Wanted: a Republican leader for 2012

Shouldn’t GOP hopefuls be rushing into the race by now?

You would expect someone to have declared their intention to run for the 2012 Republican nomination by now. After all, in recent election cycles, the campaigning began shortly after the mid terms. For instance, Barack Obama announced in February 2007—and he wasn’t even the the first. It is strange that no one on the Republican side appears to be feeling the wind in his or her back in this cycle. With the economy recovering slowly and Obama’s approval ratings split nearly straight down the middle, shouldn’t Republicans be feeling like he is vulnerable? And if that’s not the case, then what, exactly, is happening?

It is true that an incumbent president enjoys a decided advantage: he can manipulate the levers of power; he has a greater capacity to fundraise; the road to his party’s nomination is clear; and the electorate has a historical penchant for the status quo. In the last century, only four elected presidents (Taft, Hoover, Carter, and Bush Sr.) failed to get reelected. That much seems to explain South Dakota’s John Thune’s decision to stay out of the race. But it doesn’t necessarily explain why so many others are making all the right sounds, but do not seem ready to take the plunge.

The first category of possible candidates consists of conventional, albeit prominent, Republicans—people like Mitt Romney. Romney would make a well-qualified contender and may arguably be the likely frontrunner at this stage, but his potential candidacy appears to have generated little enthusiasm among the Republican base. Meanwhile, Romney’s fellow contender for the 2008 Republican nomination, Fox News personality Mike Huckabee, is just recovering from a week of controversial statements and is sending mixed signals about running. It is far from certain that he intends to run in 2012 .

Former speaker Newt Gingrich, long considered the idea generator inside the GOP, is inching towards a declaration, but his personal life and his penchant for controversial statements have already made him a flawed candidate to establishment Republicans. Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour has talent, but his appeal may be too regional. Moreover, he is seen as a strong backroom operator rather than a national candidate capable of reaching out to new constituencies. Like Romney, Tim Pawlenty hasn’t generated much enthusiasm and comes across as too moderate. Finally, there is Congressman Ron Paul, who seems most likely to run as a statement candidate representing the libertarian wing of the party. But most Republicans would likely find his views too marginal to make him a viable candidate.

The next group of candidates fits more neatly into the category of celebrity than conventional politician. These include Donald Trump, who no one in the GOP seems to believe can win, and Sarah Palin. Palin, the biggest celebrity of all, has rising negative numbers and has been openly criticized by influential Republicans like Karl Rove and George Will. Meanwhile, Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann has the support of Tea Partiers, but seems to have alienated the party leadership with her decision to do a Tea Party response to Obama’s State of the Union speech. And just this weekend, she took heat for suggesting the American Revolution started in… New Hampshire.

Finally, there are the ‘promising hopefuls. They include the current U.S. Ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. These potential candidates are playing a waiting game, possibly to see how the more prominent names fare in the coming months, or perhaps pinning their hopes on 2016.

To be fair, there is no absence of talent and it is still early, but it seems the rigours of a presidential campaign are weighing hard on many of those considering a run. Managing the Republican party in its current form, with its diversity of views coming from social and cultural conservatives, neo conservatives, fiscal conservatives, and Tea Party conservatives, may also be an overriding factor. Winning the presidency requires both a messenger and a message.

All this may explain the reluctance to declare this early. But the search will only get more complicated down the road.

[John Parisella is currently serving as Quebec Delegate-General in New York City]

Wanted: a Republican leader for 2012

  1. I agree….so far they have a basket of unelectable loons.

  2. Nobody with a decent chance wouldn't rather run in 2016.

  3. It's interesting to see that as time goes on (since the 1980s at least), the party faithful demand leadership that is more and more about Culture War issues and less about the things that matter to moderate independents. The GOP is painting itself into a corner. I don't blame the boring moderates like Romney or Pawlenty for not wanting to go up against Obama.

    • I suppose that as long as they can sell Culture War issues to wind up the base, they will.

      The 'base' needs to catch on to the fact that after Reagan, Bush Sr and Bush jr….20 years in all….absolutely nothing was done about these hokey culture issues. Snake oil.

      Meantime genuine problems don't get solved. Kicked down the road.

  4. Wanted: a Republican leader for 2012
    Position filled by RON PAUL

    • Only if they want to lose…and look stupid to boot.

  5. Sarah Palin would make a great President, she has the political and policy experience necessary for the job, but more importantly she has the principles required to become a great President.

    Obama has been such an awful President that any of the potential Republican candidates being talked about would be better than him, another couple years of his train-wreck of a Presidency and the American people will vote if only to vote against him.

    • LOL you've had too much tea….with additives by the sound of it..

  6. I would put up Ron Paul. He could kick Obama's ass

    • Ron Paul is lucid for about ten minutes, and then the door to the Twilight Zone opens.

  7. I've made enough bad predictions in primary races to understand a bit about how things work. At this stage in the game, there are four kinds of candidates:
    -high name recognition, good numbers (Romney, Huckabee)
    -high name recognition, bad numbers (Palin, Trump, Gingrich)
    -low name recognition, high growth potential (Daniels, Christie)
    -low name recognition, low growth potential (Pawlenty, Barbour, Huntsman, Paul)

    Only the first and third categories matter. People in the first category are obviously serious contenders, although in some cases (eg. Giuliani or Clinton in 2008) their support is fairly thin. People with high name recognition and bad numbers (ie. not in contention in early primary states), however, are not serious contenders. Politicians rarely change their image, once well-established.

    People in the third category can move into the first – but it helps a great deal to have an unoccupied niche to move into. If Romney wins support of moderate Republicans, while Huckabee wins over evangelicals, there will be a great deal of room for a tough-love fiscal conservative like Daniels or Christie (who won't run). On the other hand, while Pawlenty, Huntsman and Barbour have lots of room to grow, neither has a natural base. If you want a Mormon moderate, why go for Huntsman when you've already got Romney? If you want a charming southern governor, why go for Barbour but not Huckabee? If you want a… okay I haven't seen anything distinctive about Pawlenty yet. He just seems to be some guy.

    • Just wondering, why do you think Christie won't run? He seems to be the strongest candidate not named Romney (who would be a ridiculously strong candidate if only he could get through the primaries being both the father of Obamacare and a Mormon). You seem very sure that he won't run…and to be fair I hadn't heard anything about his candidacy, but while reading the article his was the only name that popped in my head as a legitimate contender.

      A popular, Northeastern Republican Governor sure brings a lot of electoral advantages, no?

      • He has only been in office for 1 year. If he ran, it would throw his gubernatorial administration into turmoil and scuttle the record he needs to run on.

        • Makes sense to me – better to wait this one out, seeing as how the odds of unseating the incumbent are historically very low, build up your cred and run in 2016. Is that the basic gist?

          I'm curious, who do you see running for the Republican nomination, and who will win it?

          I'm really beginning to think that Huckabee would rather stay in the cozy confines of Fox News, and outside of him the only legitimate candidates I see are Romney, Palin and Pawlenty. Romney will have a helluva time getting through the primaries, but would make a formidable candidate in the General Election. Palin would have a much easier time in the primaries, but would struggle mightily in the general.

          Pawlenty might be the Stephane Dion of the Republicans :D

  8. Were I in their shoes with their ambitions for political power, I’d want to wait until AFTER the next economic crisis hits.

    Individual states are bankrupt, spending is out of control at all levels, the social entitlement programs are unsustainable, government debt is rising exponentially, US Federal Reserve is effectively printing money as fast as it can under the QE policies… Where do you want to start?

    Hyperinflation, sovereign debt default, the downgrading of US bonds and the US dollar’s fall from grace (devalued and no longer the world’s reserve currency) are all very real possibilities in the near future. Who wants that to go down in history as having happened on their watch?

    We can argue til we’re blue in the face that it’s actually Bush Jr.’s fault, or that Obama did nothing but perpetuate the problem (or that the seeds of the were planted during the XYZ administration), but how often does that matter? What matters is who was in office when it happened, so that credit/blame can be easily affixed, regardless of how (im)potent they were versus events out of their control.

    Economically, very tough and unpopular decisions are going to have to be made, and very soon. The Wisconsin public sector union fiasco is just a small taste of things to come, as governments say “No, we can’t afford it any longer”. Better to let the other guy take the immediate wrath and ire, and afterwords ride in as the savior (and quietly let his tough and popular decisions stand, although of course you’ll promise otherwise).

  9. I think the nomination will go to either Daniels, Christie (if either decide to run) or Bachmann.

    Repub base has issues with all the other potential nominees and won't coalesce around them. I love Palin since her unveiling in '08 but I don't think she's running in '12. Palin seems to enjoy her gadfly role and does not look like she wants the agro of being president.

  10. I tend to agree with Andrew Sullivan on this one – people are waiting for Palin to declare she's running before they announce their candidacy. If they declare before her, she can use her sizeable media presence to cut them down from the sidelines.

  11. Very weak field . If I have to choose…..palin !

  12. I say Palin becuz of her follwing . Strongest would be Christie but he won't run . No way Bush . Romney is a fake.

  13. Palin for sure . Easiest one to beat for Obama.Really lousy candidates . Party is too right wing .

  14. Wake up Darden . You have one now .

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