altogether necessary: to the 'establishment', such First Responders who were killed or injured on 9/11, as well as those who would perish over the ensuing years from having breathed in God only knows what while working on "the Pile", were- at base- among the earliest casualties of the War on Terror and, as a result, especially given all the early uncertainty re: considering the field of Republican presidential hopefuls early in this pre-Convention period, Giuliani most benefited from the support of these "old-liners"-- but only because, at the time of such support, no one else looked particularly attractive to them...

because such support as Giuliani has had has ever been somewhat "soft": after all, Giuliani had first burst upon the public scene as a United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York who came down rather heavily-handed upon those accused of so-called "white-collar crime". The "Kenneth Lay perp walk" (named for the late head of the Enron Corporation) we Americans so often see on television nowadays goes back to Giuliani's service as a federal prosecutor nearly a quarter century ago and, putting aside the rather dicey issue of whether or not someone accused of, say, Fraud involving Electronic Fund Transfer being treated differently (as in, better) than someone accused of dealing, for instance, large amounts of cocaine might yet truly fulfill the motto 'Equal Justice Under Law' carved into the pediment of the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, there are plenty of such 'establishment' "old-liners"- bankers and insurance company execs, both current and retired, institutional investors of various and sundry types, etc.- who have mixed feelings, at best, about Rudy Giuliani, even where they were so supporting his campaign.

Thus, just as there are many on the Democratic side who would otherwise support Hillary Clinton but can't bring themselves to do so because they see Senator Clinton as an altogether polarizing figure, likewise there are those on the Republican side who just can't bring themselves to support Giuliani for much the same reason-- meanwhile, there are those who were willing to support Giuliani but were also still wishing for someone else amongst the GOP presidential hopefuls who might yet prove to be more viable and with whom they could live better than they could with Giuliani.

Enter John McCain post-South Carolina: a campaign- for that matter, the candidate himself- well invigorated...

Of the three non-Giuliani options (Huckabee, McCain and Romney), McCain would appear be the most desirable to the "old-liners". McCain's having so often bucked the GOP leadership now actually appeals to the "old-line" 'establishment' in a manner it did not eight years ago (for these "old-liners" are not at all strongly tied to the socioculturally conservative Republican "base" more likely to support a Mike Huckabee; besides, these "old-liners" [who once- a half century ago- were the "base" and, hence, the GOP leadership of the time themselves] see the current Party leadership as having gone quite off-kilter since President George W. Bush first took office: these "old-liners" were hardly the biggest fans of former House Republican leader Tom DeLay, for example) and, right now at least, McCain is the only Republican contender who has shown he can attract voter support in more than one section of the country. In addition, "old-liners" have traditionally had a soft spot in their hearts for genuine military heros (which former Vietnam War POW McCain certainly is)-- it was the "old-liners" of two generations ago, after all, who allowed former World War II Supreme Commander in Europe Dwight Eisenhower to best "Mr. Republican" Senator Robert Taft, the darling of the more conservative in the GOP, for a presidential nomination: today's "old-line" Republicans are not all that much less impressed by impressive military credentials such as McCain's.

The more viable McCain looks as a potential presidential nominee, then, the worse it is for Giuliani's already-tenuous relationship with the "old-line 'establishment' " Republicans he most needs to bankroll his campaign. If the current polls be believed (an admittedly dangerous assumption, given what has happened so far in both Major Parties!), the former New York City Mayor is already beginning to hemorrhage support in key 'Super Duper Tuesday' States (including his own) mostly towards the Arizona Senator. A McCain win- and concomitant Giuliani loss- in Florida would, therefore, be most devastating to 'Hizzoner' and one would have to, thereafter, wonder if Giuliani would even have a "limp" with which he could still make it to 5 February!

Turning now to the Democrats who face voters in South Carolina this Saturday (26 January):

I have already, in my earlier Commentaries this Primary/Caucus "season", cited the serious (where not also spiteful) battle between New York Senator Hillary Clinton and Illinois Senator Barack Obama for the hearts and minds of African-American voters in the Palmetto State, so I need not reiterate same here. Instead, allow me to go on about an appeal to the "forgotten" voters in South Carolina- those who are not African-American:

for it is among these that former North Carolina Senator John Edwards will have to troll for most of his support in what is, after all, his native State (although he ended up settling in North Carolina, Edwards was born and raised in South Carolina). This is highly ironic, considering Edwards' impassioned Acceptance Speech before the 2004 Democratic National Convention which had nominated him as that Party's candidate for Vice-President, in which he claimed that

the heart of this campaign... is to make sure all Americans have exactly the same kind of opportunities I did: no matter where you live, no matter who your family is, no matter what the color of your skin- this is the America we believe in.

but the real heart of Edwards' campaign in 2008 is that which came later in that same four-year-old speech, where he stated that

the truth is: we still live in a country where there are two different 'America's- one for all those people who have lived the American Dream and don't have to worry and another for most Americans- everybody else- who struggle to make ends meet every single day. It doesn't have to be that way. We can build one America.

The problem for Edwards, however, is two-fold:

first, that this is essentially (albeit, admittedly, in different ways) the intended message of the campaigns of both Clinton and Obama and, second, that- as much as Edwards would most like to present a biracially-acceptable version of his "American Dream", a version that most appeals to the quintessential "working person"- whether Black, White or whatever- he has now been forced into a position where his hopes in the Palmetto State depend far more on White voters than Black. Put another way: while Clinton and Obama have clearly decided to pit their battle with each other for Democratic "front-runner" status over who can more appeal to African-Americans, Edwards has to now hope that enough non-African-Americans feel at least somewhat ignored by the other two "top tier" Democratic contenders to then choose to vote for him instead; Edwards may sincerely hope for "one America" (and, by extension, one South Carolina) but, right now, the fate of his own presidential ambitions depends on there being, at least to some extent, two!

Don't downplay Edwards too much, however: after all, he did win South Carolina four years ago (in a similarly "party-run" Primary, by the way) and did so at the very time the John Kerry "bandwagon" was beginning to pick up speed once it had already steamed headlong out of the New Hampshire "depot". In addition, Senator Obama is playing a rather dangerous game in South Carolina: for Obama's unique appeal has been that he can attract White voters, as well as Blacks, precisely because he has not, hitherto, been too tied to the politics of Race (interestingly, Hillary Clinton's stridency- as well as that of her husband, former President Bill- in this regard, as it might be directed towards Obama, seems to belie a feeling that Obama is here attempting to steal "their" bona fides when it comes to Race-related issues). If either Clinton or Obama, if not both, end up losing White voters in the course of their trying their hardest to win over Blacks in South Carolina, it will be Edwards who will most benefit and, benefit enough, regardless of where he might place in the Primary voting per se, and Edwards gets to at least fight on through 5 February's 'Super Duper Tuesday'...

lose big in his own region of the country, on the other hand, and John Edwards suffers the same fate as has already befallen Republican Fred Thompson in the wake of the other Party's Primary in South Carolina.

Modified .