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From the Ashes of the 2012 GOP Primary

December 6th, 2011

Editors Note: My project to write a post every day is already off to a rocky start, as Saturday’s post went long and I’ve been distracted by other things. Today’s post, which should have been Sunday’s, is going to be shorter and perhaps tomorrow I can play catch up.

The 2012 Presidential Election is headed to America like the proverbial freight train, and the only good thing about it is the Democrats don’t have to go through the pain and agony of selecting a new candidate. Instead we get Barack Obama, for better or worse… but this isn’t a post about Democrats, that’s scheduled for Tuesday. Today we are talking about the other side, the not-so-loyal opposition, the Republican Party nomination process. Here, in short order, are my thoughts on the major candidates, why they are in the race, and what it means for nation.

Before I get started on particular candidates, I want to point out that the bench is not shallow, contrary to what the press my be reporting. You’ve got sitting and former congress people, a bunch of governors, and only one dude with zero government experience. It was not but four years ago that the Democrats nominated someone with an awfully shallow government resume.

Tim Pawlenty (Former Governor of Minnesota)

We’ll start with the least interesting, not because the candidate is a bad guy, but because he dropped out back in August. I think the decision to drop out so early says more than anything Pawlenty ever sad on the trail. As a governor of a state that voted D for the past several decades, Pawlenty came to the table with new electoral votes and a moderate record. Given his endorsement of Romney after he dropped out, one assumes he found it difficult to fund raise being essentially Romney v2, but with less awesome hair. But what does it say about a party’s nomination process when there’s only enough oxygen in the room to support one reasonable candidate?

Gary Johnson (Former Governor of New Mexico)

Clearly I haven’t been paying as much attention as I should, because I know next to nothing about this guy. His photo on Wikipedia does not inspire presidential confidence. Can’t imagine he’ll last past Iowa and New Hampshire.

Rick Perry (Governor of Texas)

Perry had a strong position when he announced late into the primary season, but after pushing a immigration plan that was mainstream GOP just six years ago, his campaign appears in decline. Which demonstrates a fundamental issue with the GOP primary process this year… there’s not a single, or even set, of litmus tests this year. Ideological purity on every issue appears to be required of any candidate. I’m reminded when it was a big deal that the Democrats wouldn’t consider nominating a anti-choice candidate… but I struggle to think of any other issue where the base would reject the candidate outright if they held a position that differs from the party platform. I wonder, how a party evolve to meet a changing reality if divergent opinions are punished so severely?

Mitt Romney (Former Governor of Massachusetts)

Romney is the front-runner, even if today’s polls say it’s someone else… everyone knows that the race is down to Romney and TBD. No one thinks the race is going to come down to Gingrich and Paul, or Huntsman and Bachmann. I’m told that history supports Romney’s front-runner status, as his 2nd place finish in 2008 means the party elite are likely to coalesce around him. The big question with him is whether or not the GOP has changed so much in the past 10 years that elite endorsements (where Romney is the far-and-away leader) are more of a detriment than an asset. I’m not convinced that Romney is a shoe-in, but if he loses by a large margin (major campaign catastrophe not-with-standing) I would say the future of the GOP does not look bright. If the elite don’t have at least some influence on the party, how is it a party and not just an angry mob?

Newt Gingrich (Former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives)

I’ll admit right now, I’m a Gingrich fan. No, I can’t stand his politics and I find his conduct to be generally reprehensible. What I like about him is that he’s not afraid to appear smart on stage. He’s not up there spinning old yarns about how Grampa Joe’s work ethic is an allegory for the global economy. I also appreciate his belief in science and technology as forces for good. There was even a time when he supported efforts to address climate change! However, there is a nasty side to Newt. He tends to get very personal in politics, and will tear his opponents down in an ugly fashion. It’s not very Presidential. As of today, Newt is the poll front-runner, and I’m hopeful it stays that way. Not that I want him to win the nomination, per se, but more because I think keeping him on the stage keeps the conversation from going totally off the rails into crazy Tea Party Town.

As a side note, the Gingrich campaign has given rise to one of my election coverage rules. If the coverage of a campaign makes it seem like the whole thing falls apart over night (like it did with McCain in 2008 or with Gingrich in the summer of 2012) it’s probably overplaying the situation and it can — and often does — come back together just as easily as it appears to have gone away.

Jon Huntsman (Former Ambassador to China and Former Governor of Utah)

I still find it amazing that the one GOP candidate who has embraced evolution in the classroom and climate change as an addressable threat is a Mormon. I grew up with Mormons, and they are some of the nicest folks I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting… but, to generalize, they can be among the most stubborn when reality doesn’t fit their religious beliefs. So that a Governor of Utah, former Ambassador to China from the Obama Administration, and devote Mormon has taken up the mantel of intellectual honesty in the GOP primary is one of those things you don’t expect to see in your lifetime. If he were to win the nomination, I’d be genuinely worried about the general election. He’s cultivated a persona that is attractive to disaffected Democrats, who are likely not going to pay attention when Huntsman’s economic politics, which are very conservative, start getting press. Thankfully, there is zero chance that national GOP will nominate him… if they are gonna nominate a Mormon, it’s gonna be Romney.

Ron Paul (Congressman TX 14th CD)

Now we are starting the descent into crazy town candidates. Ron Paul is a perennial GOP candidate, sort of like Dennis Kucinich for the Democrats, except a lot closer to capturing the prize. In general, I try to avoid saying bad things about Paul, because I just don’t understand his MO. Here’s a man who has been in Congress since the 70’s (with some noticeable gaps) and yet, shows up to vote “no” on essentially every bill. What makes him keep doing it? It can’t be the money, he could make tons more on the full time speaker circuit. It can’t be the power… since he always votes “no”, he essentially has no power. I get he’s a libertarian, so the votes fit his philosophy… what doesn’t fit is his desire for office in the first place. One of the reasons I don’t generally worry about libertarians destroying the social fabric of the nation is that they are too busy taking care of themselves to do any real harm… but here’s a guy who claims to be a self-promoter who is not spending time self-promoting. Until I understand what he’s trying to accomplish, Paul remains a mystery. Never the less, I imagine this is the last race we will see him.

Rick Santorum (Former Senator from Pennsylvania)

Wow… I honestly can’t imagine what amazing dare Santorum had to have lost to try to run for national office. Beyond the fact that he’s got a snowballs chance in hell of winning the nomination in the first place, I can imagine no better candidate to galvanize the Left and ensure high turnout for Obama. Santorum was too active of a culture warrior to be Presidential material. I assume he’s going to write a book.

Michele Bachmann (Congresswomen, MN 6th CD)

Bachmann appears to suffer from any number of mental aliments, and I don’t say that as a joke. Her grasps of basic facts appear far too slippery, and her drive to be seen as the spokesperson for the Tea Party seems to come more from a place of megalomania than political aspiration. But here she is, running for President on the “I’m not Sarah Palin, but I’m willing to let you think I am” platform. I assume Bachmann supporters flock to her because of her ideological purity… but, in truth, I’m not convinced she has any idea how that ideology would be turned into government policy. It’s a bit too much like the folks who don’t want the Government to interfere with Medicare. They know the ideology (government == bad) but have no idea how that relates to questions like “how do we make Medicare better?” It doesn’t matter, I suspect Bachmann will be gone once South Carolina wraps up.

Herman Cain (Businessman and Radio Host)

Cain has already suspended his campaign by this time, which you had to see coming the moment he announced his candidacy. The question is, after he got the bump in book sales he was looking for, why did he stay in the race for so long? I read a report on Cain a few weeks back about how Cain was willing to leave in person audiences standing around for hours to take last minute TV opportunities. You don’t win elections that way, and I’m sure his staff knew that. I suspect Cain became the victim of his own PR machine, believing himself to truly be the savior of the GOP. Thankfully, the real world doesn’t work in such absolutes, and his past came out to remind him that no one is perfect. I just hope the book sales prove worth the destruction of his personal life.

Sarah Palin (Former Governor of Alaska and Former GOP Nominee for Vice President)

Palin never declared, and as of today, she’s saying she won’t run, and I take that as truth. The reason I mention her at all is to gloat. Way back in 2009-2010 I was very vocal about my belief that Palin had zero intention of running for President. Her behavior continues to suggest she is a Grade A grifter, and you can’t grift from the White House. She’ll make a ton more money doing exactly what’s she is doing now. So let’s all just stop talking about her… as soon as we stop paying attention, she will go away.

And all the Rest…

So, there you have it, one of the above names is likely to be the GOP candidate for President. My personal hope is for either Romney or Gingrich. If it’s one of the Tea Party folks, we’ll be looking at another 4 years of useless polarization. But if the Republicans nominate someone who is at least partially reasonable, then perhaps some middle ground can be identified during the campaign. In either event, I’m looking forward to Obama after the election, and after the point where the GOPs sole purpose in life is to deny him a second term. Maybe, just maybe, they’ll be willing to help govern the country for a few months.

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  1. mc r
    December 6th, 2011 at 13:56 | #1

    I didn’t think that the thing that brought Perry down (for the time being?) was his unwillingness to strive for ideological purity (after all, Newt Gingrich is not an ideological purist, though he has shifted many of his positions to appear more pure lately), but rather that he just came off as unable to respond to questions smartly in the debates– and that is unpresidential. One could argue that the recent Texan who actually made it to the Oval Office was also unable to respond to questions smartly, but Bush at least had enough charisma to make up for the verbal gaffes, at least to his core audience.

    The thing about the Newt is that I don’t think keeping him in the conversation keeps the Tea Party noise offstage. I think it’s already in there, and that’s why Newt has flip-flopped on numerous issues already, namely medicare, cap and trade, and climate change and the government’s involvement in preventing it. (I will let his flip flop on his own marriages go– that’s not a Tea Party issue, and people do after all break apart, except he was having affairs similar in nature to a Democrat with good hair four years ago, and he isn’t being similarly excoriated about it, because Republicans are allowed to repent) These flip flops are already a result of the Tea Party already affecting even “mainstream” Republican candidates’ platforms. So I wouldn’t exactly say that the conversation has stayed away from Tea Party crazy-town.

    It’s funny that in the few debates that I saw, it was mysterious libertarian Ron Paul who seemed like he had the best ability to speak about his platform in a rational and intelligent way. He even seemed professorial (which is the space that Gingrich has now assumed). I wouldn’t discount Tea Party crazy-town quite yet.

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