The job no Republican wants

The job no Republican wants
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Amid exceedingly little fanfare, or even media attention, the Republican Party quietly held its first presidential primary debate last Thursday, officially kicking off the race to wrestle the White House from President Obama next year. Though there were a few memorable moments and a couple of witty lines, the event was largely noteworthy only as a reminder of how pathetically slim the declared GOP candidate roster is at the moment. Of the five who took to the stage, only former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty could claim the mantle of being a “real” candidate, in the sense of being at least somewhat well-known and holding a relatively mainstream Republican philosophy. The remaining four began with Ron Paul and only got more fringey from there, which should give you some indication of why most networks weren’t exactly scrambling to reschedule their Osama death coverage.

For reasons I still don’t entirely understand, the 2012 Republican primary has been an excruciatingly protracted dance of seven veils. While there the race has a large number of high profile “presumed” candidates, including (in the order they appear in my comic) New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Sarah Palin, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, Minnesota Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann, and Mike Huckabee, all have yet to come out of the proverbial campaign closet and formally declare their intentions to run. This has led to a bizarre paradox whereby the press can constantly complain that there are no “serious” Republicans running for president, yet simultaneously give endless excited coverage to the theoretical campaigns of the dozen or so GOP bigwigs who still officially aren’t.

Part of the problem seems to be America’s campaign finance regime, which only imposes its regulations and spending limits once a candidate completes his paperwork to formally run for office. This creates an incentive to keep one’s campaign stuck in contemplative limbo world for as long as possible, in which it’s legally a little bit easier to raise and spend money promoting yourself, so long as it’s only for “exploratory” purposes (whatever that means). If your popularity tanks, it’s also far less damaging to the ol’ ego to merely abandon an exploratory committee, rather than shamefully withdraw a full-fledged presidential campaign, and considering the entirely uncertain mood of the Republican base at the moment, many top GOP contenders apparently don’t want to risk their pride until it’s entirely apparent they have a serious chance of avoiding humiliation in the polls.

Other prospective candidates have even more particular strategic concerns. Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee, for instance, are clearly the candidates with the most to lose by running for president, at least from a strictly financial perspective. Neither of them has ever been particularly rich, yet at the moment both are enjoying great wealth and career stability, as a result of their newfound media careers as authors and FOX pundits. Running for president would require a resignation from this pleasant lifestyle, so both Huck and Sarah are predictably taking an exceedingly long time to weigh their options, as their pollsters and bean counters no doubt work furiously in the background.

Overall, the GOP presidential contenders can be organized into three tiers, which I present here, with links to official campaign sites, for handy reference:

1. Officially running (attended debate, and have exploratory committee): Tim Pawlenty, Ron Paul, Rick Santorum, Gary Johnson, Herman Cain

2. Officially “considering” running (have exploratory committee, but did not attend debate and have been campaigning less overtly): Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich

3. Considered to be a “likely” candidate by the media (have either mused openly about running, or poll well among the party faithful, but have no committees or websites): Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Mitch Daniels, Donald Trump, Michelle Bachmann, Chris Christie, Haley Barbour, John Huntsman.

The biggest fear of the conservative establishment is that none of the tier three people ever migrate to tier one — since the former seems to be where most of the big, interesting, popular names are residing — and the party gets stuck with a candidate who is either way too unknown, or too fringey, to pose a serious threat to Barack Obama.

Partisanship aside, who do you think the Republicans would be wisest to nominate? I’m personally a bit conflicted. On the one hand, since I expect President Obama to win reelection fairly easily, a case could be made that nominating the most Obama-like candidate — which is to say, moderate in temperament and ideology — would be wise, which would push Romney, Pawlenty, Huntsman, and Daniels to the front. On the other hand, an equally strong case could be made that in a Republican “off year” the party has less to lose by making a strategically desperate gamble, and nominating someone with the ability to mobilize right-wingers to the ballot booths in record numbers. That would then favor someone like Trump, Bachmann, Ron Paul, or even Herman Cain. After all, the logic goes, the Republicans can only win in 2012 if they can somehow tap into some inactive base who ordinarily wouldn’t vote, just as Obama did with youths and minorities in 2008. “Angry conservative white guys” have certainly been more active than usual via the Tea Party as of late, so maybe a Tea Party candidate is the only strategically sensible option at this point — though such a conclusion is obviously quite troubling to any conservative who views the Tea Party movement with some fear and skepticism.

But I’ve never been much at predictions. I want to hear what you think!


  1. David Kendall

    I agree that a "Tea Party" candidate should come forward, and has the best chance at mobilizing Republicans (at least a certain subset of them). That being said, I don't know which, if any, of the Tier 1s are TPers (though I do know which of the Tier 3s are). I also think, though, if a TPer wins the nomination, then it will keep the moderate Republicans at home on voting day (or, worse, have them hold their nose and vote for Obama) and only drive the Tea Partiers to the ballot box. I still say the best option is for the Tea Party to form its own party, leaving the moderate Republicans to peacefully coexist with the wingnuts. Of course, naturally, this splits the right, but as a non right winger, I don't mind. :)

  2. Jon

    This race, and the current situation, was enough to drive me, a Libertarian with mostly 'right-wing' views, to re-register Democrat out of fear of that exact last thing you just mentioned. Does this mean that I'm going to vote for Obama? No—but the potential for 2012 to be like Nevada or Delaware, but on a nation wide scale, has opened the door to me quietly voting third-party and giving my indirect blessing to the president/s re-election.

  3. jjmccullough

    Jon and David really hit on the central dilemma, here. If Obama already functions as an effective moderate in the popular imagination, then he'll win the moderate vote by default, on both the left AND right. It's very difficult to out-moderate someone, especially an incumbent. You'll always look destabilizing or radical.

    It thus seems the key is just tap into the people who don't care about electing a destabilizing radical, but that's probably a pretty small base. I really don't see a Reagan-esque "big tent" GOP candidate emerging from this current group.

  4. @Andy928766

    First of all, I think both Sarah Palin and Donald Trump can be ruled out. The fact that they are well known is their weakness. Too many Americans simply dislike both of them too much. Plus Trump has no real history in politics making a President Trump seem even more unlikely.

    I really do not understand what the deal with Chris Christie is. As far as I know, the only reason he keeps saying he will not run for President is because people keep asking him to. By now you think he has clearly said "no" enough times for people to get the point.

    Ron Paul will always have his dedicated supporters. He will moneybomb, play the Internet, and get maybe 3% of the vote during the primaries.

    I really do not think Americans would like the idea of President Bachmann. Just too far-right and a little too crazy.

    Gingrich has his supporters. He will probably get a good chunk of the vote, but not be nominated.

    And then you have people like Herman Cain, who I really know nothing about. Heck I only just recently heard about him. When you have less name recognition than Tim Pawlenty, your chances are pretty low.

    If I were to guess, I would say the nomination would probably go to either Romney or Huckabee. Or at least that is what the polls so far show.

  5. Jon Bennett

    If gas is over $4/gal in a couple months, the Republicans will be able to nominate a log and win in 2012

  6. Psudo

    For people who use that shallow an analysis, getting Osama will be a very effective counter-argument.

  7. Virgil

    Perhaps, as a self-proclaimed right-winger commentator on the site I should throw my hat into the ring. Here's my two cents. Obama can function as an effective moderate regarding defense and homeland security issues. Moreover, since Osama has been slain, he can claim to be an extremely effective moderate. On social issues he can't help but to fall on the left based on his stances….and there will always be a certain right wing brigade that will oppose him strictly based upon those issues.

    However, spending is our wild card. There's nothing moderate about trillion dollar plus deficits ad infinitum. The Tea Party is animated by a fear that the excessive spending can cause a collapse of the dollar in its role as a world reserve currency. A lot depends on whether or not they are right. If a collapse in the worth and value of the dollar continues and leads to a perception that America is receeding then the Tea Party will grow. If not it will wither.

  8. Virgil

    Regardless, this dynamic explains the longing for someone else. Most of the Republicans that are running presently are not exactly known for their fiscal austerity. They were good matches for 2008, but not 2012. An opening exists for a candidate that would unite Tea Party right wingers and balanced budget "good government" moderates. This explains the interest in Christie…he's succeeded in doing just that in New Jersey. These Republicans aren't so much seeking a Reagan as a Thatcher. Consequently, I think it will be one of the people marked above that will ultimately get the nomination….either Christie or Daniels.

    One other item…Reagan was not exactly viewed as a big tent guy over here in the 80's. He was considered a darling of the Right, and, for what its worth, a new Goldwater. This can be aptly demonstrated by the fact that he divided the right in 1980…leaving John Anderson…kinda a Progressive Conservative type, to take nearly 10% of the vote. It was only due to the unpopularity of the incumbant due to largely foreign policy reasons that Reagan triumphed as he did.

  9. Max

    Am I hallucinating, or did Chris Christie have a "CC" pin earlier?

  10. Les

    Could be the GOP is thinking that Obama is approaching a not realistically assailable electoral position, what with his cutting the birthers off at the knees and then announcing the death of public enemy #1 in short order, if that was the case the GOP would likely just run an 'also-ran' candidate and focus their attention on the 2016 race.

    Of course the Democrats pretty-much thought the same with Bush Jr. (Incumbent president during time of war) and so sent John Kerry out there as a sacrificial lamb, not realizing just how precarious Bush's position really was.

  11. Gray

    Chris Christie is probably the best nominee, but in his case the suspicion I've heard is that it isn't feigned reluctance…he doesn't want to run this time, and it's going to genuinely take a lot to get him to run. He wants a full term in office first…not exactly an unreasonable sentiment. Gingrich has officially announced (or so I've heard), but he's not the strongest one on the list.

    My guess is that at least one of the above will run…but my money is on Daniels or Bachmann (of the list you depicted). No clue on whether Trump will make a go at it…but with his constant flirtation, I think he does want to jot down a run in his list of accomplishments. That said, his popularity is sorta like the BNP's: He's talking about things others aren't (cracking down on Chinese trade practices, for example), and saying things they won't (Birther nonsense until recently included), so people are migrating his way in spite of him rather than because of him. His popularity is a symptom of a problem in the field rather than a phenomenon unto itself.

  12. Chris Germann

    To make things easier, I'm just going to go ahead and rule out the 3rd Tier. I don't like Palin; I have no respect for her in the slightest, and in light of the point made regarding her having to risk losing the rather comfy fame and wealth she's garnered, I'm leaning towards her being spineless and just resting comfortably as the figurehead and darling of the Tea Party for years to come, probably always hinting at "running next term" to keep herself relevant. With Trump, to be honest, I've never felt any real sincerity from him regarding actually running. I just really don't see him as willing to relinquish his empire for public office, and it seems more likely that he just likes hearing "President Donald Trump" and is enjoying the idea while it lasts.

    So with that in mind, let's look at Tier 1. Now, the problem with picking presidential ponies is that all of our guesswork is based on weighing retrospect and current affairs against each candidate, the problem with that process is all of the variables and unknown-unknowns that will that'll ruin every pundit's prediction between now and November 2, 2012.The only reliable factor left is deciding based on their talent as a politician, chiefly their abilities as an orator and public speaking. No matter what dirt gets dug up, or hell may come, this is the only thing that each candidate has any real control over. Now… let's be honest, no matter your opinions on the man, left or right, you have to admit Obama is one of the best orators we've have had as a president, there's no real denying that. He's charismatic, unflappable, he's great to look at, and smart as hell. No Republican's going to win without an upset, I'm going to call that much. But, and keep in mind I say this with the full knowledge that in all odds I'm going to be completely wrong about this, I'm paying attention to Rick Santorum.

    As far as moderate Republics go, I really like Gary Johnson. I mean I REALLY like Gary Johnson; as far as someone who demonstrates the ideals of the party while remaining realistic and honest, he is my ideal candidate to run for the Republican ticket in 2012. For this very reason, I don't think he'll win. Aside from the fact that he WILL lose to Obama if he get's the ticket (moderation versus moderation, America will side with the moderate that's proved himself), I don't think he has a good chance to win the Primaries. He lacks that fire and brimstone necessary to charge the Republican base, and I don't think he'll ever really gather the momentum needed to win. Santorum though… he's kinda the perfect gambit. He's young, pretty, an exceptionally gifted scheister, and seems to be expendable to the party. The GOP can afford to let him try and fight out of his class, they can go back to brooding and planning for 2016, and the kid just might win! Watch the video of him on FOX News on his site; he's very good at running circles around the questions with confidence and a smile. He's dirty, and I really don't like him, but I can see a lot of hardcore reds taking a shining to him. He plays all the right buttons(pro-life, anti-gay), he's passionate, and I can see him brow-beating about Obamacare, and the budget by proxy, throughout his entire campaign. It's the perfect shenanigan, he can play a game of "he said, she said" about what the bill actually does, sowing doubt and fear wherever he goes with a wink and a smile. I'd like to think a guy like him doesn't have a chance against Obama in 2012… but that again, my faith in American sanity didn't really survive the apparent effectiveness of FOX News' idea of "journalism", and he seems he would be a perfect compliment to their stratagem.

    Now to be fair, Johnson and Santorum are the only one's with a video of them speaking on their site, so the rest of the candidates are smoke, mirrors, and wild cards to me (I've also ruled out Ron Paul for obvious reason) so ya, no doubt I'll be totally wrong by next week. But if I have to make a long bet, at the very least I'd bet on a politician LIKE Santorum, and what the hell, 33 Black is a good a guess as any at this point in the game :P

  13. John

    Interesting point. What I've read, the general impression is that Pawlentey, Daniels, Romney and Huntsman all have severe charisma deficits. Note that this is all the people who would be remotely competent, and wouldn't alienate a lot of voters.

    Which is the central dilemma for the republicans: bland or crazy? I think with a strong candidate the Republicans would be very competitive, but there isn't one to be found; they are all still holding out hope for a Reaganesque white knight to emerge.

  14. Jake

    Romney is actually to charismatic to the point he was viewed as plastic. But at the other user posted, Santorum is perfect. Except when you look at the weird things he has said in the past. Although he can paper over that and explain it. Other than that he seems pretty good. At least as a VP as he gets the social conservative vote.

  15. ddhboy

    I think part of the problem the republicans have are that their tride and true anti-obama attacks simply are no longer applicable. For instance, between the no fly zone in Libya and killing Osama Bin Laden, republicans can no longer claim weakness or indecisiveness on international polices, especially on terrorism. They can't play up healthcare since most Americans are directly benefiting from those measures. Social issues aren't going to work well either, especially since the only two the republicans seem to stick to as of late are gay rights and abortion neither of which will get them to the whitehouse.

    I'd imagine that the only thing they can effectively touch Obama on is the economy and the deficit. That said, if unemployment drops off in the next year, then that comes off the table as well.

  16. Jake

    Actually no one is benefiting from Obamacare. There is no health insurance program. All it is a mandate to buy insurance and most people do hate the law. Moreover most of the law is still coming into affect and will be fully enforced by 2014.

  17. Psudo

    There's a local medical care institution here in Utah called IHC. Top of the line technology available to all regardless of ability to pay, all through the private sector. Obama has praised it as an example of affordable, effective health care.

    Though IHC has no official political positions (I think tax rules require that), rumors keep pouring out of IHC about the complications and impediments to care emerging from Obama's universal health care bill (so-called ObamaCare). Based on that, I'm going to side with Jake on this one: there will be some who benefit from ObamaCare, but there are far more folks who will see negative effects to their health care costs and service.

  18. Jake

    Bush was barely reelected and he got Saddam and the economy was not this bad. Nor was there a horrid piece of legislation passed that was hated by most Americans. Obama is still only on 51% approval and that will go done. Bush got a 10 point boost and that was in December this is in May.

  19. Jake

    Actually the problem is the religious right who are willing to go with a moderate if he is socially conservative but economically liberal/moderate ie Palin and Huckabee. The Tea Party is far more libertarian and focuses mostly on economic issues as long as social issues are defederalized. Note Tea Party members are strict constiutionalists which means social issues are not federal issues but state and local.

  20. Monte

    Except as far as i've seen, religious right people such a Palin often gain the support of the tea party and do a lot to drive the movement

  21. Jake

    Every election people say the Republicans can't find someone. No one knew Huckabee and he had it all, went up in the polls and yet McCain was picked. Candidates need time to develop. Same went for Obama.

  22. Monte

    I wouldn't really bring up obama in this case… people like him and Palin are something of a political phenomenon that can never be predicted. They just had this overwhelming charisma right out of the starting gate. I don't think things are really all that unpredictable when it comes to election, so its not something you can really expect to happen

  23. Psudo

    I've started a chart of potential GOP candidates and their issue positions. It's radically incomplete, but maybe you folks can help me fill in the gaps:

    I'll be adding candidates for a long while yet. If your favorite isn't on there yet, please be patient with me. I welcome your advice on issues and issue positions, though.

  24. jjmccullough

    Here's an interesting piece that summarizes several candidates' stances on gay-related issues:

  25. Chris Germann

    For those who haven't seen it yet:

  26. Damien RS

    Romney’s big problem is that his biggest accomplishment was passing the equivalent of the ACA (Obamacare) for Massachusetts.

    People have already been benefiting from ACA: people under 26 getting to stay on their parents’ insurance, annual and lifetime caps rising, small businesses using tax credits to newly offer insurance to their employees, a new high-risk pool for the sick and uninsured, free preventive care, shrinking the Medicare D donut hole, prohibition of dropping sick policyholders, loss ratio floors. That’s a lot of benefit, though some of it invisible.

    But it’s true the heart of it, guaranteeing and mandating insurance for everyone, doesn’t kick in until 2014.

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