In a recent 60 Minutes interview, Barack Obama assessed his own Presidency in the following delusional terms: "I would put our legislative and foreign policy accomplishments in our first two years against any president -- with the possible exceptions of Johnson, FDR, and Lincoln." Fortunately, the voters have a firmer grasp on reality. More than half of the respondents to last week's AP-GfK surveysaid the President should be voted out next November. Nonetheless, he may well win a second term. How? Obama obviously can't run on his record, so his consiglieres will have to base his reelection campaign on a combination of demagoguery, personal vilification, and race-baiting. And it's difficult to imagine a group of candidates more vulnerable to this line of attack than the top contenders for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination.
Newt Gingrich is, of course, the most vulnerable target. He has been on every side of every issue and has taken many positions that cannot be differentiated from those of the president. On health care alone he has publicly agreed with Obama on the individual mandate and government-subsidized end-of-life counseling. And, though Gingrich's messy love life has little to do with his ability to lead, there isn't the slightest possibility that Obama's minions or the "news" media will allow the voters to forget about it. Finally, if he gets on the stage next to Obama during a debate, the voters will see an old, rich, white southerner with a condescending expression speaking in patronizing tones to the country's first black president. It will be child's play for Axelrod & Co. to portray Gingrich as an unprincipled, morally dubious racist.
Mitt Romney won't fare any better. Like Gingrich, he has been all over the place on the issues and many of his positions mirror those of Obama. His biggest liability is Romneycare, of course, which will render him unable to credibly debate the president on one of the most important issues of the campaign. As to his personal life, Romney seems OK, but Obama's media toadies will make much of his Mormonism. They will, as Ann Coulter has predicted, insinuate that he belongs to a bizarre and un-American cult. And, if Romney ends up on the debate stage beside Obama, the viewers will see a rich, white, Wall Street plutocrat lecturing the African-American son of a single mother about the virtues of capitalism and creative destruction. Obama's minions will easily transform him into a combination of Jim Jones and Gordon Gekko.
Ron Paul is even more vulnerable than Gingrich and Romney. His claim to be the campaign's man of principle notwithstanding, he has been no more consistent on the issues than they. He claims the mantle of libertarianism, but has supported government price fixing. He pronounces himself the sworn enemy of overspending, but never fails to line up with his fellow congressmen at the earmark trough. The credibility gap caused by such hypocrisy is exacerbated by occasional bouts with insanity. "Dr. No" has, among other things, compared Ronald Reagan to Josef Stalin and associated with 9-11 "truthers." And then there are those mysteriousracist newsletters. On a debate stage with the President, he will look and behave like everyone's crazy old uncle. Obama's henchmen won't need to anything but watch and rub their hands together.
The rest of the GOP field will never get the chance to face the attacks of Obama's Chicago sleaze merchants. The best of this lot is Michele Bachmann. She's far better on foreign policy than most expected and she's been remarkably consistent on most domestic issues, including Obamacare. Moreover, as demonstrated during her recent debate performance, she's not afraid to go after an opponent when he says something crazy (Ron Paul) or factually inaccurate (Newt Gingrich). For whatever reason, however, she can't gain any real traction. Perry is also a good candidate, but has an uncanny knack for looking like a doofus. As to Rick Santorum, his irritating solipsism and incessant whining are lethal. And it's hard to see the eyebrow-waggling study in pomposity known as Jon Huntsman surviving the cold Iowa caucuses.
All of this leaves us with a Republican nomination race featuring three front runners, none of whom has the slightest prayer of beating Obama in the general election, and a group of second-tier candidates who will soon be gone. It would seem, then, that the GOP's only hope lies with some as yet undeclared candidate. And there are a few potential entrants who could theoretically enter the race this late and still have at least some hope of winning the nomination and beating Obama in the general election. This is, however, a very exclusive club. Its members do not include Gary Johnson, Sarah Palin or Donald Trump. Its only card-carrying members are Paul Ryan, Bobby Jindal, Marco Rubio, and Jeb Bush. In fact, if we're going to be realistic about this thing, only the last would have any real chance of going the distance.
There are some observers with a great deal of hands-on political experience who have argued that the voters are just not ready "to return to the Bush leagues." This may well be the "smart" position, and it may even be correct. But it ignores a growing desire among the electorate to find any plausible replacement for Obama and, more importantly, the purely pragmatic question of money. Jeb Bush is probably the only Republican in the country with the name recognition and connections required to raise the kind of cash it will take to compete with an incumbent whose 2012 war chest will likely contain $1 billion, not including union money. Ryan, Jindal, and Rubio are good men. But, even if they could be talked into running, they wouldn't have a hope of raising such sums after entering the race this late.
There is no guarantee, of course, that Bush would suffer himself to be lowered onto the political stage in order to resolve the ridiculous plot dilemma the Republicans have written for themselves. He is well-endowed with good sense, and might run for the hills upon learning that a "draft Jeb" movement was afoot. On the other hand, his column in yesterday's Wall Street Journal has the tone of a man who might listen if the idea were pitched in the right way by the right people. And he may well be the GOP's only hope. Thus, the wisdom of political veterans andHorace notwithstanding, the Republican Party would be wise to get busy attaching him to the block and tackle.
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