By: Preston Maddock ’12
We are one year away from the presidential election and just a couple months away from the beginning of a blitz of caucuses and primaries throughout America. Although the political jockeying started long ago (Mitt Romney hasn’t stopped campaigning since the last presidential election), the race is still relatively early. Politics is a fickle enterprise and nothing can be considered a forgone conclusion, no assumptions can be rested upon. I need only highlight the last presidential election to prove this point: for much of 2007, John McCain, with low poll numbers and weak fundraising, was considered to have little shot to win the 2008 Republican nomination; there was a time when Hillary Clinton was the inevitable nominee for the Democrats in 2008; and, although he didn’t come close to the nomination anyway, who could have predicted John Edwards stunning fall from grace?
Conservative America is salivating at the possibility of a one term Obama presidency. It’s abundantly clear why: the economy is weak, and unemployment remains around 9 percent (no President since FDR has won reelection with unemployment above 7.2 percent); Obama’s biggest legislative accomplishment, health care reform, is opposed by the American people by a difference of 54 to 38 percent, according to the latest Rasmussen Reports poll; Obama’s job approval ratings are in the low 40s, and he has lost the support of independents by a 2-1 margin, according to polls from Real Clear Politics. It would seem like the 2012 election should be a Republican lay-up. Yet the nomination contest thus far has been an eccentric and perplexing spectacle to watch.
With the selection of Sarah Palin as the vice presidential nominee on the 2008 ticket and her subsequent ascension into the national spotlight, the Republican Party has seemed to lack for a credible leader. After President Obama’s inauguration, the national media portrayed a variety of talking heads and congressional leaders as the de facto voices of the party. Yet no one seized the Republican Party mantle. Instead, the party has had a series of crushes on untenable presidential candidates, only to quickly sober up and keep up the perpetual and always barren search for the reincarnation of Ronald Reagan.
The party’s leadership problem became clear last spring when of all people, Donald Trump, surged to the top of the nomination polls. Few, if any, thought that Trump’s candidacy would have any legs, but that the belligerent mogul was given the amount of attention he was emphasized the Republican Party’s wayward condition.
Desperate for a selection of credible candidates, the Party establishment fruitlessly went recruiting. Representative Paul Ryan is a young, articulate budgetary wonk, and one would imagine that there is no better time for a presidential candidate with his type of expertise on our fiscal problems. But Congressman Ryan was quick to deny all suitors. Governor Mitch Daniels has an impeccable record as the executive of the state of Indiana, and one could see how as a candidate he could easily contrast his state’s economic conditions against those of the country. But he too decided to protect his family from the rigors of a presidential campaign. And most recently, Governor Chris Christie, the affable governor of New Jersey, was courted heavily by party insiders. Governor Christie’s direct political style and his natural ability to make voters understand the sacrifices necessary during these difficult economic times would have made him an attractive candidate. But, alas, Christie, too, decided his heart laid in Trenton.
It is unfortunate for the country that the strongest Republican candidates decided to stay on the sidelines. No matter one’s political positions, we should all support a first-rate political debate for the office of the presidency. After all, our democracy was forged in the debates of our greatest intellectuals.
The fall-out of these strong Republicans deciding not to run is a field that is incredibly weakened. When the party lost interest in Trump, they embraced Representative Michele Bachman and shot her to a contender status. Realizing she was anything but presidential material, many Republicans quickly switched their allegiance to Governor Rick Perry. Governor Perry looks like the consummate politician, and his record on jobs in his state of Texas has been ostensibly successful. But Governor Perry has been shockingly awful in his debate performances, and the party’s crush was quickly over.
Support for Perry has seemingly transitioned to a rogue candidate who remains strong in the polls, Herman Cain. Cain has a compelling American Dream life story. The son of a hard working black family in the South, Cain worked his way up to become CEO of a major corporation. But Cain has never won elected office at any level, and by all conventional metrics it seems highly improbable he will win the presidency, let alone the Republican nomination. Furthermore, Cain’s bedrock policy proposal, the 9-9-9 tax plan, has been debunked by a vast majority of economists and scholars. Even the anti-tax demagogic crusader, Grover Norquist considers the plan to be “very dangerous.” It seems likely that Cain’s popularity is the result of a soon-to-be fleeting crush, as well.
And that leaves the party with the same default choice it’s had for the past four years, Mitt Romney. On paper, Romney would almost seem like the perfect Republican presidential candidate. He has learned and sharpened his political skills from his last campaign for president. He has strong résumé for these economic times, with success as a business executive. He has executive public service experience as the Governor of Massachusetts. And there is little doubt about the saintliness (pun intended) of his personal life (it seems like he has been running for president his entire life).
But in reality, there seems to be something missing about Mitt Romney. Disregarding the arguments of his about-face on certain issues (climate change, gay marriage, health care, etc.), and the conservative perception of him as a Northeastern moderate, Romney just seems to lack the courage of his conviction necessary for the office he seeks. This is not just a personal opinion. The Republican search for an alternative candidate and the electorate’s blind embrace of anyone now in the race not named Romney exemplify the party’s indifference for their currently inevitable nominee.
These are strange and unfortunate times for the Republican Party. At a time when America beckons for leadership, their candidates for our nation’s highest office are inadequate. The Republicans are missing an incredible political opportunity. I hope struggling Americans won’t be left with a leader by default.