Scott Brown, Ron Paul, The CPAC Straw Poll and 2012

Let’s talk just a little about the 2012 presidential election. I’d like to make three related points:
(1) Nobody should be touting Scott Brown as a 2012 presidential candidate.
(2) The GOP is going to be picking from a bench that is short on candidates with the experience we need.
(3) It’s a good thing that Ron Paul won the “straw poll” of 2012 candidates at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) last week.
Now, as a general rule, it’s not a great time for Republicans and conservatives to be talking about the 2012 election. We have more than enough on our plates fighting the policy battles (Obamacare and otherwise) that will dominate the rest of the year, as well as the numerous elections to be contested in 2010. In fact, the Right has benefitted – much as the Left did in 2005-06 – from its lack of a single, identifiable leader; as hard as the Obama White House has tried to personalize attacks on its critics, the absence of a single leader to pick on means that voters’ attention has remained fixed on Obama’s own failures (and rightly so, given the overwhelming majorities he has in both Houses of Congress). But sometimes it’s necessary to head off problems before they develop.
Scott Brown For … Senator
Since Scott Brown’s stunning victory in the special Senate election in Massachusetts in January, he’s been the man in demand for Republicans everywhere who are looking to rub off some of the magic that allowed him to win the first GOP Senate seat in the Bay State in decades. Inevitably, there have been rumblings here and there about running Brown for president in 2012 against Obama – hey, he can win in Massachusetts, why not?
Hold on there, tiger.
First of all, analysis by following the latest shift in the wind is the worst kind of punditry. A good number of the people touting Brown, a fairly liberal but populist New England Republican, were touting conservative (and also newly-elected) Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell back in November, in both cases because of the whole “shiny new toy” factor. A new candidate who hasn’t had time to accumulate baggage, make compromises and make enemies always looks appealing, because you can wishcast all sorts of things onto them. But that’s a lousy way to pick a potential president or a potential national candidate.
McDonnell, at least, is a plausible national figure, if you add in some experience and he compiles a successful track record in office – he’s already been the state Attorney General, and is embarking on a term as the state’s chief executive, the closest thing our political system offers (in some ways even moreso than the Vice Presidency) to good training to be President. And running and hopefully governing as a conservative in a “purple” state, McDonnell could conceivably build a record that makes him appealing both to Republican primary voters and the voters of his own state.
Not so for Scott Brown. One can hope that Brown’s populist campaign stands as a reminder to him, as he serves, that there are some conservative principles that are enduringly popular even in Massachusetts. But the simple reality is that the voters in Brown’s state won’t re-elect him in 2012 if he starts acting like a guy who’s thinking as a Republican presidential candidate, and Republican primary voters won’t warm to him if he votes as a Massachusetts Republican. We saw how well it worked out in 2008 for Mitt Romney, who bailed out on running for re-election in 2006 only to be rejected by GOP presidential primary voters in 2008. The most conspicuous issue on which this is the case is abortion, the subject of some of Romney’s most glaring flip-flops and a significant Achilles heel as well for serious GOP candidates like Rudy Giuliani; Brown is something of a moderate on the issue, but remains essentially pro-choice, and while there’s plenty of room in the tent for guys like that, it would be a non-starter for someone running to lead a basically pro-life party (the failure of Rudy’s campaign has largely convinced me that this is a circle that may just be impossible to square because it leaves the candidate with too little margin for error in other ways). You could pick more examples down the line of less-prominent issues.
Brown, to his credit, has mostly laughed at the idea, but for his own good, he’d be better served if he closed the door on it entirely and emphatically, and moreover resisted the temptation to let other Republican candidates drag him all over the map to campaign for them. Presidential daydreams are bad for the longeitvity of politicians who depend on their regular-guy image, and national Republican politics is hazardous to anybody who wants to get re-elected in Massachusetts.
There’s a more fundamental problem with the talkof running Brown in 2012: it suggests that some pundits and activists haven’t learned anything from Barack Obama. Brown is a legislator. He’s served a couple terms in the State Senate, and being in the minority doesn’t have a lot of accomplishments. He’s held down a part-time law practice. He’s won precisely one statewide election, and has yet to make any mark in Washington. In other words, his resume is just about exactly the same as Barack Obama’s in 2008.
We’ve seen in practice the many ways in which Obama’s total lack of any of the traditional types of experience we look for in a president – executive experience, national security experience, political and political leadership experience, military combat service, or private sector business experience – has caught up with him. He’s made one rookie mistake after another, and even his defenders at this point have to acknowledge that his struggles, especially in managing his legislative agenda, have derived from a fair number of unforced strategic errors borne of a misunderstanding of how to run a presidency – overreaching, trying to do too many things at once, ceding too much authority to Congress, promising things he couldn’t deliver. Having never run anything before, he accentuated his own weaknesses by selecting a Vice President, Cabinet and White House staff heavy on generalist legislators and Chicagoans, light on executives and people with useful specialized expertise, and almost barren of people familiar with the private sector. This, in turn, had secondary consequences (legislators and bureaucrats are more apt than your typical businessman to not bother paying their taxes). Nor is this the first time the Democrats have made this particular mistake – in 2004, they had as their Vice Presidential nominee John Edwards, whose only tenure in public office was a single term as a Senator, to which he had no realistic chance of being re-elected, prior to which he had run a small (though profitable) personal injury law practice. Like Obama, Edwards had no executive experience, no real legislative accomplishments, no experience with national security issues, no experience working in any other sort of private business and no military service record.
Republicans are supposed to know better. The absolute last thing the GOP should be doing in 2012 is letting Obama off the hook – or running the risk of electing a candidate who puts America through the same thing – by nominating somebody who suffers the same weaknesses, however good a Senate candidate he may be or however good a Senator he may become.
A Time For Leadership
I have not picked a horse yet for 2012, and would caution anyone against doing so before the 2010 elections are over. That being said, I do know what I want: I want a candidate who can bring the kind of proven leadership experience to the table that we lack in our current president, ideally over some length of time. I want a candidate who has some record of having and standing for principles against adversity. And in light of the ugly record of the McCain, Dole, Kerry, McGovern and Goldwater campaigns, among others, I’d really rather not run a Senator, or someone else whose public career is largely or wholly as a legislator. The presidency is still an executive job, after all.
I’m realistic that we may have less than ideal choices – every presidential election season requires settling for the best of what you have in front of you, and even the best candidates have their drawbacks. As of now, we appear to have only two candidates (Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney) who seem certain to run, though many others are possibles. A number of members of the Senate and House are reportedly thinking of running, several of whom are smart, principled people, excellent at the jobs they now do. Two of our potentially leading contenders (Romney and Sarah Palin) are one-term Governors, in Palin’s case a term she resigned before completing. Both are undoubtedly more experienced than Obama – besides being state-level chief executives, Romney had a long and successful career as a business executive, Palin spent the better part of 17 years in a variety of offices including being a mayor and heading the state oil and gas commission, and both had already accomplished more by 2008 than Obama ever had – but are nonetheless a good deal lighter on experience than I’d like to see. (Long-time readers know my issues with Romney; I haven’t ruled out supporting Palin in the primaries but really will take a long look at the alternatives first). Several of the party’s possible brightest stars in the Governor’s mansions – Bobby Jindal, McDonnell, Chris Christie – will not be scheduled to complete their first terms until 2011 or 2013.
Part of the problem is the shortage of GOP Governors elected or re-elected in 2006 or re-elected in 2008, the cycles when you’d look to be getting people ready to make the next step. There are at present only 15 sitting GOP Governors who have been re-elected at least once, and that’s the pool you would ordinarily look to; there’s only a few others up to be elected for a second time in 2010. One of the 15 is Arnold Schwarzenegger, who’s legally ineligible for the presidency. One is Mark Sanford, who took himself out of the running with personal scandal. Others are plainly too liberal to run as GOP standard-bearers: Linda Lingle, Jodi Rell, Jim Douglas. Jon Hoeven is running for the Senate, as is Charlie Crist, who’d otherwise be up for re-election in 2010. Jon Hunstmann left office to pursue an ambassadorship to China. That leaves an eight-man bench:
Bob Riley-AL
Sonny Perdue-GA
Mitch Daniels-IN
Tim Pawlenty-MN
Haley Barbour-MS
Dave Heineman-NE
Mike Rounds-SD
Rick Perry-TX
You can add Mike Huckabee as a guy with a decade’s experience as a governor who may run. We’ll leave the pros and cons of this group – Pawlenty’s running, and Daniels, Barbour and Perry all might – for another day. Because before we get too comfortable with any one candidate, we come to my third point.
CPAC Chooses None of the Above
The media has tried out various angles on the news that Ron Paul won the 2012 straw poll at this year’s CPAC, winning around 740 votes out of the 2,395 people who voted in the poll, itself a subset of the 10,000+ attendees. Some might take it as a sign of some vitality for Paul-ism, or whatever. To me, what it says is this: yes, Ron Paul’s people remain organized and energized in their own way, but the real story is that (1) nobody else has either a naturally strong enough constituency among conservative activists to beat Paul without trying (and straw polls are all about trying) and (2) nobody else was willing to put resources into winning a poll of this nature before the 2010 elections.
That’s good news all around. Good news for the candidates because people like Romney, Pawlenty, Palin, Mike Huckabee and others are still prioritizing the 2010 races and policy battles, trying to get other Republicans elected and defeat bad legislation. That’s a lesson we Republicans and conservatives want them all to get. And good news for the movement that people are willing to send those candidates, and any other prospective 2012 aspirants, a message: you still have a lot to prove to us. For a movement that has regained its momentum mostly from the ground up over the past year, and that faces lingering doubts as to how well its current and future leaders have learned the lessons of past mistakes, that’s maybe the best news of all.

Handy Summary

The Politico’s John Harris neatly summarizes the seven building narratives about Obama that are hazardous to his political health. What Harris perhaps misses is the extent to which the narratives, even the apparently contradictory ones, form a seamless whole.
Meanwhile, Greg Sargent, the Washington Post’s in-house left-wing activist, argues that Harris is wrong because American exceptionalism and national security issues in general are passe. File that one under “by all means, keep telling yourselves that.”

Yes, She Can?

Bush pollster Matthew Dowd looks at why he thinks it’s possible – not likely, mind you, but possible – for Sarah Palin to win the White House in 2012. (H/T) Along the way he reminds us that John Kerry was one of the few challengers in memory to lose a race against an incumbent that may actually have been winnable:

Gallup polls over the past 60 years show that no president with an approval rating under 47 percent has won reelection, and no president with an approval rating above 51 percent has lost reelection. (George W. Bush’s approval rating in the weeks before the 2004 election hovered around 50 percent.) The 2012 election will be primarily about our current president and whether voters are satisfied with the country’s direction.
Who the Republican candidate is, and his or her qualifications and abilities, will matter only if Obama’s approval rating is between 47 and 51 percent going into the fall of 2012. Interestingly, in the latest Gallup poll Obama’s approval rating was at a precarious 49 percent.

As an aside, historically, the single biggest factor suppressing a president’s approval rating is a high unemployment rate. That’s bad news for the Democrats in the short run, as most economists expect double-digit unemployment to persist through Election Day 2010 (economists are not always right about these things, but that’s what they’re seeing now). Some natural improvement in the economy is already underway (even with some downward revisions, GDP grew by 2.8% last quarter) by natural operation of the business cycle, but it’s unlikely that Obama will be able to resist doing more to interfere with that, like jacking up taxes. My guess is that he’s going to end up just openly adding a lot of people to the federal payroll to try to reduce unemployment.
Dowd also notes that Obama is already the most partisanly polarizing president in recent years, an astounding accomplishment given the rancor that surrounded his precedessors:

The gap between Obama’s approval rating among Democrats and among Republicans is nearly 70 percentage points — a higher partisan divide than either Bill Clinton or George W. Bush experienced. Obama’s agenda and actions this year, and some mistakes, have solidified this divide.

Anyway, getting back to Palin, I’m not sure Dowd really put much effort into making the case that she can win over independents in a general election beyond the obvious observation that if Obama’s in enough trouble, he can be beaten (there are counterexamples to this in lower-level races: I recall Gray Davis’ approval rating was around 24% when he was re-elected in 2002). It seems to me that if you think that Obama will mostly win or lose the election himself, you either (1) pick the person you’d most like to see be president regardless of electability (that would argue for somebody like Mitch Daniels or Haley Barbour) and/or (2) pick the lowest-risk candidate (that may be Tim Pawlenty). It would not counsel picking the most electrifying, polarizing, controversial, high-risk candidate in the field.
Dowd’s suggestions for Palin’s path to follow are a mixed bag. It’s strange for him to criticize her for too many public appearances after she spent months doing little in public view but updating her Facebook page – and contradicts his next point about getting out more – but I agree that at some point she has to start doing serious, substantive appearances to sell people on her grasp of the issues. Like it or not, even if voters don’t understand complex issues themselves, they do want to know that the president does, and they will need reassurance if Palin runs that she genuinely knows what she’s getting into. That may be doubly true if the impression continues to solidify that Obama has screwed up as a result of his inexperience. I’d add to his list that if she wants to run, or even to have an ongoing role in national poilitics, she’s sooner or later going to need to find people outside Alaska that she can trust – policy advisers, people to help her organize and communicate, etc. My advice, at least, is one of the lessons I took from watching Bush: pick people who are loyal to the conservative movement and its goals, not people who are mostly personally loyal. In the long run, loyalty to ideas is more enduring and a better guarantee of quality work.
Personally, I haven’t picked a horse to back yet (I’m probably more enthused about Daniels than anyone right now, and I use “enthused” advisedly), and continue to caution against others choosing up teams before November 2010. I still go back and forth on the two related key questions: do you try to beat Obama with a candidate who comes at him from above (i.e., a more sober, experienced and modest leader), or below (i.e., a fiery populist who rebels against his desire to use government to change America rather than the other way around)? The former would be likely if the election’s mainly about foreign affairs, the latter if it’s a rebellion against Big Government. Palin is obviously in the latter camp. Do you confront his pop celebrity status with a candidate who exudes some glamor or excitement of his/her own (again: Palin), or do you try to counter-program with a candidate who is deliberately dull and stolid and promises less drama and fewer grand ambitions? The available personnel will probably be the biggest driver in the decision anyway, but how people want to answer those questions will go along way towards deciding whether Palin, if she runs, has a chance of being the nominee.

Quick Links 11/20/09

*Lots of interesting stuff out there on Sarah Palin and her book tour. the Daily Beast looks at how Palin’s book and tour are a one-woman economic stimulus package. Obama’s organization wants a part of that action too: Organizing for America says Palin’s book tour is “dangerous,” so please give them $5. As liberal writer Ezra Klein notes of the Palin coverage:

Liberal sites need traffic just like conservative sites, and the mainstream media needs traffic more than both. And Palin draws traffic. This is actually pretty good revenge for a politician who hates the media. The press had a good time showing Palin to be a superficial creature who relied more on style than on substance, and in getting the media to drop everything and focus on her book tour, she’s proving that they’re much the same.

Amazingly, two positive Palin pieces at Salon, and neither of them written by Camille Paglia: a favorable review of her book and a look at what she means and why she’s not going away as a public figure.
And witness the McCain campaign’s crack rapid-response team in action: more than a year after the election, the NY Times finally gets to talk to the stylist who bought the Palin family’s clothes, and admits that Palin had nothing to do with the money that was spent.
*Mitt Romney takes apart how Obama’s inexperience has led to his failure to set clear priorities and resulting lack of focus on the war and the economy while he pursues as-yet-unfinished health care and cap and trade bills and failed efforts to salvage the campaigns of Jon Corzine and Creigh Deeds. It’s a mark of how inexperienced and incompetent Obama is that he can be lectured credibly on these points by a 1-term governor like Romney and a half-term governor like Palin. Michael Gerson looks in more detail at the mess that is Obama’s decision-making process in Afghanistan.
*Another glorious victory for the stimulus:

The Southwest Georgia Community Action Council, after receiving about $1.3 million in funding from The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, reported creating or saving 935 jobs in their Head Start preschool program that only employs 508 people.

*Byron York looks at why Eric Holder is refusing to disclose how many Justice Department lawyers have previously represented the other side in the war.
*Patterico, as usual, is a man not to tangle with, and he remorselessly dismantles an LA Times columnist over the latest Breitbart ACORN videos. It’s a facepalm with egg and crow!
*Jonathan Karl notices a $100 million payoff to Louisiana in the Senate healthcare bill to buy Mary Landrieu’s vote. John Conyers, in griping about Obama’s posture on the House bill, speaks about “the Barack Obama that I first met, who was an ardent single-payer enthusiast himself.”
*Michael Rosen looks at Al Franken’s so-called “anti-rape” bill that would preclude arbitration of sexual harrassment and various negligence-based employment claims. As Rosen notes, given that the law already bars arbitration of claims arising from rape, whereas the things it would actually change are much less dramatic, it is flatly false to describe opposition to the bill as being “pro-rape” – but then, that’s pretty much Franken’s M.O.

Losing the Rabbit Ears

I haven’t watched Sarah Palin’s Oprah interview yet, but the Anchoress has and is unimpressed, specifically regarding Palin’s attitude towards her media antagonists (including the AP, which assigned 11 reporters to come up with some fairly flimsy “fact-checks” of Palin’s book):

I know Palin is a tough, frontier spirit, and that serves her well in many ways, but she needs to learn to delegate the punches, so that she can remain above the fray, or she will never get past this guarded, watchful, overly-cautious and defensive vibe that rang out of her like waves from a tuning fork on the Winfrey show, today. She has to know that someone else will throw the punch for her, and she has to learn to be okay with that.

Read the whole thing, as she’s got more on the topic. This is one of the emerging critiques of Palin among people on the Right who are more or less sympathetic to her: she’s a natural politician who connects well with people (obviously an Oprah interview is going to be mostly about the personal, not hard political issues; those interviews will be another day), and she’s been horrendously mistreated by the media, and yes, George W. Bush provided an object lesson in what happens to people who never push back at critics or the media, but at some point, she’s not going to go to the next level politically until she learns to let go of a lot of the criticism and let it wash over her.
We’ve seen with Obama what happens when a thin-skinned candidate gets through the election with minimal scrutiny and only in office really has to respond to criticism, with the result of demonizing individual critics and TV networks, using crude sexual terms like “teabagger” to describe ordinary citizens upset with his policies, taking the rostrum of the House to call his critics liars over a bunch of legislative provisions that were subsequently amended to acknowledge those criticisms, organizing campaigns to try to dismember organizations like the Chamber of Commerce that stand in his way, etc. By 2012, Americans are going to want a candidate whose response to critics is not Obama’s style of peevish vendettas. If Palin wants to challenge Obama, she will have to convince people that she’s not just tough enough to hit back, but sometimes tough enough to smile and take a punch.

Quick Links 10/28/09

*Josh Painter looks at how the latest financial disclosure forms tell the story of the intense financial pressure put on Sarah Palin by the stream of bogus ethics complaints filed by left-wing bloggers, culminating in the complaint that prevented her from accessing funds raised for her legal defense. It certainly makes a compelling case why an ordinary person in Palin’s shoes would step down rather than be driven under by the expenses. Whether that’s enough to absolve her as a potential presidential candidate is another matter; we tend to expect potential presidents not to act like ordinary people. Of course, most politicians would have escaped the mounting debts by writing a book or giving speeches for money, but Palin may have felt, not without reason, that any such activities while serving as governor would lead to further ethics complaints that would tie up those sources of income as well. Meanwhile, Melissa Clouthier looks at a CNN poll finding 70% of the public currently thinks Palin unqualified to be president.
I’m not picking a horse for 2012 yet, nor will I until after 2010. It’s unclear if Palin will run, anyway. I do know a few things. One, for reasons I’ve been through many times, I’d much prefer to support a more experienced candidate – we’re not the Democrats, after all, who have permanently forfeited the right to say anything on this subject by backing Obama – and the fact that people in my position are even open to Palin at all at this juncture is a sign of the weakness of the field so far. Two, Palin has proven to be extraordinarily effective at retaining the public’s interest and even at exercising her influence as a guerilla opposition leader armed with nothing more than a Facebook page; by mostly absenting herself from the public eye except for Facebook and a few op-eds and obscure speeches, she’s kept ’em wanting more (witness the explosive early pre-orders for her book, which non-fiction publishing people viewed as unprecedented), while still driving the public debate (i.e., “death panels”). But the Newt Gingrich experience is vivid proof for Republicans that effective guerillas don’t always make good leaders when they come into power.
Whichever way Palin chooses to go, the book tour (including the appearance on Oprah, who is naturally hostile but not really accustomed to tough interviews) will be a sort of second coming-out for her on the public stage that will be critical and should reveal whether she has spent well her time out of the limelight in terms of boning up for future policy debates. We’ll be able to assess her future much better in a few months.
*Meanwhile, a man to watch if he gets persuaded to run is Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels. (H/T) I’ll have more on him another day…upside: Daniels is serious, tough-minded, won re-election in Indiana in 2008 (while it was carried by Obama) after being given up for politically dead in 2006 (when his low approval ratings were blamed as a cause for heavy GOP House losses in the state, paralleling a similar trend in Ohio and Kentucky). Downside: Daniels is as yet reluctant to run (recall how well that worked out with Rudy and Fred), and as a public speaker he’s dry as dust.
*The Democratic circular firing squad over health care continues. And Jay Cost explains why the continuing threat to Lieberman from the Left has made it politically necessary for him to oppose the public option.
*Dan Riehl looks at how the GOP made the disastrous decision in the Congressional race in NY’s 23d district to nominate Dede Scozzafava, who now seems likely to finish third in that race. Meanwhile, Newsbusters notices that the NY Daily News still refuses to acknowledge the existence of Doug Hoffman, the Conservative candidate in the race. Jim Geraghty is unsparing on the folly of Newt’s continuing support for Scozzafava.
*George W. Bush, motivational speaker – without a teleprompter. The WaPo seems astonished that a man who won something on the order of 110 million votes in two national elections is actually a decent speaker. Key quote from Bush: “It’s so simple in life to chase popularity, but popularity is fleeting.”
*On the anniversary of his death, Bill Kristol remembers Dean Barnett.
*Naturally, he’s retracted it, but you can’t top Anthony Weiner’s initial assessment of Alan Grayson as being “one fry short of a Happy Meal.”
*Interesting breakdown of TV ad rates.
*ABA Journal on the tragic saga of Mark Levy.

Sarah Palin and the Scum of the Earth

If there is a lesson to be learned from Sarah Palin’s withdrawal from public office, it is this: if you want to take out a female politician, you go after her children.
There is likely no one and single reason for Palin’s withdrawal, and she cited a bunch of them in her disorganized “you won’t have Sarah Palin to kick around anymore” speech. But two things seem to explain most logically Palin’s behavior: she was ground down by the unusually vitriolic campaign waged against her, and the aspect of that campaign that did the most damage was the attacks on her children. As Palin put it in her speech:

In fact, this decision comes after much consideration, and finally polling the most important people in my life – my children (where the count was unanimous…well, in response to asking: “Want me to make a positive difference and fight for ALL our children’s future from OUTSIDE the Governor’s office?” It was four “yes’s” and one “hell yeah!” The “hell yeah” sealed it – and someday I’ll talk about the details of that…I think much of it had to do with the kids seeing their baby brother Trig mocked by some pretty mean-spirited adults recently.) Um, by the way, sure wish folks could ever, ever understand that we ALL could learn so much from someone like Trig – I know he needs me, but I need him even more…what a child can offer to set priorities RIGHT – that time is precious…the world needs more “Trigs”, not fewer.

All national politicians take their share of potshots; it comes with the territory, and anybody who can’t take the heat, as Harry Truman famously said, should get out of the kitchen. And with that heat inevitably comes some spillover onto a politician’s family members – especially if those family members are politically outspoken adults, Washington lobbyists, or businesspeople involved in shady practices. But some grief will come as well to soft-spoken spouses and minor children. It’s the nature of the business.
But no politician in modern memory, not even Bill Clinton or George W. Bush, has faced the sort of ferociously personal assault that greeted Palin from the instant she set foot on the national stage, in many cases before her detractors even knew anything about her besides that she was female, attractive, pro-life and pro-gun. And while the pervasive crude sexual references to Palin were horrible, the assault on her family was the worst of all. Palin has worn many hats in her life – Vice-Presidential candidate, Governor, Mayor, Oil & Gas Commissioner, City Councilwoman, sportscaster, point guard, runner, beauty queen, moose hunter – but it’s clear that the role that defines her is her role as the mother of five children. And as James Taranto put it, “If you’ve never met or had a mother, the thing to know about them is that they tend to be very protective of their children.”
There is fairly widespread public and media agreement that criticizing, mocking or making more than glancing political use of President Obama’s two daughters is an absolute no-no. For the media’s part, the effort to spare the President’s children dates back to the Clinton years. Yes, there were mean-spirited jokes told at the expense of Chelsea Clinton, but Republicans who did so (John McCain, Rush Limbaugh) almost always immediately apologized, and Saturday Night Live eventually eased off on Chelsea. There was also regular vitriol from the left, mainly in the blogospehere, aimed at Jenna and Barbara Bush, and no apologies of any kind. But much of that was under the public radar. (John Kerry and John Edwards both bringing up Dick Cheney’s lesbian daughter in the 2004 debates wasn’t, but at least Mary Cheney is an adult). We have simply never seen anything like the targeting of Palin’s children, under a variety of flimsy pretenses that no mother would ever accept as a basis for going after her kids.
One must attribute at least part of the vileness of these attacks, among left-wing blogs, to how very few of the leading left-wing bloggers have children of their own – were conservatives tempted to mock Obama’s daughters, they would at least have to face their own daughters and sons at the end of a day of doing so. A political movement of the childless has no empathy for children. Empathy for other human beings requires human decency, and decency breeds hesitation – a hesitation the Online Left has never displayed. Were any of these people capable of shame, they would be feeling it. Instead, they have been gleefully dancing on Palin’s political grave ever since. It is worth considering what the “New Politics” has looked like when applied to Sarah Palin, because it presents a cautionary tale for Republicans with families.

Continue reading Sarah Palin and the Scum of the Earth

Out of the Game

Consider this something of an open thread on the Palin saga; I’m planning on writing something more extensive later.
Short answer: yes, she is finished as a presidential candidate, at least unless we get an even more bizarre series of events than the ones that took Richard Nixon from “you won’t have Dick Nixon to kick around” in 1962 to the presidency in 1968. I hate to be quick to declare political obituaries, and as with Mark Sanford I could picture her having a second life as a Senator under the right circumstances, but not a serious presidential candidate.

Sanford’s Stop Sign

Whether or not Republicans can ever get a meaningful mandate to significantly cut government spending, the political climate has unmistakably shifted to one in which one of the great domestic issues of the day is simply putting the brakes on runaway expansion of government and the concomitant diminution of the true private sector. Frank Luntz thinks that South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford is making headway in selling the message that it has to stop somewhere:

Unfortunately, a court order from the South Carolina Supreme Court may cost Sanford this round in the budget fight no matter what the public thinks. But the battle to win public opinion never ends.

Not Letting Up

For conservatives and Republicans tempted to follow Fred Barnes and lay low a while, just notice what sites like the Huffington Post are up to these days: the #1 topic over at HuffPo right now, by the frequency of tags used, is “Sarah Palin”:
The Left will not let up its assault on Gov. Palin for any “honeymoon” period. We on the Right will indeed need both patience and perspective, as Barnes suggests, and elected Republicans will surely need to find some common ground with the new Administration. But we’re all adults here; let us not pretend that calls for “unity” are intended to be mutual.

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.