Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Who's not who among the GOP hopefuls and why

I’ve already spoken aplenty about the current crop of declared GOP candidates for next year’s Presidential election – and who wants to beat a dead horse (or a dead elephant, for that matter)? Today, I’d like to take a look at those that seem to be choosing not to run and discuss how this affects the GOP’s chances. With the President consistently polling around 50% in approval ratings (the touchstone for his re-election candidacy,) and the Tea Party dropping like a stone in current national polls, the current crop of Republicans in the race becomes all the more important.

Unlike their counterparts, the GOP Presidential sweepstakes usually fills up with some head-scratchers early on and then thins out. Democrats would seem to attract more serious candidates to their Presidential plebiscites, perhaps because there are fewer ideologues among the blue crowd. This year’s laughable gaggle includes businessman Herman Cain, former Gov. Buddy Roemer of Louisiana, notorious nut-job Michele Bachmann, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Nobody (including myself) has ever heard of Cain, Roemer has been out of office for nearly twenty years, Bachmann is in just her third term in the House and can’t even crack the leadership ladder, and Gingrich has been on the sidelines since early 1999.

The GOP has a nice history of recycling candidates. Bob Dole had to seek the nod three times (1980, 1988, and 1996,) before actually winning it (and getting stomped by scandal-plagued Bill Clinton); John McCain had to run twice after running face first into the wall that was George W. Bush in 2000; and even Ronald Reagan ran three times before winning it (1968, 1976, and 1980.) This year’s second-timers are the co-runners-up from the last cycle: Former Governors Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee. So, it’s been the exception that a first time candidate wins the GOP nod: Dubya took it in 2000 in his first try – prior to that, the last man to do so was Barry Goldwater in 1964!

The 2012 crop for the GOP is quite thin and could be a harbinger of some big wig stepping into the race later and claiming the prize. A recent vintage name (such as Sen. Rand Paul of Tennessee,) could also decide to give it a go, although it would probably just be to run as a way to build nationwide name recognition to try again in 2016. The crop thinned after two big rising GOP stars got caught up in very messy adultery scandals last year.

Gov. Mark Sanford was often rumored to harbor presidential ambitions, but abandoning the state to carry on an adulterous affair (in violation of state law,) while lying to your own aides yields an end to one’s political career. Sanford left office in total disgrace early this year and is presently licking his wounds in the political graveyard known as the lecture circuit. Sen. John Ensign was badly hobbled by his own scandal, where it was revealed that he was screwing a member of his staff (who happened to be married to another staffer,) and is limping out of the Senate next year. The twin killing left the Republicans short of legitimate contenders and the result is a nearly silly group.

Also shortening the list was the Republican debacle known as the 2006 mid-term elections. That (wonderful) year, then President Bush sank in the polls due to his bungling response to Hurricane Katrina and the Democrats took back the House and Senate in short order. Among the Democratic pick-offs that year were Senators George Allen (VA) and Rick Santorum (PA.) The loss left Allen to seek to restore himself to the Senate next year while Santorum is (for some odd reason) running for President anyway and getting widely ignored.

The 2010 mid-terms were a debacle of historic proportions for the Democratic Party, but those elected who might be of presidential timber are still several years away. The Tea Party revolution also put in place legislators that are WAY too far right to be of any consequence nationally. Nevertheless, pols like Chris Christie and Marco Rubio could have a future in the national arena if felicity smiles upon them. They just need to develop the experience portions of their respective rap sheets.

My question about next year’s GOP contenders is this: why aren’t any of the big dogs in the race? Sen. Mitch McConnell is nearing seventy and has always lusted after the Majority Leader position – but there’s no guarantee the GOP will take the Senate in 2012 (especially without a strong candidate atop the ticket,) and McConnell is your stereotypical Deep South Republican that won’t make it to the top of the ladder. McConnell’s #2, Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, is stepping down after 2012 – so he’s out, too.

John Thune

Thune was the 2004 “Giant Killer” who edged out then Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle after three terms. He was re-elected in 2010 without opposition and his rugged good looks and folksy Midwestern drawl have gotten him some attention. The GOP Senate elders tabbed him for great things early on, naming him a deputy whip in his first term. Nevertheless, Thune, 50, has already ruled out a 2012 run without saying why and has also said he won’t be in the running to succeed Kyl as whip. He could change his mind on the latter to raise his profile for 2016, at which point he’d be just fifty-five.

Jeb Bush

I’ve said my piece about my home state’s former czar (um, Governor,) in previous soliloquies, so I won’t spend much time on him here. Bush would seem to be done with politics, at least in part because of the damage his big brother wreaked upon the family (and party) political brand. He left office in early 2007 a popular man, but has stayed out of the spotlight since. It’s said that Jeb is content to manage the future political fortunes of his son, George P. Bush, and remain under the radar. Had Dubya nosedived in historical fashion during his second term, Jeb might’ve made for an impressive candidate in 2008. There is no doubt that he could raise the money, but he didn’t bother with a 2010 Senate race that would’ve been over had he simply said he wanted it. So, barring the intervention of some (real, not political,) deity Jeb will remain a non-candidate.

John Boehner

The idea of a Boehner candidacy is almost amusing. First of all, the current House Speaker can’t get thru a speech without bawling and, second, he’s living his political dream as Speaker (now matter how difficult the Tea Partiers are to manage.) The Speaker of the House almost never runs for President, because there is too much risk. Boehner would have the support of the party elites, but is better off staying where he current resides. The people of Ohio’s 8th district will keep right on sending back to the House and that’s where the Tan Man should stay.

The Rest

The current Republican cast of characters is unimpressive to most. When former Gov. Jon Huntsman of Utah and Gary Johnson of New Mexico are throwing their hats in the ring and not being heckled mercilessly, you know the crop is thin. I’ve beaten that point to death, so I won’t dwell. Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi is considered a strong contender, but conservative Deep South candidates usually don’t run that well nationwide (George W. Bush was an extreme exception.) The GOP has little outside that base and their partners in the Midwest. The GOP may well take back the Senate in 2012; but outside of the Lord himself filming a campaign commercial for them, that will be the height of it.

Thanks to the Tea Party, the GOP is undergoing a further rightward shift that could marginalize them permanently. As Americans learn what the Tea Party’s true agenda is (killing what remains of our Middle Class,) they are less likely to keep on winning races. Governors Rick Scott, Scott, Walker, and John Kasich are so busy trying to kill every labor union known to man that they are forgetting the very people they were elected to serve. You can bet that bottom dollar none of the three will see reelection. The Tea Party “establishment” is getting exactly what they do NOT need: exposure. The more America sees of someone like Michele Bachmann, the less likely they are to be trusted with anything as precious as the Presidency of the United States.

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