August 16, 2007

The Ames poll is being touted as a great victory by Mitt Romney and his fellow pod people, but the real victors are Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul. As this ingenious analysis by David Terr in USA Elections points out, both Huckabee and Paul are on the way up, while the others either crashed and burned or else showed no signs of breaking out of the pack. This is the true meaning of the Ames poll – which, as the first electoral test of the presidential hopefuls on the GOP side, measures momentum and projects future trends.


Terr’s fascinating statistical analysis eliminates votes for Newt Gingrich, Fred Thompson, John McCain, and Rudy Giuliani – who chose not to compete—and averages out the poll numbers prior to the straw poll, coming up with what he calls a “combined normalized average” (CNA) for each active candidate. Terr then compares this number to the candidates’ actual performance at the Ames poll – and the results are edifying. Avers Terr:


“Mike Huckabee more than doubled his expected CNA and is obviously the true winner at the Straw Poll. Brownback and Tancredo had similar jumps but coming in third and fourth is about as good as kissing your sister. … Ron Paul showed a 350% improvement over his CNA at the straw poll and is clearly the second winner at the event. It is easy to show such a marked up win when you are only averaging about 2-3% in the polls but his polling average has been 50% lower than Duncan Hunter yet he wiped the floor of Hunter by a factor of 8. He had a raw net gain in percentage more than Tom Tancredo.



“Ron Paul supporters should be very proud of his performance here. It may be reported as a horrendous performance because he came in fifth place but when you consider he was not even included in many polls just a few months ago and his poor polling numbers thus far have been keeping him down, 10% here is great.”


Terr goes on to cite a political science professor at Ohio State University, Herbert Asher, to the effect that what he calls “background news” – the dynamic trend of a story in motion – is “often neglected” by the mainstream media. The real Ames story, in Terr’s view, is that 1) Romney’s “win” is really a big loss: after spending over $1 million (i.e. paying over $200 per vote) and coming in at a mere 31 percent, when his CNA was in negative territory, 2) “Huckabee and Ron Paul soared above all expectations and are on the way up,” and 3) “Duncan Hunter and Tommy Thompson should drop out of the race.” (The latter has already happened, by the way, and the former is stubbornly persistent even though he lost to two candidates who failed to campaign.)


There is more, much more, to this background story, however, beyond the dynamism Ames has imparted to both the Huckabee and Paul campaigns. Aside from their simultaneous statistical ascendancy, Huckabee and Paul also represent rising GOP discontent with the neocon view of the Iraq war. Paul’s dissent, as is widely known, is a radical departure from the President’s policies: he was against the invasion from the beginning, and has been relentless in his critique not only of interventionism but of the neoconservatives who played such a leading role in dragging us into war. Huckabee, on the other hand, represents a very cautious see-you-in-September “realism” that is very far from the neoconservative bombs-away interventionism that dominates the rest of the Republican pack. Asked about the “surge” in an interview, Huckabee stopped short of endorsing it, deferring to the President and General Petraeus, without endorsing escalation of a conflict about which he clearly feels some ambivalence:


“It’s not that I’m unwilling; it’s that I don’t have the same level of information. I just have to respect that as the Commander-in-Chief he has the right to make that decision. I have respect for him in having done so knowing that it was not necessarily going to be popular. But I also understand that it had better work, because if it doesn’t then I think he adds more fuel to his critics and to those who call for a completely opposite approach.”


Huckabee also complains the military is being over-extended, and hails the recent Baghdad conference of 13 nations convened to involve our allies in the region in securing a more stable Iraq: Huckabee is clearly a Brent ScowcroftIraq Study Group kinda guy. As E. J. Dionne put it: “If Republicans want a conservative nominee who has never attacked Bush on Iraq but can still signal a change in direction, Huckabee could be their man.”


The neocons are clearly worried about Huckabee’s rise as the alternative to the “top tier” Rudy McRomney trio. Seth Gitell’s investigation of Huckabee’s foreign policy views reveals all sorts of horrific heresies, especially evident in his book, published shortly before the campaign was launched, From Hope to Higher Ground: 12 Stops to Restoring America’s Greatness:


“Included in the book is the foreign policy vision of Mr. Huckabee, who served as governor between 1996 and January of this year. The vision is an odd one for a national Republican candidate these days. Mr. Huckabee doesn’t venture into the neoisolationist lunacy of Ron Paul, but his choice of language surrounding America‘s role in the world is curious. Quick to personify nations while talking about international relations, at times he sounds like he is channeling a European member of the Green Party.


‘When the kid in the neighborhood with dominant power uses his superiority to demand his way, win at every contest, force others to run errands, and ridicule the weaker children, that individual may maintain his position of dominance, but he will be resented by the other kids in the neighborhood,’ he writes.”


What?! America – a bully? Why, he sounds like … Ron Paul! And that’s the true significance of the Ames poll results: the emergence of an anti-interventionist foreign policy consensus among mainstream Republicans that Iraq was a mistake. Huckabee’s carefully parsed phrasing of his remarks on Iraq, and the subtle yet clear manner in which he distances himself from the President, augurs ill for the War Party, and they know it. This accounts for the hectoring, suspicious tone of Senor Gitell’s analysis:


“While he rejects the notion that it is ‘all our fault that America is resented across the world,’ he also writes, ‘we can’t ignore our role and responsibility’ to ‘bring smiles of approval instead of curses of contempt.’ Perhaps, by that thinking, some of that resentment is our fault.”


Gee, d’yuh really think so? I mean, why-oh-why would someone resent being sanctioned, bombed, and subjected to a military occupation? Those cra-aaazy Muslims! What’ll they think of next?


Ah, but there’s worse, much worse: Huckabee actually invokes the principles of Christianity when he talks about foreign policy matters, and not the Darbyite heresy that so enthralls AIPAC and energizes the cracked-brained “Christian Zionism” of the Falwell-Robertson-snake-handling wackos, but, rather, the spirit and real message of Jesus H. Christ:


“His faith is also present in his foreign policy outlook: ‘The most powerful demonstration of leadership is not a clenched fist of brute force but an open hand of humble assistance. This is the very model of leadership and strength expressed by Jesus, who reminded us that if we really wanted to be great, we must be willing to serve rather than to be served, and that the spirit of our actions is as important as the actions themselves.’



“In one breath, Mr. Huckabee is endorsing Ronald Reagan’s policy of military strength. In the next, he is declaring, ‘with the development of strength and unprecedented power there must also be unprecedented restraint.’"


Restraint? It is impermissible, in the neoconservative view of things, to speak such words in the context of discussing foreign policy issues. When it comes to the question of projecting American power around the world, the neocon lexicon is utterly devoid of such language. Any reference to such unwarlike sentiments is, in their view, un-American, which is why the editors of the Sun headlined Gitell’s piece “European Huckabee” – the ultimate insult. Yet there is nothing especially American about the Sun’s foreign policy preoccupation, which involves, not American interests, but Huckabee’s position on Israel.


Huckabee’s real crime, uncovered by detective Gitell, is that he actually expresses sympathy for the Palestinians. Gitell cites a passage from the campaign book in which he discusses his meeting with a Palestinian during his 1984 visit to the region that must have set off alarm bells from Tel Aviv to AIPAC headquarters in Washington:


“’He told me about the day he came home from school and was met at the corner a block from the home he had known since birth. He was told that he didn’t live there anymore. He was told that he would be relocated to a Palestinian camp and that his neighborhood, street and home would be occupied by the Israelis.’ The point of this homily, according to Mr. Huckabee, is that ‘there are still human beings who deserve to be treated respectfully and thoughtfully since they personally have not done wrong and now are being forced from what has been their home.”


This is a neocon no-no: there’s no way any Palestinian, according to Gitell’s lights, deserves to be treated respectfully. And as for treating them as individuals, rather than a collectively guilty race of miscreants and Orcs – why, it’s unthinkable! After all, “It’s impossible to discern from which land this Palestinian departed or whether he was part of the group urged to leave Israel by Arab leaders in 1948 or caught up in the 1967 war.” And, besides that, who cares if that kid even has a home? The main priority is Israel, and “preserving the safety and security of its citizens.” “In the Middle East,” Gitell informs us, “details matter” – but the only detail that matters to him, his editors, and, one imagines, most of his readers, is – Is it good for Israel? If not, then screw you, buddy.


Gitell has nothing but disdain for Huckabee’s Christian orientation, and this Christophobia permeates his piece, concluding with another citation from the candidate’s book:


“Near the end of his discussion on foreign policy, Mr. Huckabee writes, ‘it’s important that as a nation we seek to be an example, not just of strength, but of servanthood.’ Let’s hope that Mr. Huckabee’s sense of ‘servanthood’ does not extend to America’s very real enemies in the world who wish to do our nation real harm.”


The clear implication here is that Huckabee is sympathetic to America’s enemies, i.e. terrorists. Aren’t all Palestinians terrorists? Oh, so you think not? That just proves how “European” you are, and as for all this Christian rhetoric about “servanthood” – if Huckabee is going to be in servitude, than it will be to the Israel lobby, like all the other candidates, or Gitell and the New York Sun want to know the reason why.


Huckabee’s reluctance to get drawn further into the Iraqi quagmire is not unqualified: he has posed the possibility of sending more troops, but poses the question in terms of “win or get out” – with both positions presented as viable options. Paul, on the other hand, is unequivocal in his stance: “Just leave,” he declared at the last formal debate, to spirited applause. As the Iraqi maelstrom blows with gale force across the American political landscape, leveling the War Party’s traditional redoubts and forcing congressional Republicans to run for cover, the distance between Huckabee and Paul will tend to shrink, and their constituencies meet and merge. Born of political necessity and the realization that the neocons have taken the GOP for a ride, what is emerging is a new Republican foreign policy consensus – a return to prudence.


Taken together, the vote totals for Huckabee and Paul at Ames, some 28 percent, are congruent with national polls that have measured discontent with the Iraq war within the GOP – a number which was up to nearly 40 percent in June, and is now closer to the 30 percent mark.


Romney, as Terr shows, is on a downward slide, even as he proclaims “victory” with a bare third of the vote in Ames. Could the realist- anti-interventionist tide overturn his boat, as the “surge” tanks, and the GOP faces massive electoral losses? Stay tuned …


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