Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
December 14, 2011
POLITICS: State of the Race
I've got a handful of essays on the 2012 primaries in the hopper if I can ever get them finished. For those of you who aren't following me on Twitter, here's the short summary of my thinking at present.
1. I'm still with Rick Perry, who would clearly be the best president and most reliable conservative in the race. Perry still has the executive experience and steady temperament best suited to the job (plus his service record and stable family life), and he still has the money and organization to go the distance if the primaries turn into a long slog, something candidates like Bachmann and Santorum lack. Perry has come from behind before - in his 2010 primary race against Kay Bailey Hutchinson he trailed by 20 points in some early polls, but he outworked and outlasted her. Obviously Perry is not a good debater, is prone to Bush-style gaffes and had some other missteps in reacting to the early onslaught of negative press, but he was also hurt by the dynamics of the race at that point - he's a better when given more time to speak (a problem on an 8-candidate stage), and Bachmann in particular has devoted most of her energies to running interference for Romney, which meant that when Perry emerged he had a stage full of people attacking him and nobody attacking Romney. Perry's virtues are more on display in this unscripted Veterans Day video he did for Ben Howe of RedState:
All that said, Perry's in a fairly deep hole at the moment, and realistically he may not be able to get out of it unless three things happen, none of which is all that unlikely individually, but running the table may be harder: (1) Newt implodes, (2) Romney fails to consolidate the support of the 75% or so of the voters who really don't want him as the nominee, and (3) some of the other candidates drop out so that voters are forced to look more closely at what's left.
2. I've been as surprised as anyone by the Newt boomlet, but it mostly comes down to the fact that Newt is an excellent debater, and there have been a whole lot of debates. I still think Newt 2012 is basically a bad idea, for a lot of reasons I've discussed before; I don't think he is really well-suited to be a chief executive, as streiff explains here. On the other hand, I've always liked Newt as an intellectual and rhetorical resource for the Right, and all things considered I have reached the point of having him as my second choice behind Perry, much as it astonishes me to type that. Anyway, much more on Newt to follow. If he's the nominee, he'll be a neverending smorgasbord for political journalism. The feeling may be mutual, as Ben Domenech has hilariously illustrated in the daily must-read Newt Judges You.
Newt's return from the political wilderness has some parallels to Nixon, Reagan, Churchill, De Gaulle, FDR...among others. But I think the best parallel is a guy I have seen for years as extremely similar to Newt, and that's Benjamin Netanyahu. Some conservatives may object that Netanyahu is awesome, but Newt would look pretty awesome from a distance of a few thousand miles as well. Closer observers of Israel know the flaws that come with Netanyahu's toughness, eloquence and deep patriotism.
The one thing Newt has improved the most since the 1990s is his demeanor. He's much more the happy warrior than the scowling bombthrower these days. Looking back, Rudy Giuliani's 2008 campaign suffered from the fact that he had mellowed with age; some mellowing, in Newt's case, may prove a great asset.
Newt is a whole lot of fun to watch do this, and for all my misgivings about him as the nominee, if that's what we come to, I intend to enjoy the ride.
3. One of the telling things to watch, previewed by his "$10,000 bet" debate line and Newt's broadside against his record at Bain, is how well Romney holds up to criticism of his wealth and business record. That's a theme Republicans have been - typically - hesitant to push too hard, but it will be the #1 avenue of attack by the Democrats, and as distasteful as that sort of thing is, we may as well see how he stands up to it now.
4. Not to lean too heavily on the work of my fellow RedStaters, but Neil Stevens explains why you should put no stock in the PPP poll showing Ron Paul within striking distance in Iowa.
5. Herman Cain's implosion will not teach the unteachable among us the perils of untested rookie candidates at the national level, but it should. I'd have gladly supported Cain for a governorship, but he was in over his head running for president.
6. Jon Huntsman has gotten a lot of second looks from desperate conservatives, partly because he's got the basics of a good resume with no obvious weaknesses (executive and foreign policy experience and a stable family as well as stuff like being tall and rich), partly because his policy proposals are really good and conservative, and his record is more conservative than people think. But we are ultimately imprisoned by our own choices, and Huntsman not only chose to abandon the domestic policy battles of 2009-10 to go work for Obama overseas, he chose to hire as his most visible political adviser John Weaver (the GOP-hating former McCain adviser who tried to get McCain to switch parties and whose termination in July 2007 coincided with the nadir of the McCain campaign) and to telegraph his disdain for conservative voters on a bunch of cultural and economic wedge issues, resulting in his candidacy attracting a vocal cheering section among people with the most poisonous of relationships with the primary electorate. (Huntsman's sneering unlikeability in debates hasn't been an asset either, nor his tendency to overrate his own sense of humor) He's the equivalent of a liberal blue-state governor launching a presidential campaign by touting his evangelical Christianity and mocking believers in evolution and global warming; that would go over like a lead balloon in a Democratic primary. The only way Huntsman could begin to repair that damage is by doing a fundamental reboot of his image, starting with sacking Weaver. His unwillingness to do that cements the suspicion that he's still at heart a rich guy from Palo Alto who doesn't much like the people whose votes he's asking for.