"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Contrarian Thoughts on the GOP Candidates for 2012

There has been a good deal of talk about the supposed "weakness" of the Republican field for President in 2012, despite the fact that we are still 8 months away from the Iowa caucuses.   Here is a typically gloomy description of the prevailing GOP mood, from Byron York of National Review
Talk to enough people around this key primary state and you'll learn two lessons, over and over again.  One is that there is absolutely, positively no unity among Republicans about any presidential candidate or potential candidate; there's no such thing as a frontrunner.  The other is that in the back of their minds, many Republicans are hoping that somewhere, somehow, a superhero candidate will swoop down out of the sky and rescue them from their current lackluster presidential field.  They know it's a fantasy, but they still hope.
I have a contrary opinion.  Let's review who we know for sure is in the race, namely, the people who showed up for the first debate in South Carolina: Tim Pawlenty (former Governor of swing state, Minnesota); Rick Santorum (former Senator of swing state, Pennsylvania); Herman Cain (prominent African-American businessman); Ron Paul (libertarian Congressman from Texas and medical doctor); Gary Johnson (libertarian former Governor of swing state, New Mexico, and successful businessman).   That's not bad... you have two former Governors, two successful businessmen, some ideological diversity (Santorum provides the strongest pro-Life voice in the party and Paul and Johnson provide a libertarian alternative vision), some racial diversity (Cain).

Now let's add the people we think will be in the race because they're doing everything they ought to do if they're running:  Mitt Romney (former Governor of "blue" state, Massachusetts, and successful businessman); Mitch Daniels (current Governor of Indiana, former head of federal OMB, and successful businessman); Newt Gingrich (former Speaker of the House and high-profile commentator); and Michelle Bachmann (current Congresswoman from swing state, Minnesota, and, fairly stated, the "Queen" of the Tea Party movement).   Again, that's not that bad... you have two more Governors with executive experience (Romney and Daniels), business experience (same), people who are capable of making strong conservative ideological arguments (Gingrich and Bachmann), and, again, some diversity with a woman candidate who is, not to belabor the point, pretty attractive (Bachmann).  

Now let's add in the people we don't know about, but who might conceivably run:  Rick Perry (current governor of Texas since 2000); Jon Huntsman (former Governor of Utah and ambassador to Singapore and China (and fluent in Mandarin); Donald Trump (billionaire real estate developer and high-profile reality TV star); Mike Huckabee (former Governor of Arkansas and Fox News star); and Sarah Palin (former Governor of Alaska, former Vice-Presidential candidate in 2008, and current multimedia star (books, TV, etc.).   Again, this is a pretty good group, with four Governors, interesting life experiences (Perry was an Air Force pilot, Huntsman was a Mormon missionary in China, Trump is Trump, Palin is Palin, etc.).  

Finally, let's think about the "bench" -- people we don't think are going to run, but who could be persuaded to join a ticket as VP, or who might be in the wings waiting for 2016:  Paul Ryan (leading Congressman and budget hawk from a swing state, Wisconsin); Bobby Jindal (Indian-American governor of Louisiana and Rhodes Scholar... like to see him debate Joe Biden, wouldn't you?); Nikki Haley (Indian-American governor of South Carolina and very attractive young female leader); Marco Rubio (Cuban-American senator from a swing state, Florida); and Chris Christie (governor of New Jersey and Youtube sensation with his stare-downs of state employee union members).   That's a great list, and, for my money, where the future of the party is.  

Sure, there are some people I'd rather not see in the race, namely, Donald Trump, whom I don't believe is a real Republican or conservative and who is, frankly, weird; and Newt Gingrich, whose three marriages kill his candidacy for me.   And there are some people whom I don't believe can win, although they add some intellectual interest to the debates we're going to have:  Cain, Paul, Johnson, Santorum, Bachmann.   And, finally, there are some whom I don't believe are going to run:  Palin and Huckabee, because they can't win, and because they'd be giving up too much money to run.   But, if the race comes down to Romney, Daniels, Pawlenty, Huntsman and maybe Rick Perry (here's hoping), you'd have a field of five successful governors whose real executive experience will contrast well with the incompetence and inexperience of Barack Obama.   Couple them with an attractive younger VP candidate (Ryan, Rubio, Jindal), and you'd have a really good ticket.

Finally, let's think about where we were in 2000, the last time we didn't have an obvious candidate (McCain, in retrospect, was due in 2008).    Senators John Ashcroft, Fred Thompson, and Trent Lott all decided not to run, as did Governors Tommy Thompson and Jeb Bush.   Former Vice President Dan Quayle withdrew before the primaries, as did Governor Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Senator Bob Smith of New Hampshire, former Education Secretary and North Carolina Senator Liddy Dole, and TV commentator Pat Buchanan.   The candidates in the primary elections were thus down to Gary Bauer (pro-Life activist), businessman Steve Forbes, African-American commentator Alan Keyes, and two relatively old Senators, John McCain and Orrin Hatch, along with a single Governor, George W. Bush of Texas, who had served there for a total of six years.   Bush, of course, won, and the pool for potential VP candidates was so thin that he ended up naming Dick Cheney, who brought nothing to the table in terms of electoral votes (Wyoming), and hadn't been part of anybody's thinking prior to that.  

We're much better off now.   Santorum is better than Bauer; Herman Cain is much better than Alan Keyes; we have governors instead of old Senators; we have real conservatives rather than RINOs like McCain and Hatch and Liddy Dole; we even have a Texas governor with more experience who isn't named Bush.   And then there's that bench.

I'm just saying.   Jay Cost in the Weekly Standard comes to the same conclusion, with a different rationale.   Essentially he says it's too early to tell.  I agree, but I also think that what we have is pretty good.   For my money, a Daniels-Jindal or Perry-Jindal or Huntsman-Jindal ticket would be just fine.  

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