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January 22, 2011

2012: Is It 1992 Or 1996 For Republicans? And Some Other Random Thoughts

Something to mull over from Nathan Wurtzel on Twitter (a good follow despite the very occasional soccer tweet. Not sure what's up with that).

Being GOP feels like Dems in 91. We know we want Obama (Bush) out; current field less than thrilling. Who will emerge as our Clinton?

My reply was a bit more pessimistic.

That's the optimistic version. It kind of feels like 96 to me. We want Clinton out but know we're going to nominate Dole.

For those of you who don't remember '92 (damn Malor kid)...George H. W. Bush was riding high in the polls following the Gulf War and a number of star Democrats like Mario Cuomo and Al Gore took a pass on challenging a popular incumbent in what looked like a suicide run. Despite the long odds of getting the nomination, let alone winning the general election, a young Governor from Arkansas took a flyer on the race and the rest is, well, you know the rest.

In other words...it ain't always as hopeless as it seems and you gotta be in it to win it.

In '96, well, the less said about that year the better.

Neither of those analogies is a perfect analogy to 2012 because it's far from clear that Obama will be as popular as Bush looked in 91 or as Clinton was in 96.

But the current field of 2012 Republican challengers from both sort of feels the same...not quite enough to get the job the done unless someone else turns up. I'm not sure who that would be (hence the out of the blue nature of the mystery candidate).

In the end, I think we're in a Rumsfeld type situation...you fight and election with the candidates you have, not the ones you might like.

A few other stray thoughts....


Politico has a 3 page story up about how Sarah Palin hasn't gone to New Hampshire. Imagine how long it would be if she had. I'm guessing they won't be observing a Palin free day, let alone month anytime soon.

Still, it raises an interesting question...what's the path to the nomination for the 3 top candidates (at the moment)?

Assume for the moment that the '12 order of primaries is the same as in '08:

Mitt skips Iowa leaving it to Palin and Huck to fight it out. They both skip New Hampshire (which Mitt wins).

Mitt goes on to Michigan more or less uncontested, while Palin and Huck move on to SC for a rematch with the Iowa winner having a big advantage. Assume the SC winner is the same person who won Iowa and the other drops out.

That leaves Huck/Palin vs. Mitt in Florida and then trench warfare across the south for Super Tuesday. If neither Huck/Palin can knock Romeny out after Super Tuesday (and with his money, why would they?), it's more trench warfare for a state here and there leading to the...Brokered Convention (it's never too soon to start that never to be realized dream).

Personally, I don't think Huck in going to run and I go back and forth on a near weekly basis about Palin's ultimate decision.

I'm leaving out candidates like Santorum, Rudy, Newt (spare me) and even Pence (who seems likely to run for Governor) simply because the only way any of those might win is if neither Huck nor Palin run. If that's the case, then all bets are off and maybe Nathan's mystery candidate can step up. (I forgot to add Pawlenty, which I think is part of his problem. He's easy to forget)


And lastly...There was a lot discussion the other day about Sarah Palin and how her persona plays into people's reactions to her. It got me thinking that she's not the only candidate/potential candidate that has that kind of challenge.

I think Rudy Giuliani and to a degree Chris Christie (if he ever goes national) have to deal with this too. Both Christie and Giuliani are tough guy, combative northeasterners and as tmi3rd pointed out to me, they also both served as US Attorney which is often an attack dog, brawler type job.

How does that profile fit a prospective President?

It's one thing to beat up on Al Sharpton and the NY Times (in Rudy's case) and teacher unions (Christie). It's another to translate that combativeness to presidential level decisions. Yes, we'd all like a tough talking President to go up against the likes of Putin and Chavez but how do you balance that with the need to move things along diplomatically in other areas?

Every administration needs a hammer (Cheney for example went after Russia on several occasions over political freedom) but Bush, for all the left's complaining about his big talk, he was often very the quiet, mature, calm statesman. When action was called for, like Afghanistan, Iraq or Georgia (remember he sailed a naval task force into the Black Sea to show support for Georgia and provide relief supplies during the Russian invasion), he let his actions speak for themselves.

Of course a President has to be tough and has to be able to go to the mat when necessary. It's a question of how, when and how often it's done. Think about Teddy Roosevelt's admonishment to "Speak softly and carry a big stick". I'm not sure Rudy or Christie have ever spoken softly in their lives or have ever carried a stick they never hit someone with.

Presidents often have to be the calm guy, the one with the quiet strength who comes in after the other guy has been beaten down and accepts his surrender.

Politicians like Christie and Giuliani made their careers not in calming things down but in fighting every guy in the room and not leaving until they beat them all. I'm not sure how that plays on the international level. Again, it's gratifying to say we want a bulldog (and there are times when that's necessary) but a President simply can't be in confrontation mode all the time.

In fairness to guys like Christie and Rudy, you can't be a successful executive without the full set of political skills it takes to do those jobs. They are clearly smart guys who can adjust to the moment but elections are often about, dare I say? The Narrative. I don't mean the MFM narrative but voters draw thumbnail impressions of candidates and it's often hard to move them to a more nuanced version.

I'm not saying any of these broad stroke impressions are bad or insurmountable, just that being right on the issues isn't the end all and be all. You might wish it otherwise, but image and a certain gut level comfort is very important in getting candidates elected to just about any office, including the presidency. There are simply too many unknowable unknowns (another nod to Rumsfeld). For example, I don't recall the 2000 campaign being about whether Bush or Gore would be better equipped to fight a global war on terror and two land wars in Asia. In other words, stuff happens. You judge perspective candidates by how you think they are prepared to deal with the inevitable crisis that no one really talked about.

Of course having the right pedigree and look isn't always enough either. Ask Mitt Romney. The guy is straight out of central casting but he just seems to lack that certain 'it' quality (and I don't mean policy wise).

When you think about the people who won the office in the last 50 years or so (beyond that it's hard to separate fact from myth), they have each had an almost undefinable set of qualities that matched the moment and the losers similarly were glaring in what they lacked.

It's easy to build the case against Obama, but that might not be enough. Hopefully in less than 2 years we can find someone who has that almost magical combination of traits that matches the moment.

Anyway, just a few things to chew on on this cold and footballless Saturday afternoon.

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posted by DrewM. at 02:26 PM

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