You don't want to be in politics without a tough hide. The commentary can be biting.
One of President Bush's closest advisers has a brutally candid analysis of the Republican nomination battle: Fred Thompson is the campaign's "biggest dud," Mitt Romney has "a real problem in the South" because people will not vote for a Mormon, Mike Huckabee's last name is too hick and John McCain could end up repeating 2000 by winning New Hampshire but losing the nomination.
Dan Bartlett, who stepped down as White House counselor in July after working nearly his entire adult life for Bush, gave those frank assessments of the Republican presidential candidates during a recent appearance before the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that went unnoticed outside the room. Never before has Bartlett opened up in a public setting with such an unvarnished analysis of the race. And while he no longer formally speaks for the president, Bartlett spent 14 years channeling Bush and remains virtually his alter ego, so his views could be seen as a revealing look into the thinking within the president's inner circle.
As it happens, the Bush adviser was most enthusiastic about a contender who seems to have even less chance. He called Huckabee the "best candidate," one who seems to most mirror Bush's own vision of compassionate conservatism. "He is the most articulate, visionary candidate of anybody in the field," Bartlett said. Initially, he admitted, he was perplexed that the former Arkansas governor was running. "But the more I watch him, the more impressed I become." When it comes to advocating conservative positions on social issues, "he does it in a very positive, optimistic way."
But Huckabee probably cannot win, Bartlett added. "He's got the obvious problems -- being from Hope, Ark., and, quite frankly, having the last name 'Huckabee,'" he said. "I hate to be so light about it, but it is, it's an issue. Politics can be fickle like that. I mean, you're trying to get somebody's attention for the first time. ... 'Huckabee? You've got to be kidding me! Hope, Arkansas? Here we go again.'"