In 1968: Governor Ed Romney of New York basically handed the GOP nomination to Nixon by making one cringe-inducing blunder after another (the joke, as George Will remembered, was that newspaper typesetters around the country kept the words "Romney later explained" intact for easy insertion).
1980: Jerry Brown, the progressive alternative to failure Carter and murderer Kennedy, gets tagged with "Governor Moonbeam" early. It sticks.
1988: People sometimes forget that Gary Hart, after dropping out of the race in May 1987, re-entered in December, with the slogan, "Let the people decide." Thing was, he opened in first in New Hampshire, at 27 percent, in part because the alleged Dem heavyweights (Mario Cuomo, Bill Bradley, Sam Nunn) were taking a pass, and Dukakis and the others had been nicknamed, with good reason, the Seven Dwarfs. Hart's lead lasted precisely one week, or until Carson and Letterman had spend evening after evening carving him up. (Carson: "He's back in the saddle again." Letterman: "Gary Hart? In? Out? In? Isn't that what got him in trouble the first time?" By the end of that week, Letterman would merely shout "Gary Hart!", and the audience would respond with cheers and gales of laughter.) Hart's final score in New Hampshire: 2 percent.
2000: After losing the 1996 nomination to Bob (next in line) Dole, Lamar Alexander basically takes up residence in Iowa and New Hampshire for four solid years. One 2000 shot of him, in his plaid shirt, playing his organ in a half-empty hotel board room, was enough to sink him.
2004: Howard Dean was probably sunk before his post-Iowa scream; Iowa had been his firewall, his key to the nomination. Had he won in Iowa, he probably would have won New Hampshire, and the race would have been over. He lost Iowa--to Kerry--and suddenly Kerry, a fellow New Englander, became the alternative. But that scream.
2008? Bill Richardson says a lot of stupid things, but never has a candidate so blatantly run for Vice President so early. Joe Biden has been smart and funny. Kucinich has been Kucinich. Hillary is a figure of fun, that's already been priced into her poll numbers, and--like Obama--she hasn't made any mistakes. (The problem for Obama is, he can't keep trading baskets with Hillary.)
Turning for a moment to the GOP: Ron Paul is a cuckoo, but never had a chance. Huckabee, Brownback--time to pull the limo around. Rudy has been erratic, but like Hillary's shrillness and both their ghastly personal lives, his temperament is already factored in. Thompson is too smooth. Romney . . . he might lose, but he won't embarrass himself.
Which leaves McCain and Edwards.
McCain won't be the nominee: my money, right now, is on Rudy, with either Thompson or Haley Barbour as Veep, to help hold the South (with the more likely choice being Thompson, in part because of his name recognition, and in part because Tennessee will be in play in '08. No freaking way the GOP loses Mississippi to Hillary). McCain will go down for some serious reasons, some deserved, some not. He is attached to Bush (ironically, a man he despises, and for whom he carried water for in '04, hoping to storm to the nomination in '08) on Iraq; this is unfair, as Bush's blunders are not his. But his name is also attached to two policy initiatives that are hugely unpopular with the GOP faithful: McCain-Feingold, which was gutted this very day, and the current Immigration Reform Bill, which has the true believers (think South Carolina, Florida, New Hampshire) ready to storm the Bastille. He will go down because (sincerely or not) he went all-in on a few serious but wrong-headed policy proposals that blew up in his face. He'll lose, but not shamefully.
And then there is Edwards. His latest gambit has all the echoes of a young man trying to get the girl: first humor, then flowers, then playing the buddy, then at-turns cruel--all in the hope that the right thirty or so words, strung together carefully, will get him laid.
His word of the week?
Eh?, you say?
Bio-fuels, which we and Africa apparently have a lot of. So we sell to the Europeans, and the Europeans buy from us, and then we and the Euros pay to harvest from Africa, resulting in wealth, peace, wealth, and peace. And elections and stuff.
Because, um, quantities of value in Africa always lead to peace, prosperity, and democracy, yes?
As Steven Spreuill recounts, not even Edwards's own paid audience could take him seriously:
Maybe it’s the faintly colonial whiff given off by Edwards’s vision of Africa as the developed world’s compost heap, or maybe the preceding sequence of events was just too difficult to follow. In any case, Edwards is losing the crowd. Whenever he mentions the Europeans, a woman by the bar yells, “They’re way ahead of us.” Even the children of Africa fail to elicit applause.
Looking for a way to get back on track, Edwards concludes: “Think about the impact of American leadership, where instead of trying to expand American power, instead of this myth in Iraq, instead of the world seeing us as selfish, shortsighted, greedy, only caring about ourselves, all of a sudden, America is visionary again. All of a sudden, America is a force for good again.” This one gets loud cheering and sustained applause from the crowd. Selfless. Caring. That’s the America New Yorkers want people to see.
After the rush of noise dies down, it’s time to restore a sense of reality. “If you believe that the next president of the United States can do all these things alone, you are living in a fantasy world… Your country needs you,” Edwards says. “So, on that score, if you have your cell phone with you now, pull it out, and if you text the word ‘today’ — T-O-D-A-Y — ‘today’ to 30644…”
John Edwards. Laughingstock of 2008. Bank on it.