Several weeks ago I listed the most important, surface-level arguments why just about every seriously mentioned, potential Republican presidential candidate has drawbacks that should make conservatives severely nervous. The point was less to trash the candidates than to encourage them and their supporters to figure out the weaknesses against which they need to inoculate themselves — in order that they be better candidates in terms of winnability and ability to serve if elected.
The flip side of that column is that conservatives should also concentrate on each candidate’s most important strengths, so as to figure out how best to weed out the field. In that spirit, it is worth considering the following major points of interest. (Any failure to mention a particular candidate is entirely intentional. Some, like last cycle’s two runners-up, don’t merit mention. Others, such as Paul Ryan, Chris Christie, Jim DeMint, and several others, seem truly disinclined to run.)
Rick Santorum merits forgiveness for his one sin of once supporting Arlen Specter, because his record otherwise is one of the finest of any senator in the past two decades. He was a major player in welfare reform, a major rallying force for conservative judicial nominees, a stalwart for the sanctity of life, and a real leader — extremely knowledgeable — against threats from abroad. Yes, he lost Pennsylvania in a horribly Democratic year, but no other candidate has such an overall record of using political savvy and energy to beat the odds. He was given no chance for the House in 1990, but he won. He was given no chance for the Senate in 1994, but he won. He was given little chance for re-election in 2000, but he won while G.W. Bush lost the state. He also is a man of genuine and fundamental decency.
Mitch Daniels is becoming way, way, way too much of a Johnny-one-note on the budget, but he is so superb on that issue that he merits serious consideration. Meanwhile, his record if not his rhetoric on “social” issues also is terrific. Conservatives have developed a habit of looking too much at verbiage and not enough at proven conduct. Daniels’ conduct, at least until his abdication on right to work, has been A-1.
Tim Pawlenty’s record is solid (if unexciting) almost across the board, except for his formerly promiscuous dalliance with cap-and-trade globaloney. When asked a question he doesn’t want to answer (try asking him about ethanol), he is a truly inartful dodger. But his record on spending, on taxes, and on life is excellent.
Herman Cain is an inspirational American success story. The man is a proven commodity when it comes to turning around businesses, and he is a wonderful speaker. Philosophically, he seems as sound as can be. He’s a serious man, and also seriously likable.
John Bolton is smart as a whip, tougher than five layers of rawhide, and deeply conservative, as far as can be determined, across the board. He’s also one of the most articulate men on the scene today. He effectively gets his points across, and makes their good sense clear.
Sarah Palin has a genius for finding just the right turn of phrase to capture attention and get her message across. Her principles seem to spring from deep within, rather than being mere appendages of convenience. And her instincts are anti-establishmentarian, in an age where the establishment’s ramparts do need to be assaulted. (And yes, we can still use the word “assault” in a political context. And we know Palin won’t hesitate to do so, nor to “target” the word-police for justifiable ridicule.)
Newt Gingrich is a great ideas man. He also is a visionary, usually in the best sense of the word. He’s also tough as nails.
Haley Barbour knows how to build an unparalleled political operation. He’s a fairly reliable conservative, and is as good as they come at beating back the jackpot-justice trial lawyers.
Dark horse Bob Riley of Alabama is the best governor that almost nobody has ever heard of. He looks a little like Reagan, has an infectious optimism, and successfully improved Alabama’s education, economy, and ethics. His ACU rating in six years in Congress was 97 percent. He’s tireless. And he’s a genuinely nice human being.
There. For now, that’s it. Ronald Reagan Reincarnate isn’t running. Maybe Jon Kyl of Arizona should run, although he will be 70 on election day. Former Gov. Frank Keating of Oklahoma is an impressive man who in the past has been mentioned, and maybe should be drafted. But for now, those above are our choices, and they really aren’t bad. It behooves us to find some enthusiasm for at least one of them; our nation can’t afford another Obama term, so we can’t make the perfect the enemy of the good. Nuff said.