The GOP Landscape

Ken AshfordElection 2012Leave a Comment

I find it hard to comment on the GOP presidential bid, if only because it moves too quickly, and I'm not sure what I could add to the cacophany of punditry out there.  I mean, I like the gaffes, but even that has become "old hat".  It's almost pedantic and cliched now to point out the obvious:  that this field of candidates largely consists of a clown show.

But forge on I shall, with some random thoughts and predictions.

First, the unserious candidates.  These would be Herman Cain and Rick Perry.  These guys are (were) looking for a good gig — get some national spotlight and name recognition, up their fees for the lecture circuit, and — particularly in Cain's case — sell a book.  They haven't thought hard about the issues, and when pressed on why they haven't thought hard about them, their answer (implicitly, if not explicitly) is that they don't need to think hard about them, because when they're elected, they will have advisors.  I mean, hell, if you're running for the highest political office, and you haven't staked out your position yet on topics close to your party's heart, you can't have been serious about running.

In West Wing terms, these guys are (were) running a Robert Ritchie campaign, i.e., a campaign centered primarily around likeablility and demeanor rather than substance.  Common perception is that George W. Bush got elected (twice!) this way: he may not know who the leaders of other countries are, but you would sure like to have a beer with him.

But Bush will not go down in history — by liberals or conservatives — as a good president.  Sure, he'll enjoy a renaissance and re-examination in 20 years, but even then, it won't elevate him to top-tier status.  Besides, we just had a Bush.  And I think anyone who adopts that approach is seriously looking to be President — at least not this time around.  (If Trump or Palin threw their hats in the ring, they too would fall under this category).

Again, these folks were never "in it to win it", but rather, they are (were) "in it to be in it".  That distinguishes them from…

The serious but delusional candidates.  These are candidates who think they actually could and should be president, but don't realize they have — and never had — a snowball's chance in hell.  In this category, I place Michelle Bachmann and Rick Santorum.  These are the "Tea Party" candidates — ones who are, and always have been, true to the Tea Party principles and the "family values" voters.

The problem with these two is that, although they are "in it to win it", they don't realize that their base is small.  The Tea Party isn't very popular, and the "family values" issues (abortion, no same-sex marriage) aren't the motivators that they once were, even for conservatives.  These candidates may surround themselves with like-minded people and advisors, but they fail to see that the issues that the greater population care about are much broader and, frankly, beyond their experience and expertise.  I'm sure both Bachmann and Santorum are scratching their heads wondering why they never have gotten their "day in the sun" as the anti-Romney candidate, and it's because they are delusional that they are ready for prime time.  Like the unserious candidates above, they will drop off after South Carolina primaries, if not sooner, once the money stops coming in.

That leaves Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman.

Huntsman, I believe, is a serious candidate who is not delusional about his chances of being president.  Unlike Perry or Cain, I believe he is running to be President, his small chances notwithstanding.  He's smart.  He's qualified.  He's likeable.  He just doesn't have the name recognition or money to last the entire race. But he knows that and is making the noble effort anyway.

That leaves Romney, Gingrich, and Paul — any one of whom, I contend, could be the nominee.  Obviously, Romney remains for many the likely candidate, but as many more have pointed out, he's not exactly wowing the right.  He seems to have a glass ceiling of 25%, and always seems to be behind the polls in the parade of non-Romneys.  At the end of the day, I believe Romney will be the GOP candidate, and they will rally around him.  

Gingrich was (and is) the non-Romney candidate who I thought had the best chance to unseat Romney for the presumptive nominee throne.  But as many have pointed out, he's exactly what people on both the left and right don't like — a Washington insider who plays the political game to his own benefit (including, sin of all sins, his financial benefit).  He's smart and probably the best-versed of all the GOP candidates about D.C. politics, but he's not liked… even among people in his own party, including people that worked with him.  Arrogant and smarmy and a know-it-all.  He would give Obama a run for his money; as a red meat thrower, he might even be a better candidate to be the anti-Obama than Romney.  But I don't see that happening.  He will certainly last longer than the other non-Romney candidates, making it (perhaps) all the way to the convention.

Ron Paul is perhaps one of the strangest characters in the GOP race.  He is the libertarian candidate, and appeals to that wing of the Republican Party.  Still, some of his ideas seem extremely radical.  Getting rid of five entire departments?  I think people might applaud the loss of the Departments of Energy, Commerce, Interior, Education, and Housing and Urban Development, until they learn what those departments actually do for Americans. He would privatize the Federal Aviation Administration and the Transportation Security Administration?  Do people really think that would make things better?  This man is not conservative, if by "conservative" one means "keeping things pretty much as they are".  He's talking about major changes to the government, and I don't think people will like them once they understand the consequences.


But Paul has rabid followers, lots of money, and a good organization.  He will no doubt influence the debate throughout the whole election season, and I wouldn't be surprised if his candidacy lasts up to the convention.  But the actual nomination?  I don't see it, especially with these newsletters around his neck.

So we have a few more months of this ridiculousness, and I think once the pack winnows down to a manageable three (serious) candidates, it should become more interesting.  Right now, it's like watching a pie fight with a bunch of clowns riding bumper cars — too chaotic and too random to make serious commentary.