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May 11, 2011

Rescue Fantasy? Republicans Pine For Candidate Yet To Be Announced

Byron York takes note of the huge elephant in the room -- the lack of a huge elephant in the room.

Talk to enough people around [South Carolina] and you'll learn two lessons, over and over again. One is that there is absolutely, positively no unity among Republicans about any presidential candidate or potential candidate; there's no such thing as a frontrunner. The other is that in the back of their minds, many Republicans are hoping that somewhere, somehow, a superhero candidate will swoop down out of the sky and rescue them from their current lackluster presidential field. They know it's a fantasy, but they still hope.

It's not just dissatisfaction with the field.... Seeing each candidate as flawed, they focus on the unattainables -- Chris Christie, Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio -- who they believe might bring a fresh face and new hope to the GOP.

[O]f course, if any of the unattainables actually ran, the dissatisfied might quickly develop doubts about him, too. But at least they'd be new doubts, rather than the old, lingering ones about some of the current candidates.

All this has led to intense frustration among Republicans in South Carolina -- and around the country, too. They believe Barack Obama is eminently beatable, even after the recent triumph of killing Osama bin Laden. When his bin Laden bounce settles down, it's likely that Obama will return to the mid-40s job approval range. And yet Republicans are fighting the idea, heard not just in the press but among some of their own colleagues, that a president in the mid-40s can't be defeated. It doesn't make sense to them. So they hope for some new way out of the problem.

True, true. Some emailers still express hope that Christie or Rubio might run; comes up in the comments, too.

I know the feeling. But one of the reasons I have been annoyed about Palin's hold on the Republican imagination is that I just don't think she's running (or could win, if she did), and therefore thinking of Palin as nominee represents not thinking about one of the people actually running.

Similarly, dreaming of Christie, or Rubio, or -- I'll cop to it -- Ryan keeps us from thinking about the actual candidates.

Christie says, 100%, he's not running, and doesn't seem to be. Rubio says he's not running (although he has been weak on the question of whether he'd serve as Vice President; but that's not top of ticket). Ryan, despite the attempts by Weekly Standard to will him into running, seems satisfied with his old answer of "My kids are too small and my ego's not big enough."

I think Donald Trump was a beneficiary of this a month ago. A lot of people are looking for some candidate to capture their imagination. Even cynics are disguised, disappointed romantics, and everyone wants to fall in love. Trump, I think, was a flash infatuation. Rich, talks tough, has the cache of celebrity -- okay, this guy then!

But there's not going to be any surprise Prince Charming.

Jay Cost addresses this, and notes that Republicans, with the singular example of Barry Goldwater, have since 1948 always run either last year's runner up (comfort level, familiarity, "his turn"), or some dominant figure (Eisenhower), or, of course, actually an incumbent already running for president, and suggests we might be getting a little wigged out since we're not used to having wide-open primaries.

He says we shouldn't sweat it:

[T]he party does not need to fall in love with its nominee. Sitting in the background here is my (admittedly heterodox) opinion that "enthusiasm" doesn't matter all that much for presidential elections. The most loyal partisans usually are the ones who make a regular habit of voting in presidential elections, regardless of their enthusiasm. Additionally, to the extent that enthusiasm does matter, it's important to remember that a close election will drive up interest, and therefore turnout, while a Republican blowout will make all this irrelevant. Enthusiasm could indeed be a problem in an Obama blowout, as that might open up scores of new House and Senate pickup opportunities for the Democrats. Finally, the Obama administration has thoroughly alienated the conservative base, meaning that we can expect it to turn out, at the least, to vote against the president if not for the GOP nominee (recall how the Democratic base turned out in droves for the thoroughly lackluster John Kerry).

And plus: We don't know a lot of these guys yet. The guys we know aren't running for president (mostly); the guys who are running we don't know.

But being unknown is only a problem in the beginning of a campaign. Whoever the nominee turns out to be, they're going to have near 100% name recognition by the end of the process, one way or the other.

And who knows. Some candidates grow in office. Some also grow over the course of a campaign.

And you know, I wanted to link Rescue Me by Aretha Franklin, but it's not on the internet (no, seriously, you find it). So I'll risk ridicule and link this other song featuring Aretha Franklin that lyrically echoes the post.


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posted by Ace at 06:57 PM

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