16 May 2011

Thoughts on the GOP field

In the vein of Ross Douthat, some comments on the prospective Republican field:

1. Even if it increases the odds of a Mitt Romney nomination, I'm quite happy about Mike Huckabee staying out of the race. His fiscal legacy in Arkansas is disastrous, and he'd represent nothing more than a return to Bushism -- cementing the GOP's desire for statism at home and foolish interventionism abroad. And the last thing the Republican field needs is yet another culture warrior beating the social issues drum; Rick Santorum's sermonizing in the South Carolina debate was difficult to stomach, and Huckabee comes off as a snarkier version of Santorum. I'm sure he's a nice guy, but he was a terrible governor, he'd be an even worse president, and he'd be an absolutely horrendous face for the conservative movement.

2. Donald Trump is a self-aggrandizing clown.

3. I frankly don't see the Jon Huntsman candidacy going anywhere. While I'm sure Huntsman is a fine man, he is a pro-choice, pro-cap-and-trade, Obama administration official who happens to be from the same state as Mitt Romney and like Romney, happens to be Mormon. Hunstman's presence in the race will probably be most damaging to Romney -- which is good -- but his best chance of success is in 2016, not 2012. If he runs now, the attack ads (see above) write themselves, and he runs the risk of entering the 2016 race weakened by the beating he took in 2012, much like Romney still bears the scars of 2008 that exposed how deeply flawed he was (and still is) as a candidate.

4. Mitch Daniels is going to run, but as Douthat noted, there is no incentive for him to announce his candidacy now. Huntsman has yet to formally announce -- Romney technically does too -- and there is no reason to jump in at this early stage and risk silly attacks by culture warriors like Santorum and Newt Gingrich; the Iowa causes are still 9 months away. While he no doubt will have access to Haley Barbour's formidable Rolodex and his own web of Republican bankrollers, Daniels needs to develop a campaign infrastructure and formulate a strategy before he wades in.

5. Gary Johnson would be a fantastic standard-bearer for the Republican Party; Conor Friedersdorf once described him as "Ron Paul, but without the baggage." He is a fantastically likable, articulate fellow who has a genuine wonky side and seems passionate about the expansion of individual liberty. He vetoed hundreds of bills as governor of New Mexico and -- unlike Paul -- comes across as measured and sharp. I frankly think that Paul is doing a disservice to the libertarian cause by staying in the race and splitting the libertarian vote with Johnson. While I like Paul a great deal, he is not a viable contender for the nomination, and it's clear that Johnson has a much better shot at being competitive. If Paul endorsed Johnson and threw his support behind his friend, I frankly think Johnson would be a serious top-tier contender, especially in such a splintered field.

6. The general-election viability of the putative Republican field, from strongest to weakest: Daniels, Huntsman, Pawlenty, Romney, Johnson, Paul, Santorum, Gingrich, Bachmann, Cain, Palin.

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