Saturday, November 15, 2014

A Look at the Republican Field for 2016

Because I know the multitudes are waiting impatiently for me to decide which candidate I'll be supporting in 2016, so they can be guided accordingly, I'll offer this very early (okay, too early) assessment of the Republican contenders.

(I suppose I should promise that I'll soon do an assessment of the Democrats, but the chance that I'd back Hillary or Biden is nonexistent, so my only 'assessments' of them will come in the form of periodic snarky comments).

In 2012, I was an ardent Mitch Daniels supporter, and I'm still convinced the Republicans would have been far better off with him as their nominee. But Daniels withdrew, and that's that. I never really settled on another candidate, and eventually it became obvious that Romney would get the nomination. By that time I was preparing to leave the country, convinced that Romney would lose. (An embarrassing admission: there was a point in October where I came around to thinking he might pull it out – wrong again!).

Anyway, on to 2016. I would still support Daniels in a heartbeat, but he seems perfectly happy as president of Purdue University, and getting him to change his mind about subjecting his family to the ugliness that American politics has become is, uh, unlikely.

So I’ll have to find someone who can fill the same slot – a reformist with executive experience, highly competent, able to relate to ordinary people, both fiscally and socially conservative, and defense-minded.

On those last three points let me add this, since the 'social conservative' part may surprise some, who know that I'm not particularly conservative on social issues):  the Republican Party (and any party that is more than a splinter movement, e.g., the Libertarians or the Greens) is a coalition. Any candidate that is going to unite a coalition must be, at minimum, acceptable to all major factions. Not that s/he is the favorite of all of them (or any of them). But s/he must not be obnoxious to any of them.

Therefore, in my opinion, the Republican nominee need not be a hard-core deficit hawk, but must not go far in the opposite direction; need not be a culture warrior but must not be pro-choice (or even weakly pro-life); need not be an interventionist, but must not be isolationist. Which means the candidate must be able to thread needles quite nicely.

Oh – and one more qualification: I refuse to support anyone who can’t win.

For my early choice I’m leaning toward Scott Walker. Walker is identified primarily with fiscal and reform issues (especially reining in public employee unions), but his social policy credentials are sufficient that I think my most ardently social conservative friends would find no problem accepting him (part of why I think this is because he is well to my right on social issues). I know nothing about his defense views (having held only local and state offices, he has not had occasion to take positions on defense). I’ll look forward to seeing what he has to say about defense and foreign policy.

He also comes from a solidly middle-class background (mom a bookkeeper, dad a Baptist minister) and can relate to the suburban and blue-collar people Republicans must get in order to win. He has that easy-going 'Midwestern Nice' thing going for him. Coupled with his inoffensive (some say ‘bland’ and/or ‘boring’) manner, he (like Daniels) seems able to take strong positions without being offensive to middle-of-the-roaders.

My second choice for now is Bobby Jindal, who shares many of Walker’s qualities – a proven record of reform at the state level (including a successful school voucher program), plus strong fiscal and social policy credibility. In addition, his grasp of policy is legendary, and to be blunt, his skin color is a positive. As with Walker, I know nothing of his defense views, and I’ll be waiting to learn more.

On the negative side, I have a perception of Jindal as being very outspoken on social issues – to the point that it might create problems for him with social moderates (whether or not strongly-held socon positions are a political negative in a national race is, in my opinion, dependent on words and tone more than the positions themselves).

This is just a perception, I admit, and only time will tell. I also think a Midwesterner would be a better choice than a Southerner.

It’s no accident that my two main choices are both governors. I strongly prefer governors for two reasons: 1) If Obama has proven anything, it is that executive experience matters greatly; and 2) I think the anti-Washington mood will continue into 2016, and these two, and most other governors,
will have little difficulty painting Hillary Clinton, assuming for now that she's the nominee, as an insider and contrasting her to themselves.

As for the others, just a few words on why I choose not (for now) to back them.

Mitt Romney – Obviously meets my executive experience criterion, in spades. He totally fails on appealing to blue-collar types and is past his sell-by date. In any case, I’m inclined to think, for now, that he isn’t running.

Mike Huckabee – Another governor who can sell socon positions with a smile, though I think he is so closely identified with social issues that he comes across as a one-issue candidate. His Arkansas record makes fiscal conservatives like me uneasy, to put it mildly. I can’t support him for that reason, and I think he will have problems with a big enough bloc of Republicans that he’ll be stymied.

Rand Paul – Certainly a better salesman for libertarianism than his father, though that isn’t saying much. (As a libertarian myself, I prayed nightly for Ron Paul to just go away). Unless he starts quickly to moderate his foreign policy views, however, I think he has zero chance of getting the nomination. Also – no executive experience.

Jeb Bush – If only he had a different last name. By all accounts he was an excellent governor, but … well, let’s put it this way: Republicans have an opportunity to run against a hard-core insider and are contemplating nominating a Bush? Really?

Marco Rubio – No executive experience. Probably hasn’t been in Washington long enough to be perceived as being 'one of them'. My problem with him is that I see no reason to support him other than his ethnicity.

Ted Cruz – Another short-term Senator. In addition to having no executive background, the guy is a loose cannon. Heaven only knows what he’d spout on the campaign trail.

Rick Perry — We’ll see if he learned anything from 2012. If he did, he might be worth giving attention to (though I think he’s damaged goods). If he didn’t, we won’t have to wait long for him to be gone.

Chris Christie – “Shut up and sit down!” might go over big in NY/NJ, but it will get real old real fast in the rest of the country. The guy just lacks the temperament for a long national campaign.

Paul Ryan – A fiscal conservative’s wet dream. On sober reflection, I don’t think a Representative can do it – though he has the advantage of having run a national campaign (losing, but still …). My objection is no executive experience, but I certainly wouldn’t be upset if he were the nominee.

Rick Santorum – Remember I said that a coalition can't afford to nominate somebody totally offensive to any of its major factions? That's Santorum.

Ben Carson – Okay, I’m scraping bottom now. Time to quit.

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