Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said Monday he was taking the initial step in a bid for the presidency in 2008.Hunter, who has represented the San Diego area district for 26 years, announced the surprise bid at a news conference in front of supporters on the San Diego waterfront. ~The International Herald-Tribune

The odds of Rep. Hunter capturing or even seriously contesting the nomination are very poor indeed, but allow me to play devil’s advocate for a moment, because Rep. Hunter is not without some political assets. What does Hunter represent that no one else currently in the field represents? He is, to wit, actually something very much like a conservative, while the rest of the ridiculous crowd being foisted on Republican voters is not really that at all. Where he is known for being good on border security and immigration, the others are known for being phenomenally weak or wrong on these questions; where he opposed free trade deals (which ought to make him more amenable to folks in Ohio and across the Midwest) these other people, to the extent that they have all taken positions on them, are in favour of such deals; he was also a leading opponent of the Dubai ports deal, which would distinguish him as a real proponent of border and port security in a field where the contestants seem almost uninterested in these questions.

Someone will object that Romney is some sort of conservative. I suppose. But in spite of the writing of starstruck NROniks, he is a candidate without a future in the primaries. Social conservatism is very good, but you cannot hang your hat on that alone. Romney is the new social conservative favourite, but go beyond that and he’s mostly known on the national stage for universal health care in Massachusetts and grandstanding about Khatami’s visit. The Mormon problem will be a liability, and the primary campaigns in some states will turn rather nasty on this score. Thus, the only other person espousing anything remotely looking like conservative views (assuming that Tancredo doesn’t run) will have great difficulty making it past South Carolina before he runs out of money.

Of course, money will be a huge problem for Hunter, too. But Hunter may be thinking that the timing for a populist-nationalist candidate may be just right. No one else in either party is likely to offer such a candidate, so why not try? His support for the war in Iraq will likely drag him down a bit in any general election (he’d probably be happy to have that kind of problem), but without a credible, genuinely antiwar candidate on the ballot in the primaries or the general it may matter less what Hunter thought about Iraq. As someone with a big pro-military record, he might even have the credibility with Republicans to argue that Iraq is ruining the armed forces and needs to be brought to a close. Of course, that is mostly wishful thinking on my part–I have never heard the man utter one syllable of doubt or discontent on Iraq. If he has, I will be glad to know about it, but he has certainly not been prominent among those who have come to recognise their support for the war as a mistake. Maybe that helps him with primary voters in ‘08, but it doesn’t say much for his actual judgement.