Today the Republicans meet in Iowa for their last debate before the January 3 caucuses. The Des Moines Register and Iowa Public Television are co-sponsoring the December 12 event at 1:00 central time (if you're not in Iowa you can check it out on C-SPAN) as well as the December 13 Democratic debate, also at 1:00 central time.
With the races tightening for both parties, there is plenty to talk about: Iran, destroyed interrogation tapes, oil, Al Qaeda in Algiers, the worsening economy. But the Republican candidates, vying for the social conservative vote in Iowa, may be too bogged down in the culture wars to take on the big issues.
Mitt Romney, who has been trying to fend off the anti-Mormon vote while simultaneously trying to appeal to the religiously intolerant vote, will be at pains to reassure Iowans that he is a real Christian. My favorite part of his recent speech on the subject: his declaration that his religion is a matter of deep conviction that he refuses to renounce (unlike those matters of deep conviction that turn out, for Romney, to be entirely negotiable: abortion, gay rights, and gun control).
Mike Huckabee will have to make up for that lapse last week where he somehow missed the news that Iran had no nuclear weapons program, as well as demonstrating that he didn't even know what a National Intelligence Estimate was. No matter. He's still the most likeable candidate. Heck, Bush didn't know much about the specifics of intelligence briefings even after he became President. Remember "Bin Laden Determined to Attack In U.S."?
Anyway, Huckabee is the most likely to win the culture war skirmish. That's because he is simultaneously the most authentic social conservative and the candidate least likely to scare people outside the rightwing in-group. Somehow, this prolife, creationist, Baptist minister seems like an apostle of tolerance and humane policy next to his shape-shifting opponents. (He's taking heat for his less-than-draconian attitude toward undocumented immigrants. That's likely to come up again.)
Tom Tancredo will no doubt try to out-Tancredo Tancredo.
Giuliani, as usual, is the funniest of them all, as a recent and particularly ill-suited conscript in the culture wars. Good for him for saying on "Meet the Press" that he doesn't agree with Mike Huckabee's 1992 statement that homosexuality is "an aberrant, unnatural, and sinful lifestyle." But how hilarious that he went on to say, rather awkwardly, "It's the acts--it's the various acts that people perform that are sinful," and then to add "I've had my own sins that I've had to confess," hence focusing the viewer's mind on specifics of Rudy's love life that definitely belong in the Too Much Information file. The New York Times, reporting on gay rights activists' disappointment with the "Meet The Press" segment reminded readers once again on Tuesday that Giuliani lived with a gay couple when he was mayor of New York, after separating from his wife. I'm sure those friends appreciate the clarification about acts versus orientation. They might even have a few tidbits to contribute on whether Giuliani's extracurricular activities should affect voters' judgement of his fitness for the Oval Office.
Pity the Republican voters their choices. "Not one of the Republican candidates is viewed favorably by even half the Republican electorate," according to the latest New York Times.