Given how states are pushing up their presidential primaries, nominations are likely to be won or lost by February. Some readers are asking who I favor. That's a fair question, but I don't have any horse in this race.
It's not that I fall in line with journalists who refuse to disclose their preferences. I've argued over the years for transparency, noting that everyone has preferences and readers are best served when reporters are honest.
So, here's my first disclosure: My initial presidential vote, in 1972, was for George McGovern. My worldview changed over the next four years, and beginning in 1976 I've always voted for the Republican candidate for president.
Eight votes in a row for the GOP leader might make you think that I'm a party animal, but your assessment would be incorrect. If Republicans nominated someone who voted the right way most of the time but was personally slimy, and if Democrats chose a candidate with personal integrity who was tough on terrorism and even moderately pro-life, I'd probably vote for the Dem.
What's certain is this: I would not decide which candidate to support merely by examining voting records. Such records are important, but an American history book I wrote nine years ago, in the heat of the Clinton controversy, argued (among other things) that it's crucial to look at the religious beliefs of leaders and also their personal conduct.
One controversial conclusion of The American Leadership Tradition was that leaders who are unfaithful to their spouses are also likely to be unfaithful to the country: That rule of thumb has many exceptions, but I'd still call adultery a leading indicator of potential trouble. The New York Times castigated me for that view, but over the years I've received supportive notes from professional "opposition researchers"-those who ferret out weaknesses of opposing candidates.
Last year, for example, one researcher wrote me, "I personally know about a dozen cases of candidates in which adultery was either widely rumored or established by domestic incident reports or divorce court case files. Contrary to common belief, such material is not politically useful in itself-but it is a reliable indicator that other moral, legal, professional, or character faults are likely to be found."
This researcher gave examples. In a mayoral race rumors of sexual misconduct hung around one candidate, but nothing could be proven. Suspicion, though, led to a close examination of financial indiscretions that ended up sinking the candidate, because it turned out that he played fast and loose with not only dolls but dollars. The common denominator: a willingness to deviate from "conventional" norms and then lie to protect himself.
Spy novelists and biographers often write that adulterous situations are opportunities to recruit spies and traitors. Similarly, special interests looking for advantage seek out character flaws as a way to develop relationships that can then be mined for favors at the right time. Those who justify their abuse of trust in one key area are likely to do it in another.
And so we turn to 2008. Frontrunner Rudy Giuliani showed bold mayoral leadership after 9/11 but erratic personal behavior before it. For example, he astoundingly marched with Judith Nathan, then his mistress, in New York's St. Patrick's Day parade, a gambit one columnist equated with "groping in the window at Macy's." He shocked his second wife and others by announcing his decision to divorce at a press conference.
The oldest candidate, Sen. John McCain, deserves credit for his steadfast support of the war effort he voted for. Long ago he acknowledged his own responsibility for adultery that took place a long time ago: That ancient history no longer concerns me, but he has long seemed semi-erratic and impetuous.
The candidate with the best marital record, Mitt Romney, seems slick; I just haven't warmed to him yet. We'll all need to see how Fred Thompson does on the campaign trail. Mike Huckabee has been the most impressive of the "second tier" candidates, which is no surprise given his personable humor.
Sadly, every Democratic candidate supports the killing of unborn children and the massive killing of Iraqis that would take place if the United States gives up now. So all I can do is sit back and watch the jousting.