Last Tuesday marked the two year countdown to the end of the Obama presidency. For these next two, slow moving years, all political discussion will fall under two broad categories; how much more damage can the President bring about in that time and who will the Republicans nominate to replace him. This post focuses on the second.
The issue is not just who can beat the Democrat nominee. Notice I typed, "the Democrat nominee," not Hillary Clinton. I am not at all sure Mrs. Clinton will be nominated. Even if Elizabeth Warren does not run, support for Hillary is weaker than many in the media would have us believe. Many Democrats have their doubts about her. Especially the far left, or progressives, as they prefer to be called today. They don't trust her to carry on Obama's policies. Obama is numbered among these doubters. It is reported that he trusts Warren to continue his legacy and has actively encouraged her to run. Hillary is not skillful enough to convincingly remold herself into a progressive champion. The flap concerning her remarks about how entrepreneurs don't create jobs is just one example. Her age and personal baggage may cause many Democrats to seek an alternative; a fresh face whom nobody knows anything about. After all, it worked for Obama in 2008. Many Democrats who supported Obama over Hillary in the 2008 primaries have good reason to fear the wrath of Hillary and Bill. Were the Clintons to regain the White House, there is sure to be a political purge in the party and in the government.
Again, the issue for the Republicans is not just who can beat the Democrat nominee. The issue is which Republican nominee can motivate the base to vote for him. President Obama's 2012 win was due in large part to the dissatisfaction of the Republican base with Mitt Romney. I voted for him, but many conservatives stayed home on election day because Romney's past conduct caused them to doubt he would govern conservatively (see my post here). Were he to run again, that mistrust would remain. Those doubts will only increase in the light of his most recent comments on immigration. Jeb Bush's stand on immigration will also hurt him with the base, as well as his support for Common Core. It appears that Bush has told rich Republican donors that he would win without the base. This reminds me of a joke that is told every time a Republican wins the White House. The day after the election, two liberal college professors meet on campus. "I voted for the Democrat," says one. "You voted for the Democrat. Just where do all these other people who voted Republican come from?" Just as many liberals think conservatives are few and far between and therefore, inconsequential, so do establishment Republicans delude themselves into thinking the same thing. As has been said by many pundits, voters are not ready to vote for another Bush. Were Bush or Romney the nominee, the advantage of a fresh face opposing Hillary Clinton would be thrown away. Chris Christie has no chance of being nominated. I think even he is smart enough to know this. I don't expect him to run.
The Democrats and their allies in the media would like to make Republican voters think Bush, Romney, or Christie are their only viable candidates. So would the Republican political establishment. Even normally reliable conservatives mention only these three. Some will add Rand Paul to the list. This is the case with the conservatives who appear on the McLaughlin Group. Recently I heard Laura Ingraham claim that anyone who doesn't believe Bush will be the nominee knows nothing about politics. She compared all other alternatives to Bush to those who ran against Romney in the 2012 primaries. Ingraham compared them to the likes of Herman Cain, who served as a distraction for conservative voters. The idea that the current crop of conservative alternatives to Bush and Romney are only Cain-like distractions is ludicrous. Many of them have very impressive records on which to run and would be articulate spokespersons for their conservative supporters. Most of the conservative candidates should have no trouble securing the support of the conservative base. Marco Rubio may be viewed with suspicion because of his moderate approach to immigration. But which one is best positioned to win enough votes outside the base to win the election?
What about Rand Paul? He has shown himself to be a smart political operator. I've even heard liberals acknowledge this. But Rand Paul has a huge liability, and his name is Ron Paul, otherwise known as Dad. Ron Paul is a true blue Libertarian. In a general election, this will not be an asset. The father has made numerous statements that caused many to question his sanity, such as his pronouncements that Iran has a right to nuclear weapons. His statements minimizing the importance of pro life issues as compared to states' rights concerns turn off many conservatives. There is also plenty of evidence that he or his campaign staff has produced racist literature in past campaigns. The Libertarian culture in general could turn out to be a huge millstone around Rand Paul's neck. Libertarians take extremist positions on such issues as drug legalization and Israel that they can sound like allies of the far left. Many Libertarians even believe that 911 was a government plot. One of their candidates for governor of Texas, Debra Medina, refuse to disavow 911 conspiracy theories and so destroyed her chances for any future political career. Rand Paul is certainly smart enough to know he has to moderate his Libertarian orthodoxy so not to turn off most voters. But it is uncertain whether he has the ability to distance himself from his father and his father's supporters.
Suppose Rubio would be able to win over conservative voters, would he be able to win in the general election? I'm not sure he would. I like Rubio, but at this stage of his career, he has not mastered the media and his inexperience shows. (Of course, the same criticism could be leveled at both President Bushes. Yet they won three presidential elections). I like Bobby Jindal as well. He can be articulate, yet his rhetoric seems to be a bit juvenile. For someone with his academic pedigree, this seems baffling. The way he expresses himself could make him seem less than presidential. (Of course, the same criticism could be leveled at both President Bushes. Yet they won three presidential elections). I'm not sure Rick Perry can overcome the gaffes committed during his 2012 run. I don't know enough about Mike Pence or Susana Martinez to comment. I'm familiar with John Kasich, but don't know what kind of candidate he would make. The Senator from South Carolina would be the next Jon Huntsman.
Then there is Ted Cruz. I am a Ted Cruz fan. I don't believe any of the criticisms aimed at him by the left or the Republican establishment. I think he would be a great President. Yet I doubt he could win a general election, and for one of the same reasons why Hillary Clinton couldn't win either. Historically, a candidate who has a devoted following and an equally inspired opposition and who is constantly in the spotlight loses in the primaries or in general elections. Most Presidents have been those who had been previously unknown to the voting public, like JFK, Clinton, or Obama. Or if they were known, like Richard Nixon or Ronald Reagan, they had spent some years out of the spotlight. Dwight Eisenhower was known to everyone, but he had never run for political office before he ran for President. The one exception in modern times has been George H.W. Bush, who had served eight years as Vice-President. In his case, he had two things going for him; he benefited from Reagan's success and he couldn't have asked for a more hopeless opponent. Ted Cruz has a lot more going for him than George H.W. Bush, and if he could overcome this obstacle, no one would be pleased to vote for him more than myself. But the odds are against him.
That leaves the one candidate Democrats and establishment Republicans rarely mention, the elephant in the Republican room: Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. Not only is he a reliable conservative, his fight against the Democrats and their union allies has earned him a hero status among the conservative base. He stood his ground against all opposition in two elections and one recall attempt. Only Cruz shares his hero status, and only Sarah Palin exceeds him in admiration among the conservative base. The opposition to him in Wisconsin was intense as any presidential candidate receives, yet all the efforts of the state and national Democrat party could not chip away at his support among Wisconsin voters. If there was anything in his past that would derail a presidential candidacy, it would have surfaced already. Walker has already been vetted. He is been a popular, successful governor. Yet for all the intense opposition he has faced, he has managed to operate mainly under the public radar. Unlike Clinton or Cruz, he is rarely mentioned in the news. This allows him to run as a fresh face in 2016. When seeking a candidate with the right political skills, this bodes well for 2016 and beyond. All this positions Walker to be the Republican nominee best able to win.
The day I typed this post, Sarah Palin told the Washington Post that she was seriously considering a 2016 run. Count me among Palin's most ardent admirers. But could she win in the primaries, let alone the general election? The manner in which her opponents drove her out of the Alaska Governor's office, and the false charge that her departure showed she was not fit for the pressures of the Presidency could be a huge liability. She also faces the same obstacles Cruz would face if he would run. She has a personal loyalty among conservatives that is only matched by Reagan. She also has an opposition bordering on the deranged. Both groups would turn out in droves. Would Palin be able to increase her support during the primaries and the general election? Right now, no one knows. Also, she has had constant media exposure; she cannot run as a fresh face whom the voters know nothing about. However, even if she can't win, a Palin candidacy could very well inspire the conservative base to take away much, if not total control, of the Republican party from the establishment. In that case, I say, "Run! Sarah! Run!"
If Bush, Romney, or Christie would be the nominee by the time I get to vote in the primaries, then I'll vote for the man I voted for in 2012. The man who should have been seen as the most viable alternative to Romney but for the distractions of Cain, Bauchmann, and Gingrich. I am speaking of Rick Santorum. While the issues that most concern him are social issues, had he the time, he could have established himself as an articulate, well-rounded candidate that could have defeated Romney in the primaries and Obama in the election. I would gladly vote for him again. He could certainly prevail over any likely Democrat nominee. Or Hillary Clinton.