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  • Writer's pictureMarc Johnson

The Great Race

Grand Old Pretenders

George Will has finally written what many Republicans are thinking: these folks aren’t ready for prime time. In his Sunday column, Will laments the “vibrations of weirdness” emanating from the prospective GOP presidential field.

Exhibit A this week is Mike Huckabee, often seen as the GOP front runner in what blogger Taegan Goddard calls “the Fox News primary.” The wise New York Times columnist Tim Egan, still a hard-nosed, fact-based reporter at heart, lays bare Huckabee’s “misspeak” this week about Barack Obama’s growing up in Kenya. Of course, Huckabee got that all wrong. Obama grew up in Hawaii (still one of the 50 states), spent some time in Indonesia and didn’t visit Kenya until he was in his 20’s.

But, as Egan points out, Huckabee not only misspoke, he had a whole line of factless argument built around Obama the Kenyan. This wasn’t a slip of the tongue, but a premeditated argument aimed at driving the wedge over whether Obama is really one of us.

Even more damaging to Huckabee is Egan’s reporting on the fictions around a the case of a parolee that Huckabee never really had to explain during his short run for the GOP nomination in 2008. Read Egan’s reporting and see if this guy really has a chance.

Here’s a bet that Huckabee opts to stay on Fox as a talk show host rather than troop around in the snow in Iowa and New Hampshire. Egan’s piece will haunt him either way.

George Will, meanwhile, does not count The Huck in the five candidates – Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman, Tim Pawlenty, Haley Barbour and Mitch Daniels – that he sees as the great hope of the GOP. But, as he writes, “the nominee may emerge much diminished by involvement in a process cluttered with careless, delusional, egomaniacal, spotlight-chasing candidates to whom the sensible American majority would never entrust a lemonade stand, much less nuclear weapons.”

Exhibit B: Another piece this week, also in the Post, detailing the relationship – if that is the right word for it – between Huntsman and Romney. Reporter Jason Horowitz’s fascinating piece about the two ambitious LDS politicians says: “The respective former governors of Utah and Massachusetts have vast fortunes, silver tongues and great hair. They are also distant cousins, descended from a Mormon apostle who played a key role in the faith’s founding. The two men enjoyed the early support of powerful and devout fathers and performed the church’s missionary work – Romney in France during the Vietnam War and Huntsman in Taiwan.”

Horowitz goes on to make the case that both Huntsman and Romney wanted to run the Salt Lake City Olympics, knowing that the high profile post would help their political aspirations. When Romney won out, the two men’s personal and family connection was badly frayed. Horowitz also gets into the issue of which of the men is the “better Mormon.”

Neither the Huckabee story line this week nor the Romney-Huntsman feud can possibly be the narrative Republican strategists are hoping to develop. At this point, in the desperate race for money and attention, this kind of story line doesn’t help build momentum, but does raise questions that will linger and linger, first among the chattering classes and eventually among the voters.

Former Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus – he won his share of elections – has a favorite saying: “you can’t win a horse race with a dog.” Admittedly, it’s early, very early, in the all-too-long political nominating process. The economy and Middle East oil prices may yet be a greater threat to Obama than anyone in the Republican field but, having said that, none of these contenders is reminding anyone of Ronald Reagan, or even Howard Baker, Bob Dole or John McCain.

The weirdness is vibrating and no one is running the lemonade stand.

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