Saturday, February 19, 2011

Paulytics on the 2012 Republican Presidential "field"

Somewhere on the Internet right now, there is a very nice picture of new House Speaker John Boehner (R - OH) making an open-handed gesture in front of a podium; the caption reads "We got nothing!" While the caption is meant to refer to the Republican's platform for last year's election, it could just as easily refer to their field of potential candidates for their 2012 Presidential nomination. The GOP is well-known for it's humdrum cast of Presidential wannabes in recent cycles: remember 1996? The lot was so underwhelming, they were actually forced to nominate good ol' Bob Dole on his third and (mercifully) final try. There was, of course, 2008. Last time, the party went and (almost literally) dug up John McCain to stop the likes of "Mitt" Romney and Mike Huckabee. What about 1988? That year, the party nominated the very exciting George H.W. Bush, then popularly considered to be a "wimp," over Dole, Jack Kemp, Alexander Haig, and Pete du Pont (yes, really ... look it up.)

If you enjoyed those fabulous slug-fests of grumpy old men, then next year should delight you. The faces have changed and they've added a woman (well, she claims to be a woman,) but the list is still pretty dull. As usual, the first runner-up will probably be at it again. As also happens frequently, the veep nominee from the last battle will likely also be giving it a whirl. 2008 GOP nominee Sen. John McCain is still around, but is now 74. Despite having been overwhelmingly re-elected to yet another term in the Senate (it's Arizona, folks,) he'd be 76 when re-nominated and didn't really impress anyone last time. So, Johnny Mack is out!

This year's Sargent Shriver entry (a candidate that gets nominated as V.P. and then decides, despite slim qualifications, to give it a go themselves the next time out ... what too soon?) is none other than the Queen of Mean, former Alaska Gov. Sarah "Caribou Barbie" Palin. Despite two short, achievement-less years as Governor of our nation's least populous state, Palin seems ready to take her little sideshow on the road. She probably can raise the money, but cannot keep herself away from every credible journalist in the world forever. If she wanted to do the GOP some good, she should have been by George W. Bush's side most of the time so he wouldn't have been the dumbest person in the room! The recent debacle over the Gabrielle Giffords shooting and Palin's lousy track record of candidate endorsements (Joe Miller, her hand-picked candidate for Alaska's '10 Senate race, lost to a write-in candidate,) will do her in. Add on to that some lousy approval rating numbers, little real experience, and a habit of making Joe Biden look gaffe-proof and you have a Fox News host, not a serious Presidential contender. There's also the pregnant teen-age daughter thing. Oh yeah, and the cheating husband thing (don't blame him, you'd cheat, too!)

2012's Gary Hart (that's the person that comes in second (1) and decides, "This is my year!") is former Massachusetts Gov. Willard "Mitt" Romney. While being a handsome, allegedly charismatic guy, Romney presents some slender credentials of his own: one term (2003 - 2007) as governor of a deep blue state in which his greatest accomplishment was putting in place the universal health coverage plan upon which our nation's program is loosely based. Other than that, Romney sought the U.S. Senate seat then held by the late, great Ted Kennedy in 1994 (he lost 58% - 41%, but gave Teddy the closest full-term race of his life,) and was head of a private equity fund (Bain Capital.) Perhaps Romney's greatest claim to fame is his (long forgotten) bloodlines: father, George, was CEO of American Motors and Governor of Michigan (Dem.,) who crossed party lines to serve in Nixon's cabinet (HUD, 1969 - 1973.) Romney's mother, Lenore, challenged Sen. Philip A. "The Conscience of the Senate" Hart (D - MI) in 1970, but was badly defeated. Brother, G. Scott Romney sought to become Attorney General of Michigan in 1998, but lost the nomination.

No doubt Mitt is smart (he holds a combined J.D./MBA from Harvard,) rich (his net worth is estimated at somewhere in the $200 million range,) and nice-looking (check out the hair,) but he has some flaws. Romney is a Mormon and, among the evangelicals that turn out in GOP primaries, that's anathema (most of them consider it to be some form of weirdo cult.) All the average person knows about Mormonism is that they used to encourage polygamy. All of that is going to be a little problem! Which is not to discount Romney - after all, JFK overcame the Catholic thing, so who's to say Mitt can't overcome the Mormon thing? No one, but it's there and it is an obstacle.

Romney's second biggest flaw is that he may not be "conservative enough" to win primaries in the South and West that love the frothing-at-the-mouth types like Jeff Sessions and Larry Craig. Romney has supported giving benefits to same-sex couples and signed into law Massachusetts' health care reform law that is now seen as a model, and that makes him something of a moderate. While a guy like that plays well in general elections, the belt-buckle-as-identification folks that turn out in GOP primaries are more likely to go for someone like Huckabee or even Palin. So, Romney may not pass the smell test.

2008's other first runner-up (1) was none other than former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas. The Southern Baptist preacher is the favorite among evangelicals, who, despite their silence last time around, are still pretty strong (they handed the 2004 Presidential race to George W. Bush.) Despite being a magna cum laude graduate of Ouachita Baptist University in Arkansas, Huckabee holds no other real academic credentials (he dropped out of seminary school,) other than honorary degrees (from similarly prominent institutions.)

Reverend Mike has the religious halo around him that makes him seemingly immune to charges of graft and has led a relatively scandal-free existence (that alone is commendable considering he's from Arkansas,) but really has little in the way of a platform (2.) There's is the usual "Returning America to the Lord" and "God hates taxes" rhetoric, but that's not usually enough on a national level. Despite a background in televangelism and keeping himself on television with his Fox TV show, Huckabee has done little in the recent past to augment his Presidential aspirations. He may encourage a few folks to fire up their tractors and head on down to the polls, but it very much remains to be seen if he can win a nationwide general election. He did win the Iowa Caucuses last time and is decent at raising money, but can he step up to the big-time? I doubt it.

Next we have this year's Paul Tsongas/Jerry Brown entry. I am, of course, referring to the very interesting 1992 Democratic race that saw retired Sen. Paul Tsongas (D - MA,) who served one term before leaving the Senate for health reasons, run for President and have some early success (he won the New Hampshire primary,) before realizing that it takes money to win in national-level politics. Jerry Brown, the long-retired Governor of California, decided that the third time's a charm and gave it a go that year before he realized that the cardigan sweater thing only worked for Jimmy Carter (3.) This year's Brown/Tsongas contestant is none other than disgraced House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia.

A brilliant man (he has a Ph. D. in history from Tulane,) Newt first came to light in the late 1980's as minority whip when he nearly single-handedly brought down then Speaker Jim Wright (D - TX.) Gingrich's strategems bought the GOP control of the House in 1994 after 40 years in the minority. As a reward, the GOP caucus made Gingrich their Speaker - and then he promptly went about proving himself to be unworthy. After shutting down the government in 1995 and tripping on his own ego several times, Gingrich paid a fine for a crooked book deal and ethics violations (the very reason Wright had to call it a day.) He tacitly admitted cheating on all of his wives and slinked off with his tail between his legs. He is, somehow, now back and is said to be weighing throwing his hat in the ring. There was a time when this nation might have elected Gingrich, and that time was 1996. That time is well past ... he needs to move on and so do whatever supporters he has left!

The rest of the potential GOP is even less inspiring. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas just saw his idiot son elected to the Senate from Kentucky, which should be enough embarrassment for their family. Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota has a nice following, as does Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana. Neither state has produced a President and neither man is really Presidential timber. Rudy Giuliani could be another candidate, but his two terms as Mayor of New York and scandal plagued marital life do not present much in the way of a basis for running. Besides Giuliani didn't fare that well last time and 9/11 was even longer ago now than it was then. Furthermore, Giuliani has never proven he could win a statewide race, having declined to run for Governor or the Senate. He'd have to leap those hurdles before he could really convince anyone he's the man for the job.

Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana, an oft-rumored candidate, says he isn't running and is instead looking into replacing Daniels. Former two-term Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has that little family baggage issue that would handicap him. No doubt Jeb could raise the money, but he lacks his older brother's more impressive academic credentials and charm. Since leaving what is seen by some as a successful turn in Florida, Jeb has stayed out of the spotlight and is said to prefer developing the nascent political career of his eldest son, George P. Bush. Jeb even declined to run for the Senate when his brother's former HUD Secretary, Mel Martinez, announced that he wouldn't seek re-election. So, Bush looks to be truly retired from politics. A couple of pols harboring national-level ambitions, Sen. John Ensign of Nevada and Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina both shot themselves in the foot last year when tales of adultery-twinged malfeasance came to light. Both are now a dead issue.

So, as anyone can see, the field is limited. This bodes well for President Obama, who seems to be on an upswing after a rough first two years. With Obama's approval ratings back in the mid-fifties and the economy slowly roaring back to life, the GOP will probably be hard-pressed to find anyone to beat the President next year. Barring scandal or another near-meltdown of the economy, I look for Obama to be re-elected. The real question is: by how much? The GOP's anger-stirrers and hatred-mongerers will be out in force, but it won't be enough to stop our nation's newest "rock star" President.

- Americus Paulytics (January 29, 2011)

(1) The first runner-up of the 2008 Republican GOP sweepstakes is debatable: Romney won more states and popular votes, but Huckabee finished with the second highest delegate total.

(2) About the only real controversy Huckabee really encountered was in commuting too many death sentences (e.g. more than his predecessors.) Arkansans love a good execution!

(3) Jerry Brown was re-elected Governor of California in 2010, becoming both the youngest and oldest man to hold the job.