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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Who Will Oppose Obama in 2012?

“A return to first principles in a republic is sometimes caused by the simple virtues of one man. His good example has such an influence that the good men strive to imitate him, and the wicked are ashamed to lead a life so contrary to his example.” — Niccolo Machiavelli

The silly season is fast approaching. As we cross into 2011 the pundits and “experts” will begin handicapping the Republicans who will make a run at dethroning Obama in 2012. So at the risk of being wrong I will attempt to evaluate the field of Republican’s who might take on the anointed one and hopefully bring the country back to fiscal sanity and restore our national pride.

Whoever the candidate is they will have to garner the full and passionate support of Republicans and independents, especially the Tea Party. Without this support they will fail as did John McCain in 2008. The candidate must have a resume of fiscal responsibility and constitutional conservatism. The candidate will have to process charisma and a stage presence that will capture the heart of the American people — no dull intellectuals. He or she will need the skills and experience to take control of the dialogue and beat Obama in debates without appearing mean and confrontational — in other words another Ronald Reagan.

I know we will not get another Reagan, but the Republicans need a candidate who can talk the talk and walk the walk of Reagan. Republicans will need someone who has a proven record of cutting taxes, adhering to the principles of the Constitution and is unabashedly proud of America and can effectively communicate these values to the 65% of American who are not professed kool aid drinking liberals and will vote for Obama no matter who opposes him. They will also have to run a smart and disciplined campaign to capture the electoral votes of the swing states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Missouri, Florida and Virginia. So with this in mind here is my take on the existing pool of Republican hopefuls with my comments as to why or why not they can make the grade. Some of these candidates are professed possibilities while others are mere candidates of the media.

By my count, there are 24 people who are beneficiaries of nontrivial presidential buzz: Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, John Thune, Tim Pawlenty, Mitch Daniels, Mike Pence, Rick Santorum, Haley Barbour, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, Paul Ryan, David Petraeus, Ron Paul, Jeb Bush, John Bolton, Bob McDonnell, Jim DeMint, Chris Christie, Herman Cain, Gary Johnson, Judd Gregg, Marco Rubio and Rick Perry. Half of these people are almost surely not running.

Earlier this year, there was a lot of talk about General Petraeus running. But then the Army general gave a lot of dull, substantive speeches in which he didn't say anything about ethanol or the Hawkeye State's divine right to hold the first-in-the-nation contest. It seems like he prefers Kandahar to Ames.

Rubio, Ryan and Jindal, respectively the incoming junior senator from Florida, the incoming chairman of the House Budget Committee and the governor of Louisiana, are all wisely sitting out the presidential contest to concentrate on their to-do lists, though the three golden boys of the GOP are ripe vice presidential picks. Rubio, while a good looking and possibly charismatic candidate, who could capture Hispanic voters, has not served one day in Congress as of this witting. By Election Day he would have the same weak national resume as Obama had and I think the public would be wary of being taken again. He would make an attractive VP candidate.

Ryan, while a fiscal and constitution conservative and would be an attractive candidate to Tea Party members, is still a Congressman with no real executive experience. He might be able to turn the blue state of Wisconsin with its 10 electoral votes into a red one.

Jindal, the governor of Louisiana is from a red state with 9 electoral votes. Jindal, a constitutional conservative of Indian heritage, has proven himself a more than competent chief executive, especially during the BP oil spill. He has also reduced the size of the Louisiana state government, balanced the budget and is bringing business back to his state by allowing tax breaks and reducing regulations. He would have problems due to his Indian heritage. A good VP choice.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and the current governors of New Jersey, Virginia and Texas — Christie, McDonnell and Perry — probably aren't running, though they all enjoy deep reservoirs of admiration on the right, particularly Christie, whose YouTube videos are passed around like hotcakes. Also, there's growing buzz that Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor and a fierce defender of his top-tier contender status, may not run because he's got a big new contract with Fox News in the works.

Jeb Bush, while a competent governor of Florida, is a Bush. There is nothing more to be said. Florida went blue in 2008, but in the last elections it sent Rubio, a conservative Republican to the U.S. Senate. A good conservative could regain Florida’s 27 (or 29 after the census) electoral votes.

McDonnell is not well known outside of Virginia and has indicated little or no interest in either the presidential or vice presidential positions. He beat a liberal Democrat in 2009 for the governorship and should be able to return Virginia’s 13 electoral votes to the Republican column.

Christie, the Governor of New Jersey, is a maverick and a new kid on the block. He has been making a lot of noise by taking on the teachers and public service unions to reduce the pension liabilities. He has a confrontational style and is weak on foreign policy issues. New Jersey’s 15 electoral votes will probably go the Democrat, so his value as a VP candidate is minimal.

Rick Perry, the Governor of Texas, is very popular at home. He is gaining visibility on the national scene with his sound fiscal policies for Texas and his fight against illegal immigration. Texas’ 34 electoral votes will remain with the Republicans, but he could be a good VP choice. However, I doubt if he is interested.

Huckabee is a big national name due to his run in 2008 and his constant appearance on Fox News. He has a strong following among the Christian right and has demon stated a comfortable folksy style. Through his Fox show he has demonstrated a sound knowledge of domestic and foreign issues. Whether he runs or not will depend on is he wants the money or the power. Arkansas is a red state and will stay red.

DeMint, the South Carolina senator and the Tea Party's man on the inside, has said he's not running but acts like he might be. Meanwhile, Gregg, New Hampshire's retiring senator, acts likes he's not running but hasn't ruled it out. (If he did run as a New Hampshire favorite son, it would complicate things for Romney.) Pence, the Indiana representative, definitely wants to run but now may switch to the Indiana governorship instead.

Of this group DeMint is has the highest visibility. He is the darling of the Tea Party and a strong fiscal conservative with a broad knowledge of domestic and foreign issues. He would be good in debates against Obama, but he is really hated by the left. They will try to thorough everything, including the kitchen sink, at him. South Carolina’s 8 electoral votes went to Obama in 2008, but I think they will go back to the Republicans in 2012. The Tea party is strong there.

Mike Pence has two years to prove himself as a leader in the House, but presidents don’t come from the House of Representatives. If Mitch Daniels, the current governor of Indiana makes a run at the presidency Pence would probably go for Daniels seat. Pence is a strong fiscal conservative, but his image on international affairs is weak. Mike Pence needs chief executive experience.

Barbour, perhaps the sharpest political operator with a natural Southern constituency in a Southern-dominated party, could be a front-runner (and a hilarious adept debate opponent for Obama), but his plans remain murky. Also, I don’t think a president can come from Mississippi. As a VP candidate he can contribute very little, the state’s 6 electoral votes will remain red.

That leaves 11 who are probably, but not definitely, running: Romney, Gingrich, Palin, Pawlenty, Santorum, Bolton, Daniels, Cain, Johnson, Paul and Thune. Five of these are unlikely to last long as serious contenders, not least because talk-show and grass-roots popularity doesn't necessarily win in the "money primary."

Paul's issues — gutting the Federal Reserve, shrinking government, foreign policy noninterventionism, drug legalization — are the ripest they've ever been in the GOP. But, at 75, that's just about the only way "ripe" and "Ron Paul" can be used together in a sentence. He has an incredible cadre of passionate supporters, mainly Libertarian, but this is not enough to gain him much.

Thune will probably discover early that his Senate colleagues telling him to run isn't necessarily a compliment. In many respects, Thune is the GOP version of John Kerry: a candidate with very presidential hair who seems "electable" despite not having done much of anything. South Dakota’s 3 electoral votes will remain red. Also, due to some of his recent votes he has lost Tea Party support.

Bolton, the famously mustachioed and gruff former U.N. ambassador, is a tireless and brilliant guy, but he's never run for federal office. Presumably he wants to highlight national security issues and, I hope, duke it out with Ron Paul. Bolton brings nothing to the political table and will be someone’s adviser on international affairs.

Cain, the former chief executive of Godfather's Pizza, is a charismatic superstar on the Tea Party circuit and in many rank-and-file conservative circles. An African-American who likes to joke about his "dark-horse candidacy," he's a lot more than merely a sane Alan Keyes. But it's hard to imagine him amounting to more than an exciting also-ran. Any Republican who gets the nomination would be wise to include Cain on their team of economic advisers for his small business acumen.

Johnson, the former New Mexico governor, Libertarian and a keynoter at last weekend's KushCon II, will focus attention on pot legalization. Meanwhile, Santorum, a former senator, will focus attention on Rick Santorum while he makes his appearances on Fox. Neither of these guys are serious contenders.

That leaves us with a top tier of five front-runners: Romney, Palin, Gingrich, Pawlenty and Daniels. Romney is the organizational front-runner; Daniels is the first pick of wonks and D.C. eggheads; Palin probably has the most devoted following among actual voters; Gingrich will dominate the debates; and Pawlenty (vying with Daniels) is the least disliked.

Romney ran in 2008 and did not get the nomination. He is erudite and polished, but never seems to show passion for any issues. As the founder of Staples, Manager of the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics (which made a profit) and Governor of Massachusetts he has a great deal of executive experience, more than any other potential contender. His Achilles heel is the failing Massachusetts Health Care Program that was instituted under his term as governor. He would be good in debates with Obama, especially on the economy and jobs. His other problem is that he is a Mormon and that will be used against him by the secular left and the media.

Pawlenty, the outgoing Governor of Minnesota, is a nice fellow and seems to be a fiscal and constitutional conservative. He was able to get elected in a really deep blue state. He is not too well known outside of Minnesota and could be another Harold Stassen. I don’t see him as a major player in 2012.

Daniels, the current governor of Indiana is a strong fiscal and constitutional conservative. He was elected to his second term by an 18-point margin on November 4, 2008. Previously, he was the Director of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget under George W. Bush and worked for Eli Lilly and Company. He is cited as a rising star in the Republican Party and has approval ratings hovering near 70%. As a two term Governor Daniels is a serious contender for the nomination. Daniels is someone to keep an eye on 2011 to see if he can generate the passion of the Tea Party.

Gingrich is no doubt the sharpest knife in the drawer of contenders. As a historian, teacher, author, lecturer and former Speaker of the House of Representatives Gingrich has the experience and knowledge to carry out the duties of Commander-in-Chief. He is well versed in domestic policy, government, economics, international affairs, the Constitution and world and United States history. He would absolutely destroy Obama in a debate. He is well known, perhaps too well, for his constant appearances on Fox News. Gingrich, the author of the Contract with America, rose to Speaker of the House after the Republicans took control of the House in 1994 and drove President Clinton to the center. His major problem is the baggage he has  due to a divorce and a reputation for being mean spirited. He no doubt could get the full support of the Tea Party, but he will be viciously attacked by the left.

This leaves us with Sarah Palin, the former Governor of Alaska and 2008 running mate with John McCain. Palin is no doubt the best known of all the Republican contenders, probably because she is the most hated by the left. She is a super star of the Tea Party and has the ability to raise millions of dollars for the party’s coffers. She did well with her endorsements in the 2010 elections. She is the author of two books, a Fox News contributor and a has a top rated show on the Learning Channel (TLC), which will no doubt be picked up for a second season. Palin shows passion for America, has a son serving in Afghanistan, and is good looking. Her major hurdle is the failed run by John McCain and the way his handlers managed Palin and some of the gaffs she made during interviews in 2008.

She is absolutely despised by the left-wing media. Even the establishment Republicans have disdain for her. She has been increasing her image in international affairs and is currently touring earthquake ravaged Haiti. It is also doubtful a woman could be elected president in 2012. 

This is my end of 2010 take on the candidates for the Republican nomination in 2012. I am sure things will change over the next 12 months as the 112th Republican controlled Congress begins to prove itself. If the Congress does well and the economy improves it will help the Republican cause, if not they will have problems. They cannot discount Obama, he is a fierce campaigner, and it’s what he does best.

Let’s see who starts making trips to Iowa in 2011 laying the groundwork for 2012 and who can raise the money.

If the Republicans can recapture Colorado, New Mexico, Indiana, Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida and Iowa all once traditional red states and with the traditional blue states losing as many a 5 congressional seats they will win the 2012 election by 5-7 electoral votes. Click here for the 2008 electoral map.


  1. Interesting blog. I enjoyed reading it. Someone just pointed out an error to me that I missed. Obama did not get South Carolina's electoral votes in 2008.

  2. Thank you for this, Fred. It's the best no-nonsense recap I've seen. I don't care much for any of these folks but am in the tough spot of being a democrat with no one to oppose the one in office. Dean refers to Obama's renomination as a "foregone conclusion." So my dilemma is support the man who let us down so badly, or support the side who's politics I find disdainful? 2012 is gonna be tough.