Wednesday, March 09, 2011

We're usually presented with a group of "yes...but" candidates

It's been rather depressing for Republicans to contemplate the possible Republican candidates for the nomination to go up against a vulnerable Barack Obama. There is this sense that we have a real opportunity to take back the White House, but that none of the candidates out there seem anything close to ideal. The candidates that we could get excited about like Chris Christie don't want to run or are not yet ready for election having just taken on a role on the national stage such as Marco Rubio. Jay Cost calls this the "Yes...but!" nomination field as he runs through the slam on potential nominees: Haley Barbour, Mitch Daniels, Jon Huntsman, Tim Pawlenty, and Mitt Romney.
Each of them brings strengths to the table, but with all of them there seems to be a pretty substantial 'but...' Barbour is a wonky Republican with a great résumé, but he is a former lobbyist. Daniels is also wonky and serious about the deficit, but he wants a truce on social issues. Huntsman has solid credentials in thoroughly Republican Utah, but he worked for Obama. Pawlenty governed a blue state in a conservative fashion, but he lacks pizzazz. Romney's business background is an asset in these tough economic times, but Romneycare is a sticking point.
Alas, it's all true. I'd add in that there is no real sign that Mitch Daniels, the candidate I'd support out of those, has the fire in the belly necessary for runnin and that Haley Barbour is open to caricature as some sort of neo-Confederate who was so oblivious that he barely noticed any civil rights violations growing up in Mississippi in the 1960s.

Cost then goes on to remind us that Republicans have rarely been excited about their candidates.
Right now there isn't a frontrunner, which is indeed rare for the Republican field, but when you look back through past nomination processes, you'll see that most non-incumbent postwar Republican candidates fall into this "Yes...but" category--even the frontrunners.

In 1952 Dwight Eisenhower wasn't really in tune with the growing conservative base of the party, and had to fend off a convention challenge from 'Mr. Republican,' Senator Robert Taft of Ohio. When Richard Nixon ran in 1968, he had to fend off the tag of a loser. Ditto Ronald Reagan in 1980, who was a two-time loser by that point. Bob Dole seemed old and not that conservative in 1996. Four years later George W. Bush had to prove that he was his own man, and not just a repackaged version of his father. John McCain seemed old and not that conservative in 2008. One would think that vice presidents are no-brainers for the nomination, but Nixon had to make a deal with Nelson Rockefeller (the so-called "Treaty of Fifth Avenue") in 1960 and George H. W. Bush finished third in Iowa behind Bob Dole and Pat Robertson in 1988.
Except for Eisenhower, I remember those races and the lack of excitement in the primaries. In fact, the same has been mostly true on the Democratic side. The candidate that the Democrats would have been excited about in 1968, Robert Kennedy, was tragically assassinated. Opposition to Hubert Humphrey was so intense that there were riots at the 1968 convention that Democratic mayor Richard Daley had to have his police beating up the protesters. And so many Democrats opposed George McGovern that they turned out to vote for Richard Nixon in a landslide. Were Democrats truly thrilled about Carter in either 1976 or 1980? Remember the Jimmy Who? response in 1976 and how many Democrats were fed up with Carter by 1980. Did Walter Mondale send thrills up people's legs? Remember how close Gary Hart came then until Mondale dismissed him with the "Where's the beef" comment. And even SNL was making fun of Michael Dukakis. Bill Clinton certainly wasn't inspiring Democrats when he was defending himself against bimbo eruptions and stories about evading the draft in 1992. And I don't think that Al Gore, who had recently been seen fundraising in a Buddhist temple and talking about "no controlling legal authority." And come on, no one has ever been excited about John Kerry. Ever. You might mention JFK or Barack Obama. But JFK had a tough fight in the primaries to get the 1960 nomination and basically had to depend on Daddy's dollars to become the Democratic nominee. And Barack Obama was first seen as inexperienced and not quite "black enough" as he battled Hillary Clinton way past the date that nominations are usually wrapped up.

So Cost is absolutely right that most candidates are "Yes...but" candidates. Sometimes their candidacies catch on and people get excited like with Ronald Reagan or Barack Obama. But none of them come out of the gate with the majority of the voters in their party all thrilled about them. And others like John Kerry or John McCain become less attractive the more we see of them.

So maybe one of these "Yes...but" candidates for 2012 will change our perspectives about them as the primary season takes off. Or they'll all fizzle and we'll end up sending up a sacrificial lamb to be mowed down by the Obama juggernaut. But it's still too early to tell or to give up hope that one of these people will prove to be someone that the party can put forth with pride and excitement.