With the 2012 election a year and a half away, there’s still plenty of time for someone new and exciting to emerge as a candidate to take on President Barack Obama. Until then, Republicans are stuck with these folks.
The insiders’ pick: Mitch Daniels
He’s the choice of the think tankers and well-heeled political insiders (and the bow tied ones) – but arouses so little passion outside the consulting firms, it’s hard to see how the Indiana governor gets very far with actual people. Plus, not for nothing, but Daniels was George W. Bush’s budget director, and we all know how well that budget worked out. He also presided over an expensive Medicaid plan in his state that troubles conservative sticklers, had marriage weirdness, and once called for a “truce” on the social issues that much of the GOP base lives for. Mostly though, Mitch Daniels is short and boring:
One veteran political strategist who asked not to be named threw cold water on a Daniels boomlet before it even officially begins:
“He cannot and will not win Iowa or New Hampshire or Nevada or South Carolina, and he won’t get to Florida alive. Bad hair transplant, crooked nose, boring speaker — he’s not a TV candidate for the TV age.”
Not a good start.
The media’s candidate: Jon Huntsman
It seems clear by now that the Beltway media is hungry for a GOP candidate they can both take seriously (nobody likes to cover an incumbent landslide) and get excited about. Back in 2000, that candidate was John McCain (of course he dropped his “maverick” eight years later, crushing his media fans.) In 2004, it was Wesley Clark, who flamed out on a tarmac in Florida when he told an AP reporter he would have voted to invade Iraq … despite the fact that he was the “we shouldn’t have invaded Iraq” candidate. This year, it’s Jon Huntsman, the telegenic former Utah governor (who looks like he should be the mayor of Springfield’s gleaming, annoyingly perfect, neighboring community on “The Simpsons”) who’s also President Obama’s somewhat smarmily backstabbing former ambassador to China.
Huntsman has a history of butting heads with conservatives in his own party. He describes himself as a voice of moderation in an increasingly polarized political world, seemingly taking pride in his role as a party outsider. When he was reportedly considering a Senate run earlier this year, some Utahns even suggested he run for the office as a Democrat.
I mean, here’s a guy who not only embraced the 2009 stimulus – he thought it was too small (helloooo, Charlie Crist! … and Arnold “the cheater” Schwarzenegger!) He is on the record for a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, cap and trade (which he’s now trying to back away from, though he continues the right wing heresy of believing in climate change), gay civil unions, and the “non-Trump” approach to China (he speaks Mandarin, which will only further endear him to the bachelor’s degree crowd in the Beltway press and the people on the “emo” left who also secretly wish for a “progressive” Republican they can abandon Obama for. Once Gary Johnson fizzles, Huntsman will be there for the Greenwald/Hamsher crowd.)
So the media will try to anoint Huntsman. But his positions seem certain to make him un-nominatable (plus, his apparent distancing of himself from his Mormon faith could raise questions about fecklessness.) Can a media push impose him on an unwilling right wing primary electorate? Tick tock…
The “Plan B”: Tim Pawlenty
Poor T-Paw. Try as he might, he just can’t get anyone excited about his candidacy. And while MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell calls him the least objectionable GOP candidate in the field and therefore the only choice to get the nomination, Pawlenty does have his issues. He left Minnesota with a nasty deficit and a bad credit rating. He once believed in global warming and was for cap and trade (though he’s crisply flip-flopped on the matter, and probably no longer believes in evolution, either at this point…) Plus, despite his rather uncomfortably forced machismo (will he burp in public next???) and past flirtation with a mullet, he’s uninspiring and can’t get arrested in a poll. And it appears he’s not sure when he decided he wanted to run for president, or, presumably, why. From an interview with TIME’s Michael Crowley:
And when I ask Pawlenty, during a second interview in Des Moines, Iowa, exactly when he decided he was up to the grand challenge of the presidency, he answers in less than grandiose terms, explaining how he’d set up a political-action committee in 2009. I try again, saying I am curious about when he first imagined himself worthy of the history books, ready to send soldiers to their deaths and endure the national stage’s harsh toll. “I don’t know,” he replies. “I wish I had a good answer for you on that.” Pawlenty says it is not an idea that crossed his mind 15 or 20 years ago but that as he considered life as a relatively young ex-governor, he felt obliged not to take the easy path and “go make some money and play hockey and drink beer.” He adds that he almost didn’t run at all.
That’s not a good sign, and kind of makes the perennially hesitant Mitch Daniels look positively burning at the belly! Still, because he seems so unobjectionable — in a bland, can’t quite remember what it is about him you’re supposed to remember kind of way — Pawlenty remains everybody’s Plan B.
The Palin substitute: Michele Bachmann
Michele Bachmann is NOT the choice of the Beltway establishment. Hell, her own House leadership didn’t want to give her a prominent caucus role. She isn’t taken seriously by the media, in part because she seems to have assembled her knowledge of U.S. history from Mike Huckabee’s comic books. But with Sarah Palin losing to Dennis Kucinich in a hypothetical match-up, and getting more attention (and making more money) speculating about running and working for Fox than actually running for president, Bachmann fills the “mama grizzly” void. Despite being part of the “gangster government,” she remains popular with the tea party and evangelical people who lease the Republican Party from big oil and the banks. With the Huck out of the picture, and the example of Palin (and the millions of dollars she made just running for veep) staring her in the face, it’s hard to see the downside for Bachmann in making a go. At the least, she’ll enhance her brand as Mrs. Tea Party, snag a serious book deal and a contract with Fox News, and drag the party even further to the right … if that’s even possible.
The brother from another planet: Herman Cain
Let’s face it: Republicans would love to have their own black guy to counteract Barack Obama — someone who by his very person negates any charges of tea party/birther racism, while putting an ethnic face on the standard “Marxist this” and “Socialist that” and “cut taxes” the other thing stump lines. (They’d love to have an Hispanic version more, but Marco Rubio isn’t about to cross Jeb Bush’s 2016 presidential run by jumping in himself next year.) Herman Cain fits the bill. He’s basically Allen West without the Washington day job (or the history of mock executing Iraqis), and like West, he talks the crazy talk, excites the crowds, and makes tea partiers feel hip and “with it” and totally non-racist.
Think of him as an on-message Michael Steele.
The question is, can Cain get nominated? The conventional wisdom would suggest not, but the latest polling shows he is quickly becoming the flavor of the moment, as the GOP base goes into Donald Trump withdrawal and begins casting about for a new, flashy Obama-basher — preferably one who can’t be called a race-baiter in the process of questioning Obama’s Americanness. In the end, Cain could be running for a shot at being vice president. Or he could be angling for yet another Palin-like Fox/Spence Publishing deal. It’s hard to see how he gets the nomination, but he definitely fills the Alan Keyes void this year.
If in the end the vice presidential slot is dangled in front of him (via a leak of the vaunted “short list,”) I doubt he’ll seriously be considered. Republicans know they have zero chance of increasing their share of the black vote until the day they get smart and nominate Colin Powell, and the party is now so far to the right, that will never happen. And the degree to which Cain makes his real base — far right, white Republicans — feel good, that doesn’t mean he’s the most logical add to a dull presidential ticket.
Which brings us to the candidate I think in the end, will actually get the nod, and lead that boring ticket …
The jerk: Mitt Romney
Nobody likes Mitt Romney. Nobody wants Mitt Romney. But in the end, Republicans may be stuck with Mitt Romney.
If past is prologue, Romney is this year’s Bob Dole — this year’s John McCain (circa 2008.) He ran before (check.) He has a boatload of cash that will help him crowd out the competition (and he’ll likely dump loads of it on fellow Mormon Huntsman, to eliminate him as a threat.) And despite his Romneycare heresy, he remains the only Republican candidate who’s actually done this before, and who can go the distance with a sitting president who might raise a staggering $1 billion for his re-election campaign.
Call him “Mittens” or “Multiple Choice Mitt” all you want. Laugh at his skinny jeans and his sons who consider their fulfillment of their patriotic duty helping dad run for president. Republicans, in the end, are going to need someone who’s played this game before, who can fund his campaign through a long primary, and who has the relationships with the money centers of the party — particularly on Wall Street. Romney, the hedge fund guy, can do the job (Huntsman is rich too, which gives Romney another reason to crush him early.) And if the economy is the leading issue, Romney can play the business card, the Olympics card, and the “former governor” card. Plus, his dad was a popular governor of the swing state of Michigan.
It probably isn’t what Republicans want to hear, but to my mind, it remains the most likely scenario. And Democrats should be forewarned that if Romney (or second banana T-Paw) is the nominee, Republicans will look to pair him with someone jazzy — a woman or an Hispanic or other minority (or both.) They’ll look to grab a governor, perhaps, like New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, or South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (though Haley has said she doesn’t intend to be on any ticket.) They won’t just go into the general with a “boring white guy” and no plan to spice up the ticket.
But at the top of that ticket?
Well, let’s just say “excitement” won’t be the watchword.
Sidebar: the also-rans
There are, of course, a bunch of other potential candidate. But they are so completely, ridiculously implausible (I mean John Bolton…? Rick Santorum…? He couldn’t even get re-elected to his Senate seat, and well… just Google him.
And while he’s lots of fun, nobody seriously believes Republicans are going to nominate Ron Paul (or his pro-weed Doppelganger Gary Johnson.)
It hardly seems worth devoting full paragraphs to them, although if I were in the political press corps, I’d want to be on the Paul bus, just for sheer hilarity.
UPDATE: Per commenter Flo, no you didn’t miss anything. Newt did not get a mention. Poor Newt. He may have enough cash to hang around until the first couple of debates, but I don’t see how he continues to fundraise after the disaster that was his rollout week. But just out of sheer pity, here’s a picture. There you go, Newt. There, you go.
The ex-man: Newt Gingrich
UPDATE 2: Oh wait … what? Newt still has a chance???