Is it just me or do the Republicans seem to be simply assuming they have little or no shot in 2008 against Hilary Clinton? Last night's Republican debate was ably hosted by Chris Mathews and Maria Bartiromo, but even the contrived little exchanges between Romney, Giuliani, and Thompson about taxes and acting lacked the enthusiasm and "bite" you'd expect when the stakes are as high as they can be. Romney appeared presidential and that's what really counts. Pundits are looking too deeply at the answers and not enough at the simple gestures. Giuliani has a very long and conservative row to hoe to beat Romney who will gain momentum after what is looking like a big Iowa Victory.
President Picker Verdict: Romney wins Iowa big and will likely win New Hampshire as well. Romney v. Giuliani for the prize.
In fact it's clear to me already that Thompson will probably be out of this race soon - probably after what I predict will be a second to Romney result in Iowa and then a bad showing in New Hampshire and then lackluster showings in the South. Thompson had to come out like a lion and captivate the tried and true Republicans and he has failed to do that. In fact he's not really that captivating at all as a speaker, and loses soundly to Romney in the "Presidential Profile" department.
President Picker Verdict: Thompson gone in 4 months.
John McCain also seems to have lost any steam he had early on. Frankly I think he's just tired of all the BS. His candidacy in 2000 was a huge breath of fresh air and inspired many to rethink politics. But the GW juggernaut put an end to all that and McCain has been a poor mainstream player.
President Picker Verdict: McCain gone in 3 months.
It would seem that so far in the election it's the Democrats leading with livelier discussions and candidates who - at least superficially - appear to have long term visions for the country.
Ironically (or maybe inevitably) we see that discussions of both the leading Democrats and Republicans are steeped in intellectual mediocrity while many provocative and interesting ideas are coming from the fringe candidates like Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich. Like them or not, the founders would have wanted the spirited debaters to thrive in these contests, challenging our American experiment to do what it does best - change in steady and positive ways.