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No Sanctuary in This Fight

Romney and Giuliani had a few heated exchanges during Wednesday's GOP debate. (AP).

Nasty! That's the buzzword buzzin' around the Republicans. The debate Wednesday night had that nasty exchange on the Sanctuary Mansion, and you could sense the nastiness below the surface all night, like the magma below Yellowstone. Broder wrote yesterday that the New Hampshire folks think Giuliani is a nasty, nasty man, and Broder, who's seen a candidate or two in his day, described Rudy as having the personal warmth of Voldemort. You will know that Rudy has started to really scare people when they begin to refer to him as He Who Cannot Be Named.

The Democrats, to be sure, aren't holding hands around a campfire. No one has ever accused the Democratic front-runner of being cuddly. Edwards tried to flay a little hide off of Clinton recently, but he's too pretty to be a truly nasty man. As for Obama, who was it who came up with that great line about "he has an instinct for the capillary"? Dodd and Richardson are your favorite drinkin' buddies. Kucinich couldn't instill fear in a squirrel. Even Biden has turned into your funny, eccentric uncle. And more generally, a number of the core Democratic issues are nurture-oriented, touchy-feely sorts of things [see writer's heroic refusal to use "Mommy Party" label], while the Republican core issues are more oriented toward things like -- how to phrase this delicately -- well, killing people. Guns, war, the death penalty, torture, fire and brimstone, eternal gnashing of teeth in the molten fires of Hell, and so on.

It's the Hell party vs. the Heck party. Something like that.

There is no relationship on the Democratic side that seethes with the level of hatred that you can discern between McCain and Romney. McCain would sooner vote for Noam Chomsky than Romney. McCain's whole pitch is authenticity; Romney's as authentic as a Twinkie. The real contest between McCain and Giuliani is over who can hate Romney more.

The big question that emerged from Wednesday's debate is whether the Republican candidates have positioned themselves as even more conservative than their base. Here's Jim Geraghty of the (very conservative, needless to say) National Review:

"Based on the tone and answers given tonight, you would think that the Republican Party seethes with a blistering resentment of immigrants, with only the briefest of pauses to distinguish between those who are illegal and legal. You would think that the only tax plan that they like is the Fair Tax, and that they would like to somehow eliminate all taxes and let somebody else figure out how to fund the parts of the government that are actually needed. Guys, I thought we were small-government conservatives, not no-government anarchists."

Now, exceptions:

Mitt Romney is not nasty. The nasty exchange between Giuliani and him was entirely Rudy-driven, and Rudy came off looking like Mayor Nasty. Romney's problem is that he is a slippery, cautious, jargon-spouting slickster who in taxonomic terms would be considered an invertebrate.

Fred Thompson isn't nasty. He's folksy. Everyone who know him describes him as the perfect gentleman. Opens doors for the ladies. Get this, guys: I've heard that one of his special gifts when it comes to the ladies is that, when they talk, he actually listens. Like he cares. WHY DIDN'T THE REST OF US GET THAT MEMO? But he's singing in the wrong key for this crowd. You can hardly hear him.

Which brings up Huck. Said it yesterday on the A-blog and I'll say it again: Huck could run away with this nomination.

Huckabee has said many times that he's a conservative but he's not mad, he's not angry. Some hardliners find that perplexing. How can you be anti-abortion and not be angry? And certainly you don't have to spend more than about two seconds in blogworld to know that many of the most vocal folks in America wake up every morning with steam coming out of their ears. Hoppin' mad is their baseline; fury is the coin of their realm.

But that's not how most Americans are. They would prefer a president who is actually likeable. "Likeability" isn't a superficial quality in a candidate, something less important than, say, the candidate's position on the AMT patch. We're going to elect someone who will be in our home, via TV, for the next four years.

Huckabee told E.J. and other reporters yesterday, "You can't just pander to the anger and hostility. If that costs me the election, then the country can pick a different guy."

Perhaps some of us are of too delicate a disposition. You know: We're uncomfortable in places where people don't have lots of doilies and antimacassars. Do you realize there are people who don't even know what antimacassars are? Or the identity of the people who are pro-macassar?

--Joel Achenbach

By Washington Post editors  |  November 30, 2007; 11:25 AM ET
Categories:  A_Blog , Joel's Two Cents  
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