Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Early Handicapping on the 2012 GOP Field

It is extremely probable that President Barack Obama will receive his party's nomination for President in 2012. For all of the fun that political commentators have been having in the wake of the major losses suffered in congress by the Democrats a week ago, nobody seriously believes that Obama will not be the nominee.

Who would challenge him? Hillary Clinton? Just a few problems with that theory:
a. She's said she isn't running. Repeatedly.
b. On what basis would an insider to the Obama administration run against the President?
c. Hillary is a loyalist. Always has been.
d. African-Americans are about a third of Democratic primaries. If Hillary couldn't beat Barack when he was a virtual unknown in 2008, what chance does she have against the first sitting black President?
It simply isn't going to happen.

So who else is there? A moderate like Evan Bayh? Ask 10 Democrats who he is and see how many have even heard of him. Also, show me an example where a moderate challenger beat a more liberal incumbent in a Democratic primary. Don't think so.

A challenge from the left? Who would it be? I can't think of a serious liberal who would be a credible challenge. And what would the story be? The stimulus was too small? Taxes are too low?

Obama will be the nominee, barring a personal choice or an intervening tragedy.

So, let's focus on the Republicans.

And on the GOP side, the field is wide open. My list is certainly not all inclusive, but it should get the debate started. Let's start handicapping by my rough, arbitrary categories....

(1) The 2008 Retreads
Don't dismiss them. Many nominees don't get the nod in round 1. Think of Ronald Reagan (who ran against Ford in 1976), George H.W. Bush (who ran against Reagan in 1980) and Bob Dole (who ran against Bush in 1988). One of these candidates could be the real deal, this time around:

Mike Huckabee
A smart, articulate, personable conservative with a track record of achievement, he seemed like an ideal guy in his first run in 2008 and he outperformed all expectations, going from obscure Arkansas Governor to top 3 candidate. He has stayed visible, with his show on Fox News and social conservatives who were hesitant to embrace him in 2008 might be more enthusiastic in 2012.

Still, Huckabee has been out of office a long time and seems much more a face of the old GOP establishment than the tea party rock stars of late. And what's his competitive edge over the slew of conservatives who are available to run for the GOP nomination?

My guess -- Huckabee doesn't even run.

Mitt Romney
The guy a lot of Republicans wish they had nominated come election night 2008. Don't delude yourself...the result wouldn't have been different...economic circumstances dictated the GOP going down in 2008, the same way they dictated Democratic losses in 2010. Still, Romney has a lot going for him. He's an attractive guy who looks very Presidential. He is well liked on the right and is a nationally known face. He was a successful Republican governor in a very Democratic state. And he has a great private industry story to tell.

Romney has a lot of demons, however. Obamacare, the most-hated legislation in years in GOP circles, sure looks a whole lot like Romneycare in Massachusetts from the individual mandate to the public exchanges. Romney was, up until 2008, pro-choice and pro-gay rights, not exactly beloved positions in the GOP, although he seemed able to completely reverse his view of these issues without much challenge.

My guess -- Romney's a live one in 2012.

(2) The Ghosts of Christmas Past
These guys have been in the game a long time...heck they've been OUT of the game for a long time. They seem like long shots, but in a wide open race, nothing is out of the question

Newt Gingrich
The former Speaker of the House can accurately claim that he presided over the last period where congressional Republicans got things done. Gingrich was the effective leader of the GOP at a time when the budget was balanced, welfare was reformed and President Clinton was impeached. Newt has always been an idea guy and is a truly respected conservative intellectual.

Still, the guy is a mess as a candidate. The impeacher of Bill Clinton has an affair and splits with his wife. He has a reputation for being nasty and isn't particularly liked, even in Republican circles. He's an uninspiring speaker, he's old and he hasn't done much in the past decade. And he's the one guy that makes our current President's name seem downright mainstream.

My guess -- he might run but he can't win.

Lamar Alexander
Remember Mr. Plaid from 2000? He's still around. Still conservative. Still a nice guy. Might he still hold some national ambitions?

But what has Senator Alexander done in the past decade to make himself a more viable candidate? He was a clear also-ran then and, if anything, he's been less visible since.

My guess -- he won't run.

(3) The Tea Party Express
From Mama Grizzly herself to some of the others that align themselves with the low tax, low spending wing of the GOP (I think that's what the Tea Party is about, but who knows), might we see a Tea Party nominee in 2012?

Sarah Palin
The obvious Tea Party choice. Mama Grizzly is beloved on the right, aligns perfectly with the Tea Party agenda and can always draw a crowd and would certainly be the best looking person ever to run for President.

But Palin still doesn't have the street cred. The general public can't stand her, GOP heavyweights still don't respect her, the Tea Party got torched this November (read my previous post if you disagree) and even her strongest supporters don't believe she could win a general election.

My guess -- she is making too much money selling speeches...Sarah sits this one out.

Marco Rubio
A smart, good-looking, conservative, Hispanic Republican with a compelling personal story, a picture-book family and the love of both the right and the center in Florida (well, some of them at least.)

But Rubio is VERY green by any standard. How can a GOP that criticized a 4-year Senator as unqualified last cycle nominate a 2-year Senator?

My guess -- Rubio is a live consideration in 2016, but 2012 is a bridge too far. He waits this one out.

(4) The State House Warriors
Most Presidents were first Governors. To mix sayings, every Senator wakes up every morning and sees a President in the mirror but Governors actually get to look through the mirrors in the White House. Our current President notwithstanding, Governors tend to win national elections, because they tend to have better records of actually doing things.

Bobby Jindal
A very successful Louisiana Governor with a record that is both conservative and bridge-building in his home state, Jindal seems like a natural for higher office. He appears to have no real demons, he is a fantastic story and the right loves him.

But Jindal's one national moment (his response to President Obama's first State of the Union) was an utter flop and Jindal is hardly an inspiring speaker. Is he really ready for primetime?

My guess -- I don't know if Jindal is running, but I highly doubt he will be the nominee

Jeb Bush
He was a very, very popular Governor during boom times in Florida and I know a lot of Obama Democrats down there who are rabid Jeb fans. He found common ground and common sense solutions to touchy issues like affirmative action and had a fantastic record balancing the budget in Florida.

But Jeb has a pretty tarnished last name at this point. Is the US really ready for ANOTHER President Bush?

My guess -- Jeb sits it out.

Rick Perry
Texas Rick is a conservative's conservative: he's fiscally conservative, socially conservative and talks about federalism like Republicans of a bygone era. He's opposed to the federal income tax and even suggested that Texas might leave the union over Obama's election (he says he was joking.) Conservatives love this guy.

But Rick can be divisive. And he says some pretty crazy stuff.

My guess -- Rick's a live contender...he's just conservative enough for the Tea Party and just establishment enough for the establishment.

(5) Washington Insiders
These guys know the capital and know how to work the environment in Washington. Could one of them be the next GOP nominee?

John Boehner
As the incoming House Speaker, Boehner will be the most visible Republican in the country. He's passionate, gives a fantastic speech and is a GOP hero for standing up to the President in clear, moral terms on key issues.

But Boehner may prove a divisive figure over the next 2 years. And how many House Speakers get the nod for President?

My guess -- I think he's running. And he could win. Orange skin and all.

Lindsey Graham
The one true moderate who could be a live contender, Graham is very likable, has fantastic political instincts and is well-respected on both sides of the aisle. He is a shrewd politician with a folksy manner about him...exactly the sort of thing that got one George W. Bush the White House in 2000.

The Tea Party detests Graham for every issue he's been willing to work across the aisle on. And the right wing shows up in Republican primaries.

My guess -- Graham is going to run...and he has a real shot if he can divide the hard-right between a few candidates and take the mainstream vote, leveraging winner-take-all GOP primaries to build up delegates. Basically the John McCain strategy.

So who do I think are the leading contenders?
I think Romney, Boehner and Graham are the front-runners, but it's very, very early and heck, they might all decide not to run. Still, despite all the talk of the GOP field being weak, there are a number of intriguing possible candidates. But the best of the GOP is probably going to wait it out until 2016. Why run against an incumbent when you could run for an open seat? Of course, if the President is highly unpopular in 2 years, you would look like a fool for not running, but the issue is that to run, you really need to decide to go for it soon.

The Iowa Caucuses are on February 6th, 2012, less than 15 months from today. To be a live contender, you will need to be in the game within the next 6 months. We will know a lot more about the GOP field then. For now, this is just fun speculation.

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