Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
November 5, 2008
POLITICS: The 2012 GOP Field (First Call)

As promised, here's my initial thoughts on what the Republican field will look like in four years. Obviously, there are many variables along the way, ranging from how beatable Obama looks to the 2010 midterms; I'm just forecasting with the known knowns we have today. As usual there will probably be 10 or so candidates, but from where we sit today there look to be four slots from which to put together a credible primary campaign:

(1) The Populist Candidate: With its Washington leadership beheaded, the GOP is likely to become more of a populist and culturally conservative party in the next four years. Mike Huckabee showed this year the power and the limitations of a pure populist campaign, far exceeding expectations with nearly no resources or name recognition (although Huck was out of step with the populists on one of the major causes of grassroots frustration with DC, immigration). Against the backdrop of a tax-spend-regulate Obama Administration, a crucial challenge will be squaring populism with the GOP's need to appeal to economic and fiscal conservatives to expand out of the Huck-size niche. Realistically, the populist candidate is likely to end up as the most moderate serious candidate in the field.

As things stand today, Sarah Palin is the obvious populist candidate and, for now, the very-very-early frontrunner for the 2012 nomination, given her now-massive name recognition (the woman's every TV appearance is a ratings bonanza), amazing talents as a retail politician, appeal to the base, and the GOP tendency towards nominating the next in line. Granted, only two candidates in the part century (Bob Dole and Franklin D. Roosevelt) have won a major party nomination after being the VP nominee for a losing ticket (not counting Mondale, who'd already been VP), those two waited 12 and 20 years before doing so, respectively, and recent history has been unkind to those who tried (Edwards 2008, Lieberman 2004 - see also Quayle 2000).

I'll expand another day on the challenges facing Gov. Palin - the short answer is that inexperience is the easiest thing in the world to fix, but she'll have to face tougher budgetary times in Alaska in light of falling oil revenues, she'll have to withstand what is likely to be an ongoing national campaign by the Democrats to take her down or hobble her re-election efforts to cut off the likeliest threat to Obama, and she'll have to develop and sell her own, independent agenda and demonstrate a greater breadth and depth of knowledge on national politics than are required from the running mate slot. Upside in the primaries: the socially conservative, moose-hunting hockey mom could potentially be well-suited to the early GOP primary/caucus electorates in Iowa, New Hampshire and Michigan.

(2) The Establishment Candidate: The GOP by tradition tends to fall in behind whoever is the candidate of the establishment - of country clubs and boardrooms and Beltway insiders. Part of being a Republican, of course, is having the maturity to understand that being the establishment candidate is not a bad thing. But an angry grassroots is going to take some serious persuading to pick another establishment figure.

The best establishment candidate should be Jeb Bush, for a variety of reasons, but four years won't be enough - if any length of time is - to rebuild the Bush brand within the GOP, let alone the general electorate. That leaves Mitt Romney as the logical next step; Mitt is currently out of office and thus less equipped to get more experience, but he'll have the money and energy to spend four years staking himself out as a consistent conservative voice and putting the distance of time between 2012 and the flip-flop charges of 2008. South Dakota Senator John Thune is also sometimes mentioned, but after 1964, 1996 and now 2008, the GOP has hopefully learned its lesson about nominating legislators for President, especially sitting Senators. Newly re-elected Indiana Governor and former Bush budget director Mitch Daniels (see here and here) will have his name come up but more likely as a VP nominee.

(3) The Full-Spectrum Conservative: The Fred Thompson role from 2008 but one that will pack a lot more potential appeal in 2012. Bobby Jindal is the best of the lot, but while he's already got an impressive resume, Jindal's so young (he's 37, which makes him the age Romney was in 1985), so he can afford to wait out several more election cycles; he's up for re-election in 2011, which makes running in 2012 very problematic; and he really and genuinely wants to stay in Louisiana long enough to make real changes in his beloved home state's legendarily corrupt and dysfunctional political culture. The other main contender for this slot is South Carolina's Governor Mark Sanford, now in his second term as Governor after 3 in Congress. SC is the most favorable turf for a candidate of this type among the early primary states, so with Sanford running as a favorite son he could basically block out any other challengers, and if he doesn't run for re-election in 2010 (offhand I don't know whether he's term-limited), he'd have a logistical advantage over Palin, who will presumably still be in office as governor of a geographically remote state.

(4) The National Security Candidate: After four years of Obama, there's also likely to be strong sentiment for adult leadership on national security. Traditionally, the GOP has tended to prioritize this issue (in 2008, both McCain and Giuliani ran primarily as national security candidates). But especially with Senators in disfavor, the supply of candidates with more national security credentials than a typical Governor is short - most of the Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld types in the party will be past their prime by 2012, and I continue to doubt that Condi Rice could be a viable candidate for a multitude of reasons. The name you're likely to hear is CENTCOM commander General David Petraeus, but Gen. Petraeus - who I assume will remain on active duty for another year or two, at least, and who President Obama dare not fire - has no political experience and no known domestic-policy profile (we don't even know if he's a Republican). My guess is that if we nominate a governor in 2012, Gen. Petraeus will be much in demand as a running mate. After that, I'm not sure who will even try to fill this slot in the primaries.

Sorry, but that's the list; the no-more-McCains sentiment among the base will make it impossible for someone like Tim Pawlenty to mount a credible campaign as a moderate, nobody will bother trying to re-create the crippling damage inflicted on Rudy Giuliani from running with a record as a social liberal, and no Ron Paul type candidate (especially Ron Paul) is ever going to make a serious dent. It's those four slots or bust.

And I, for one, am definitely not committing yet to who I'll support as between Palin or a Sanford or Jindal run or maybe somebody else (obviously I'm not a Mitt fan). There's two long years ahead of us before that choice begins to arise.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:00 PM | Politics 2008 • | Politics 2012 | Comments (22) | TrackBack (0)

I would think that, to a larger extent than is usually true of a new President, Obama will create his own opponent based on the variety of potentially ill-advised directions he may choose to go in.

Posted by: Jerry at November 5, 2008 1:07 PM

I'm a Hoosier and the Daniels mention is interesting. He's said that he's never running for public office again.

Daniels is kind of in the Palin mode in a way: he's very much the pragmatist and very much one who will be a conservative, yet not govern conservatively. Some of his ideas have been quite radical (as in "out of nowhere", not liberal), but he's pushed most of them through, and most of them have worked. As a result, Indiana is doing considerably better than its neighbors and Daniels did considerably better than his fellow Republicans. (But unlike Palin, he doesn't get too excited about social issues and he doesn't have the star power.)

The Petraeus mention is interesting as well. I don't think he's a politician, but if the world gets worse--and our enemies are not going away, and they are feeling very strong and rejoicing today--someone like Petraeus may become viable.

I think the frontrunners today are a combination of Romney, Palin, and Jindal. But I'm sure someone else will emerge as well.

Posted by: per14 at November 5, 2008 1:09 PM

Paul Ryan

Posted by: ESK at November 5, 2008 1:10 PM

Good assessment. I brought up another possibility earlier this year, Jodi Rell, that you rejected because she was pro-choice. She will likely continue to be governor by 2012 and could be an "establishment candidate."

I know you think it's a bad idea, but do you think it has become virtually impossible to have a GOP primary winner who is pro-choice?

Posted by: MVH at November 5, 2008 1:33 PM

Save Jindal for a later date, and if he can rebuild Louisiana after 8 years, it makes him that much better of a candidate for 2016.

I see Romney, Palin (if she takes over the Stevens Senate seat), Sanford, and dark horse Southern social conservative candidate as the field forming in 3 years.

Posted by: son of brock landers at November 5, 2008 1:33 PM

ESK - I love Ryan (he's also young and can wait) but we gotta stick to executives from here on.

MVH - In a word, yes. You'd fracture the base beyond repair. Especially since Obama is likely to take aggressive pro-abortion steps that will re-inflame the issue.

sobl - No way should Palin come to DC.

Posted by: Crank at November 5, 2008 1:40 PM

As a result of this election, Senators will have a much harder time getting the Republican nomination.

2010 will be an interesting year for Palin. She runs for re-election and will be called upon to campaign for other Republican candidates. If she wins and has coattails, then she is the leader come 2012. If she loses or doesn't have coattails, she's done.

And don't forget Pawlenty in Minn. as another darkhorse.

Posted by: Mark S. at November 5, 2008 2:34 PM

Largely spot-on, but I wonder if there's much of a difference between categories 1 and 3. I consider myself a full-spectrum conservative, and I'd easily support either Palin or Jindal, though I do despise Huckabee. Is it more about rhetoric, or do you think there's a real substantive policy difference at work?

Posted by: crankycon at November 5, 2008 2:45 PM

Between, say, Huckabee and Sanford, yes. Palin? Less clear. This time around, she just ran on her record and McCain's platform, as the VP traditionally does. Next time, she'll need a more robust philosophical approach and a detailed platform of her own, and we don't really know where she stands on as broad a range of issues as Sanford or Huck.

The winner in 2012 will need to bridge the gaps among these four areas, of course. I'm just looking at where they start off.

Posted by: Crank at November 5, 2008 2:50 PM

The winning answer is... Jerry's. Who would have guessed 4 years ago that an unaccomplished Illinois State Senator would become President? How many unforseen things had to happen to get that result? If the media had done its job regarding the John Edwards affair before the Iowa Caucuses, Hillary probably wins and Obama is done. How many unforseen foreign affairs things will happen that can really damage Obama-a nuclear Iran, Russia invades the Ukraine,. Domestically-A major terrorist attack-high unemployment from his policies, buyers remorse when the DEMs overreach and the media can't cover for them. Lots of things can and will happen.

While I think we should avoid nominating a legislator, I really hope Pence, Shadegg in the House and Coburn in the Senate step up to leadership positions and mount a Newt Gingrich type of assault on Obama's policies.

Posted by: dch at November 5, 2008 3:02 PM
The winning answer is... Jerry's. Who would have guessed 4 years ago that an unaccomplished Illinois State Senator would become President
Bingo. I, for one, remember Bill Clinton being booed during the '88 DNC convention (his speech was Castroesque in length) and was the butt of every joke for a month. People thought that the hick governor was a punch-line.

No one knows what's going to happen. Let's sit back and let things digest. After all, who could've predicted the day after Bush beat Kerry that four years later a state senator would be his replacement, a sitting AK governor would be found guilty and STILL WIN, the press would turn on Hillary, abortion would fall between 111th and 112th on the priority list for this election, Al Franken would be headed to a runoff against Norm Coleman, the GOP would lose Indiana and North Carolina and John McCain would lose the presidency due in no small part to his democratic rival opting out of public financing & spending almost a billion dollars to defeat him (in short: McCain/Feingold helped doom McCain)?

The future stars of the party are Palin & Jindal, but let's bide our time & wait. In the summer of 2006 everyone thought that George Allen would've been the nominee, after all.

Posted by: RW at November 5, 2008 3:49 PM

I wouldn't call Gov. Palin a populist, really, though she's a very effective politician; rather, she's an across-the-board conservative with a pragmatic streak, rather like Reagan was. I agree with you as to what she needs to do going forward; I wrote about it a few weeks ago here.

Posted by: The Ancient Mariner at November 5, 2008 9:52 PM

I wouldn't call Gov. Palin a populist, really, though she's a very effective politician; rather, she's an across-the-board conservative with a pragmatic streak, rather like Reagan was. I agree with you as to what she needs to do going forward; I wrote about it a few weeks ago here.

Posted by: The Ancient Mariner at November 5, 2008 9:52 PM

Sorry for the double post.

Posted by: The Ancient Mariner at November 5, 2008 9:53 PM

All you republicans cans go jump off a cliff. The world would be a better place without you.

Posted by: RepublicansAreIdiots at November 5, 2008 10:49 PM

After four years of Obama, there's also likely to be strong sentiment for adult leadership on national security.

As opposed to the guy who stood on an aircraft carrier with the words MISSION ACCOMPLISHED festooned above his head. As opposed to getting the U.S. into a pointless war with a country that couldn't have harmed us, i.e., where were those weapons of mass destruction? Oh, yeah, America wants more of THAT. The best thing about an Obama victory is that the neocon obsession with killing everything that moves or dares to disagree is mercifully crushed.

Posted by: Rob McMillin at November 6, 2008 2:27 AM

Write off a couple more folks who neither understand the issues around Iraq nor have the maturity to avoid gloating in inappropriate places.

Posted by: The Ancient Mariner at November 6, 2008 9:58 AM

That is, after all, the base, Ancient Mariner.

All you republicans cans go jump off a cliff. The world would be a better place without you.
Bad idea. Where do you expect the redistribution goodies to come from? Posted by: RW at November 6, 2008 4:41 PM

Rob McMillin -

Way to take a simplistic, caricatured view of difficult, complicated issues. You won. It's time to actually have detailed plans and make actual decisions on what to do. BUmper sticker and sound bite lines aren't enough anymore. It's time to grow up and go to work. I wish your side good luck on this, and hope that I don't have the same 8 year old-like simplified view of things when I disagree.

Posted by: DS at November 7, 2008 8:27 AM

1. Crank what does Romney have to do to win you over? Outside of being envious of Boston sports :), you made some good points about why conservatives might not trust Romney's flippflopiness. I'd like to understand from you what it would take to solidify that part of the base?

2. Absent a major change - National Security will be a need, not a want. Something every GOP candidate must pass muster with, but therefor won't be able to define themselves with. Additionally outside a military person or sec def - no one will credibly be a natl sec candidate and not from the senate - ugh.

Posted by: Brendan at November 7, 2008 11:42 AM

The GOP has to regroup tremendously. Strong conservative leadership is needed. It will be a battle with the liberal illuminati, but a battle that can and will be won.

Posted by: Ms. Know at November 13, 2008 10:10 AM

I hope the choice is well thought thru, because the left-wing illuminati have to be taken out of their positions. This country can not take eight, barely four years of them.

Posted by: Ms. Know at November 13, 2008 12:19 PM
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