Columns » John Brummett

Hillary, Huckabee win in Memphis

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That big Republican gathering in Memphis over the weekend might not have been as pointless as it appeared.

Yes, it was altogether inconsequential that Bill Frist gave what was widely panned as a bad speech but won the presidential straw poll, anyway.

He’s a senator from Tennessee and Memphis is in Tennessee and Tennessee delegates stacked this wildly hyped Southern Republican Leadership Conference.

Otherwise, though, there were three significant developments or signals:

1. Republicans may not have sense enough to nominate John McCain, their surest general election winner.

McCain finished a distant fifth in the straw poll. His transparent ploy asking delegates to write in George Bush to show devotion to the president (and provide cover for McCain’s certain poor showing) fell positively flat.

Republicans have a modern history of settling on a front-runner and advancing him. Bush won this thing in 1998 without showing up. McCain appears to be no front-runner, except in the adoring media. Real Republicans haven’t bought his tactical slide to traditional conservatism.

Thus, the real winner in Memphis was Hillary Clinton. She can beat Frist and any of these Republicans except McCain and Rudy Giuliani, who didn’t show and surely is too liberal for delegates who aren’t even buying a pandering McCain.

2. That few delegates heeded McCain and wrote in Bush was partly due to commitments to Frist. It was partly to smack the maverick McCain. But it also reflected a waning passion in the base for George W., not to mention an anxious desire to think beyond him.

Given an opportunity to put the president on their shoulders and carry him out of the Iraq-Dubai-Katrina quagmire, the delegates said,

“Nope, don’t think so.”

3. Mike Huckabee’s campaign made gains. That campaign is to land a cable television talk show.

He gave what many delegates called the best speech. He deployed an attribute that only he and McCain possess in the field: a sense of humor. He had a good line or two, such as that he’d rather fight the bad guys in Baghdad than Boston.

Then he got a scant 54 votes in the straw poll, a fourth of what the governor of Massachusetts got. Not even all the Arkansas delegates voted for him.

A Southern Republican governor losing a straw vote to a Massachusetts governor in the very heart of the South at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis is a Southern Republican governor who’d have been better off spending the weekend running another marathon.

He continues to get mentioned only in the et ceteras — “also thinking of running are Sam Brownback and . . .” A Web site handicapping the field calls him a “lightweight,” apparently in more ways than one, and says that if anyone should begin to take him seriously for the nomination, he’d be expeditiously destroyed for having turned Wayne Dumond loose.

But that didn’t keep him off “Face the Nation” on Sunday. He’ll always make an engaging presentation. He’ll always crack a joke, not always scatological.

He’s the white, moderate Alan Keyes.

I hear Fox News calling, or, more likely, MSNBC. Huckabee is probably not conservative enough for Fox.

By the way, Keyes’ cable talk show got canceled, as I recall. I give Huckabee a better chance.


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