The Real Primaries: None of the Above vs. All of the Above

12/11/2007 09:38 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Here's the big difference in the presidential primary contests: with less than a month to go, Republicans favor None-of-the-above while most Democrats could vote for All-of-the-above.

Polls show that Republicans are largely dissatisfied with their field since there's no Reagan or even Bush among them -- someone who's reliably conservative and combines electability, resources and charm:

*"Frontrunner" Rudy Giuliani has finally, officially lost his Teflon, falling by a third from his peak. And it's easy to understand why. When you combine the scandals of Bernard Kerik, taxpayer funds to provide police security for his mistress, a client list that includes the Emir of Qatar whose interior minister harbored 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Muhammad in the 1990s -- and a habit of serial lying according to a carefully sourced New York Times front page piece -- he's shedding voters as fast as Huckabee shed pounds. "Rudy the Rock" seems to be sinking like a stone.

*Romney too is in steep decline in the first caucus state (despite outspending rivals by 10-1 or more) because he's coming across as a Bob Forehead, standing for nothing other his own self-financed ambition. Even his vaunted I'm-a-Morman-but speech was full of contradictions and evasions: he said there should be no religion test for president, only a religious test-- i.e., it's ok to discriminate against those whose "religion" is secularism, not Mormonism. He tried to link himself to John Kennedy but is really the opposite -- the Massachusetts Democrat said in 1960 that religion should be a private matter ("I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute"), while the Massachusetts Republican said that "freedom requires religion." Huh?

*Huckabee appears to be on his way to being the Pat Robertson of 2008, 20 years after that wackadoddle also pitched his candidacy to the outsized influence of Evangelical Protestants in the one state where it can work -- Iowa. One doubts that a man who doesn't believe in evolution can evolve to other states outside of a few thousand caucus-goers who believe far more in the Bible than the Constitution. And Huckabee's personal intervention to help parole a rapist who went on to murder two women is an incident worse than Willie Horton.

*Thompson is the most overrated big man since the Cardiff Giant hoax took upstate New York and then the country by storm in 1869. His delusions of adequacy are being belied daily.

*McCain's impulsively reasoned approaches on campaign finance, immigration, terrorism and global warming would normally be disqualifying in a party that resents reality-based policies... but perhaps not in 2008 given this flawed field. So McCain's moment may be coming back by the process of eliminiation since he hasn't hired Mexicans to mow his lawn or cops to chauffeur his mistress. Is he the Golden Oldie?

No wonder the latest AP poll has these five candidates bunched together at 26% to 11%. Presumably someone will be the Republican nominee but it's hard to see who. Newt's starting to look good.

The Democratic field is entirely different. At the risk of ridicule, I look at them like Jack Valenti used to describe movies -- he never saw one that he didn't like. When has there been such a strong presidential primary line-up? (I'm neutral as the head of Air America Radio.)

Clinton is unarguably knowledgeable, tough, resilient and deeply experienced. Obama is truly inspirational, smart, personable and possibly tranformational. Edward's advocacy skills and meta-message on economic justice+special interest politics is probably the strongest of all the Democrats. And the so-called second-tier is first rate -- it's hard to come up with candidates more versed than Biden, Dodd, Richardson. Most Democrats can imagine any of these three as president more easily than Republicans can envision any of their top-tier candidates actually winning the White House.

If the primary process were a team sport, with all the Democrats squaring off against all of the Republicans, it would be akin to the New England Patriots playing Amherst. But because in the end it'll be one-on-one, the score won't be 53-7 but presumably something closer to 53-47.

Ironically this Democratic luxury of riches has partly contributed to much pettiness and crankiness among the progressive candidates. Just like it's said that there's nothing more bitter than academic politics since so little is at stake, the real differences among the eight Democratic candidates -- surely now more than pre-Iraq -- is so comparatively small that they are hyped by one or another rival in order to gain marginal advantage. There are few serious policy gaps among them comparable to the McGovern-Scoop Jackson struggle over Vietnam in 1972 (remind me again, how many brigades does Clinton want to draw down monthly versus Edwards?).

Conclusion: the early prediction that we'd have de facto nominees shortly after super-duper Tuesday February 5 may be out-of-date. Because the Republican field is so weak and the Democratic field so strong -- and if no one contender wins his/her first couple of contests -- it's now possible that neither party will settle on one breakout candidate by then. Instead we could see a war of attrition into the Spring among those candidates who have the money and determination to keep going.