John McCain must now be reckoned the clear favorite for the Republican nomination, just as Hillary Clinton is the front-running Democrat, despite Obama's crushing win in South Carolina.




Before his handlers told the press Bill Clinton wouldn't be taking any more questions, the former president gave it as his considered opinion that his wife and John McCain have much in common, and that assuming the two become their parties' nominees, the fall campaign would be "the most cordial in history." Setting aside such well-known traits as ill temper toward subordinates, what Hillary Clinton and John McCain certainly do have in common is a readiness to hang their own party out to dry when it's a matter of personal advancement.




McCain has steadily amassed political capital by promoting himself as the Republicans' maverick &

on campaign reform, pork barreling, immigration and even torture. He lashes the Christian right. He voted against the Bush tax cuts and denounced Don Rumsfeld early on for his management of the war.




Hillary's been a career triangulator and indeed introduced her husband to the dark art by recruiting Jesse Helms' pollster, Dickie Morris, when Bill was trying to come back from defeat after one term as the governor of Arkansas. It was Hillary who told Bill firmly in the summer of 1996 that he should sign the Republicans' bill destroying welfare. The chilling aspect to this counsel was that it came at a moment when it was clear Bill was going to hammer Bob Dole in the presidential contest. Hillary's view was that it would be better for them to be seen as running athwart the old liberal lions, like Ted Kennedy, who waited 12 long years for his revenge, which came in the form of his endorsement on Monday of Obama.




McCain's victory in Florida on Tuesday is a measure of the terrible shape the Republican Party now finds itself in. They have a front-runner that no faction in the party really likes. He's old, short and bald with a history of serious skin cancer and a record of psychological instability. He is in favor of a war deeply disliked by about 70 percent of all Americans and has publicly proclaimed that the United States may well be in Iraq for a hundred years. With the country is poised on the lip of recession, he calls for budget cuts. In Michigan, he told distraught autoworkers &

many of them "Reagan Democrats" &

that their jobs were never coming back. In Florida, he said he didn't know much about economics but that Social Security would have to be fixed &

i.e.




privatized. More than half the people voting in Florida's Republican primary were over 60, and the Arizona senator's blithe endorsement of privatization would have scarcely been encouraging as they read the slumping bottom lines on their private 401k retirement accounts.




Small wonder the Clintons are licking their lips at the likelihood, deemed inconceivable only a few short weeks ago, that McCain will be the Republican nominee. For its part, the Republican right may well be making the calculation that it would no bad thing to have Hillary Clinton in the White House for four years, encumbered with the mess in Iraq and an economy in recession.




Just as she did in Michigan, Hillary flouted a pledge to shun Florida's Democratic primary and then went on the networks to tout a glorious victory. Obama was nowhere to be seen, showing once again that he's no rough and tumble campaigner, preferring to maintain a lofty posture at all times, reminiscent of Gene McCarthy trying to vie with Bobby Kennedy back in 1968. (Whereas Ted and Caroline came out for Obama, Bobby's children have endorsed Hillary.)




Looking at Super Tuesday, on Feb. 5, it's hard to see how Obama can overcome the Clintons' back-alley political methods and their institutional advantage in holding the party levers. The day of the Florida primary, Hillary won an endorsement from the black Los Angeles congresswoman Maxine Waters, to whom the Clintons should be anathema on drug policy, on mandatory sentencing, on welfare.




Obama also faces formidable obstacles in trying to win over Hispanic voters, whose loyalty to Hillary certainly cost him the Nevada caucuses. As Sergio Bendixen, a pollster working for Hillary, put it in the New Yorker, "The Hispanic voters ""- and I want to say this very carefully &

have not shown a lot of willingness or affinity to support black candidates." So much for the Rainbow Coalition.




The campaign does offer some pleasures. There was the rout of the Clintons in South Carolina and now the humiliation of Rudy Giuliani in Florida. He spent $60 million and, in the entire campaign until his withdrawal, won precisely one delegate. In September, he had a favorability rating of 55 percent. In January, it was down to 20 percent. People just couldn't stand him.




It's really too bad one can't throw Ron Paul and Mike Huckabeee into some kind of blender. Huckabee has a great sense of humor and has been the only candidate to evince a spontaneous sense of class politics. Among both Republicans and Democrats, Ron Paul is the only one who talks with any passion about defending the Constitution and ending the war.




Edwards out means Nader in. In the same hour as news of Edwards' withdrawal, the Nader camp announcing formation of "the Nader 2008 presidential exploratory committee."