The news concerning the Republicans lately has been more about who is not running for president than who is running. We now know that Chris Christie and Sarah Palin have demurred, so our choices are the people we’ve seen standing behind lecterns for the past few months.
As I’ve mentioned, I’m not really crazy about any of them. Having said that, one will emerge as the standard-bearer against Barack Obama. Gino offered his take on the candidates at his place and it’s hard to argue with his reading of things. My impressions?
Mitt Romney: I’m not much of a fan of David Letterman, who has aged as gracelessly as anyone I’ve ever seen, but his description of Romney during the 2008 cycle still seems spot on. Letterman said Romney reminded him of a pilot for JetBlue. Romney is a technocrat to the core, the sort of person who knows everything and has a programmed answer for any query, but there’s something fundamentally hollow at his core. He is a plausible candidate because he has the right background and skill set. I would suspect that a potential Romney presidency would be competent. Is that good enough, given the challenges ahead? I kinda doubt it. I suspect, in the end, Romney would struggle with the “vision thing” in the same way that George H. W. Bush did.
Rick Perry: I usually try to avoid working blue in this feature, but sometimes you have to say it in the Anglo-Saxon vernacular. I think the guy is full of crap. I don’t particularly mind the Texan swagger and Perry has accomplished a few good things during his long tenure in Texas. Still, I don’t sense he has any real vision for what he’d do as president. His only real belief is that Rick Perry ought to run things, which is the same mindset that Bill Clinton had. But Perry doesn’t have the brains or the cunning that Clinton brought to the campaign and to the Oval office. And I think people see that, which is why he is falling in the polls.
Herman Cain: Cain seems like a genuinely good guy. He has executive experience, but running a corporation is not the same thing as being a government executive. At the helm of Godfather’s Pizza, Cain had wide latitude to make changes where he saw fit and could impose his will when needed. It doesn’t work that way in the public sector and it’s not clear to me that the executive skill set Cain brings would translate well to the office. I do suspect that if he were to emerge and somehow win the presidency, he’d make very wise choices for his cabinet, because he’d understand where he has gaps in his knowledge. That’s a plus.
Michele Bachmann: I’ve made this comparison before and I think it’s still right — the politician that Michele Bachmann reminds me of the most is William Proxmire, the former senator from my home state of Wisconsin. Proxmire was a genius at self-promotion and was a regular face on newscasts during his time in the Senate, but he never really moved the needle because his colleagues thought he was a grandstander. Bachmann is much the same, I think — she’s great at the soundbite game and she’s very good on the stump as well. While those are valuable skills, they are not the skills of a leader and it’s not a coincidence that she’s still a backbencher on Capitol Hill. Her Republican colleagues in the Minnesota delegation, John Kline and Erik Paulsen, are much more consequential figures in the Congress, even though few people outside of Minnesota would be able to pick them out of a lineup.
Rick Santorum: Earnest, passionate and frankly a little weird. And he has no shot anyway.
Newt Gingrich: As a theoretician, Gingrich is second to none. As an administrator, he’s a disaster. If I were President, I’d give Newt an office in the West Wing, let him conceptualize and tell him to put his ideas into memoranda or white papers or somesuch. And I might use about 10% of his brainstorms. But I’d never give the guy any real power.
Ron Paul: As an economist, Paul is second to none. Paul is an old school libertarian conservative of the Murray Rothbard strain. I have a difficult time disagreeing with a lot of what he says, but the world Paul envisions is not the world we currently inhabit. We have, for better or worse, been an imperial power for over 100 years now. We can’t pretend otherwise and most of Paul’s foreign policy prescriptions seem to ignore that reality. He’s not in the race to win as much as he’s in it to make sure his concerns are addressed. And that’s fine. I would not be surprised if his son Rand, the junior senator from Kentucky, runs for president in a future cycle and does better than his father.
Jon Huntsman: The answer to a question no one is asking.
Gary Johnson: Also a libertarian, but more of a lifestyle libertarian than the somewhat severe Dr. Paul. Was once the governor of New Mexico. If it’s possible to be a bland lifestyle libertarian, Johnson is that guy. There’s nothing inherently wrong with Johnson, but there’s no reason to believe he’ll break out from the pack. Further, I’d wager that if a governor of New Mexico is going to achieve national office some day, the current governor, Susana Martinez, has a much better chance.
If I had to choose today, I’m not sure what I’d do. Fortunately, we don’t have to choose yet. The most talented politicians in the Republican Party — Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, Martinez, Bobby Jindal — aren’t yet ready to run for national office. Their time will come.