This week was meant to be all about the entry of Fred Thompson, the politician turned actor who’s being presented as the new Reagan, into the Republican race. But Thompson has turned out to be a disappointment. His speeches have been underwhelming and the crowds small. Instead, the candidate taking the plaudits this week has been John McCain.
McCain, the one-time frontrunner, saw his campaign derailed earlier this year by internal divisions and the unpopularity of his position on immigration with the Republican base. But there are signs that McCain is set for comeback. He was, by general consensus, the winner of this week’s Republican debate. Iraq is now working in his favour with McCain able to take credit for the Bush administration’s change of strategy and needling his rivals for not having the insight or courage to criticise Rumsfeld’s failing strategy back in the day. Equally, he’s seizing on any sign that his Republican opponents are ‘hedging their bets’ on Iraq.
Another reason for optimism for McCain is that his biggest weakness with Republican primary voters—his position on immigration—has already been exposed and digested. By contrast, Rudy Giuliani’s private life and social liberalism have not become big issues in the campaign to date while the fact that Mitt Romney has changed his mind on so many issues has not yet registered with voters.
Over the next few months, Giuliani and Romney will continue to take lumps out of each other as the two frontrunners. If McCain plays his cards right he could sneak up behind them before winning New Hampshire to put himself right back in the mix.