Dylan Jones: If you ask me by

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The Independent Online

If you ask me what the Republicans want right now it's Ronald Reagan. While it's beyond doubt that the current incumbant of the White House is the most unpopular President in living memory - like a friend said to me in Los Angeles last week, "and there's some very old people in this country" -Republicans themselves think he's been a disaster. During an evening with conservative voters in a swanky suburb of Richmond, Virginia ten days ago, in a two hour discussion organized by pollster Peter D. Hart for the Annenberg Public Policy Centre of the University of Pennsylvania, a dozen GOP voters dismissed Bush while giving their verdicts on the presidential contenders - "Second string," "No standouts," "Disappointment", "We're in a lot of trouble," "I don't want my children inheriting what we're setting up." And every one of them voted for Bush. Twice.

What they, and Republicans all over American want right now, is direction. Recent polls suggest the right want to be lead - and they'll go quietly this time - and the one word that keeps coming up, the defining characteristic they expect the next leader to have is strength. Policies wouldn't be a bad thing - although the GOP knows very well what it standsfor, thank you very much - but they want broad shoulders and broad brushstrokes.

A Bloomberg poll last month suggests that for most Republicans strength can only be found in two places: Rudi Giuliani, or - remarkably - senator Fred Thompson. Giuliani's positions on abortion and civil unions for gays count against him, but his balls are big (even after prostate surgery), and his supporters know it. Thompson, who to readers of the British press seems rather like a buffoon who got lucky, is admired because he reminds people of the past (and the fact those same people have seem him on television doing the sort of job he wants them to ask him to do in real life). Asked in a poll which candidate they would want to organise their neighbourhood's response to a disaster, 75 per cent named Giuliani. Asked which candidate they would most want to spend a weekend with, nearly 90 per cent said Thompson. Morph them together and you get the former Governor of California, which is what the Republicans want more than anything else.

But although neither Giuliani nor Thompson is a Reagan, at least they're not a Hillary, whose strength is undeniable, but whose politics are still anathema to most conservatives, no matter how much she tries to court them. "I'd vote for Mickey Mouse before I'd vote for Hillary Clinton" said one disgruntled Virginian accountant last week.

Isn't that what they used to say about Reagan?

Dylan Jones is the editor of GQ

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