At CPAC this year, a number of speakers made the point that President Obama would be a one-termer because his policies would fail. Rush Limbaugh drew applause when he said, “We can take this country back. All we need is to nominate the right candidate. It’s no more complicated than that.” But the problem is, finding the right candidate is easier said than done.
CPAC featured a number of 2012 hopefuls, and being perfectly honest, it was hard to look at any of them and say, “This is the one who is going to beat Obama.”
You could make the argument that Romney, who won the CPAC straw poll, is the early frontrunner for the nomination in 2012, because the economy is likely to be a big issue and there’s historically an “it’s his turn” bias to the GOP primaries. At the same time, his speech at CPAC really didn’t evolve much from the sort of checklist conservatism that categorized his campaign. He also maintains the credibility problem. At one point, he blasted President Obama for wanting a government takeover of health care, while touting the Massachusetts system as a free market model for the nation. But in reality the Massachusetts plan is a big government plan that is actually quite similar to Obama’s campaign proposal. In both cases, the government provides subsidies to individuals to purchase government-designed health plans on a government-run exchange. Romney tries to give himself some wiggle room by saying, “the final bill and its implementation aren’t exactly the way I wanted,” but he signed the bill knowing that he wasn’t running for reelection and that it would be implemented by a liberal successor. It’s amazing how this guy continues to treat us like we’re idiots.
Mark Sanford is somebody to keep a close eye on. Though he ended up near the bottom of the straw poll, I think that had more to do with lack of name recognition. The poll showed that size of government was overwhelmingly the most important issue to conservatives, and I expect that sentiment to grow as frustration mounts with Obama administration spending over the next few years. This plays into the hands of Sanford, one of the few Republicans who can actually claim to be a consistent defender of limited government. His Friday night speech was thoughtful and introspective meditation on, among other things, the ability of individuals to shape history when they’re willing to take on losing battles. At the same time, it was a bit meandering, and I’m just not sure if he has the charisma, TV savvy, or ambition to go the distance.
Huckabee is trying to use his opposition to the bailout and stimulus projects to make economic conservatives more comfortable with him, but his appeal is still limited in scope, and if he runs again in 2012, he’ll face more competition from evangelicals from Tim Pawlenty and Sarah Palin, should she run.
Pawlenty, meanwhile, gave a decent speech, and could emerge as a more plausible version of Huckabee. He appeals to the same sort of working class and evangelical voters. As a Midwesterner, he could be a threat in Iowa. But he’ll have a difficult time appealing to economic conservatives, and it’s hard to see him really lighting a fire under anybody.
The point in all of this is that before conservatives get too attached to the idea of Obama messing up so badly that Republicans take back the White House in four years, it’s important to keep in mind that in America there tends to be a bias that favors incumbent presidents. Back in 2004, Bush was very beatable, and at several points during the year his approval rating dropped below the 50 percent threshold, but given the alternative of John Kerry, Americans decided to give him a second term. In 1980, Republicans had Reagan waiting the wings when Carter faltered, but would that election had ended up the same if there weren’t a Reagan, and somebody like Dole or Bush I were the Republican nominee?
UPDATE: Yes, Ron Paul spoke. And no, I don’t think he’ll be a viable presidential candidate in 2012 — at 77.