06 Mar David Bahnsen Handicaps the Republican Field
One fact of political handicapping is that your chances of being 100% right are exactly 0%. Another fact is that in politics, 18 months is the same thing as eternity. A lot can and will happen in the process of electing or re-electing an American President at the end of 2012. But as things stand now, I wanted to offer my own commentary on the 2012 Republican nominee field.
Mitt Romney – it is no secret that I am not a huge fan of the former one-term Massachusetts Governor. I believe he is articulate and attractive, and seems to be a decent and honorable family man. I wouldn’t even mind believing him that his repeated flip-flops on various social issues (most notoriously, abortion) were all sincere and ideological, and that he has (fortunately) performed his last flip-flop into the right side of the issue. Even though I am a Protestant evangelical, I couldn’t care less about his Mormonism. I want a President, at this particular moment in history, who is most capable of leading the country where it needs to go. So what are my reasons for not liking him? For one thing, as you will see mentioned with other candidates, electability is a very important consideration for me. I do not believe Romney has a chance of being elected. There has always been a directly inverse relationship between his popularity and the amount of money he has spent getting out there. The fact of the matter is that he turns people off the more they get to know him. He does not possess the likeable sincerity that Americans want to have in their President, or even the ability to fake sincerity. He can not claim to be a Reagan conservative with a straight face (YouTube it if you don’t believe me). And his health care bill in Massachusetts has been an unmitigated disaster. In an election where the President’s audacious and perverse health care bill is the signature issue driving conservatives to remove him, it seems unfathomable to me that a guy who passed ObamaCare before Obama passed ObamaCare could beat him.
Chance of winning primary – 30% (or higher)
Chance of winning general if nominated – 25% (I am being generous)
Newt Gingrich – rarely have I seen a more erratic figure in American conservative political life. Here you have a man working on his third wife (for now) who was with his third wife before he was done with his second wife, and yet also is one of the favorite candidates of the Christian Right. He is a remarkably intelligent man (intellectually, that is), but has fallen for some of the more silly statist propositions of our lifetimes (climate change, prescription drug benefit, etc.). If the GOP wants a candidate who is older than Obama, has whiter hair than Obama, and is less liked among young people than McCain was, Newt is your guy. He can play a major role in the cause, but should do so outside the Beltway.
Chance of winning primary – 2%
Chance of winning general – 5%
Sarah Palin – there are few people I can think of to have ever ascended to stardom as quickly and as dramatically as Sarah Palin has. I feel about her the same that I do of several talk radio personalities: I like her popularity more than I do her personally. Sarah’s critics are mostly ignorant tools, lashing out at her out of a desperate sense of jealousy and frustration. I believe she is liked because she has come to represent a certain demographic of people who rightly feel forgotten, mocked, and taken for granted. That demographic is “almost all American people”. But I could not possibly support Sarah to be our party’s nominee, and here is why: (1) She is completely unelectable, and (2) While I agree with her on most issues I have heard her address ideologically, she lacks the resume to be our President. I understand that our current President also lacks the resume to be our President, but two wrongs do not make a right. And being the mayor in Wasilla followed by a partial stint as Governor (where she quit her elected office prematurely) does not qualify one to be our President (as I see it). Like Newt, she can accomplish a lot more for the cause outside of political candidacy (and unlike Newt, she can probably become a billionaire doing it). I still do not believe she is going to run, but if she does, and if she wins the nomination, I believe this election is completely and totally over.
Chance of winning primary – 3%
Chance of winning general – 0%
Mike Huckabee – I like Gov. Huckabee as a person, and believe he is sincere in his advocacy of social conservatism. But this will be an election about the greatest moral issue of our day – the economy – and I believe he is part of a sort of big-government conservatism that is absolutely not suited for this election cycle. I think he loved running in 2008, as anyone who does that well when there were no expectations whatsoever would, but this cycle is different. He will be expected to do well, and I have a feeling he is enjoying the cushy gig at Fox a bit much. His recent foot-in-mouth episodes are a big deal, as is his 2008 labeling of the Club for Growth as the “Club for Greed” (a landmark moment of stuipidity). His base in southern and midwestern states is strong, but he can not mobilize the tea party base enough to win either the nomination or the election.
Chance of winning primary – 10%
Chance of winning general – 30%
Chris Christie – a highly-regarded political consultant told me this week that the odds of Christie running are close to 50%, so let’s just say they are 25%. I tend to believe him that he will not run if he believes Obama is unbeatable (though he surely would run in 2016 then). But if the opportunity appears to be there, I think he will run. Governor Christie may just be what the doctor ordered for this cycle if he runs. He is sure to get a large portion of the independent vote, and is a darling of the fiscal conservative right. He is pro-life, even if it is not his staple issue, so I would think that the social conservatives would rally behind him if he were to win the nomination. He could beat Obama, but I am not sure if he can win the nomination.
Chance of winning primary – 30% (if he enters race)
Chance of winning general – 49% (highest we have, as I see it)
Tim Pawlenty – there is plenty to like here; he is a very likeable guy, and he won (twice) in a state that voted against Ronald Reagan in 1984, and for Al Franken in 2008. He is a real fiscal conservative, and doesn’t have a lot of baggage. The problem is, he doesn’t have any baggage because no one knows who he is. I am watching him closely, and leaning in his direction, as I think he can deliver electorally, and I think he is a solid candidate. But he needs money and he needs momentum. As of right now, he has neither.
Chance of winning primary – 15% (this could be a lot higher once the field thins if he is still standing)
Chance of winning general – 40%
Mitch Daniels – it would appear to me that his choice of words in asking social conservatives to consider a truce over social issue renders his candidacy moot. I think the social conservatives would vote for him in a general election race against Obama but I don’t think they will nominate him. He is a really, really sharp guy, which means he probably won’t be a good candidate. You never know, but my feeling is that his lack of name recognition and his strained relationship with social conservatives will be too much to overcome. I think I know what I meant by his “truce” suggestion, and if I do, I don’t have a problem with it. But pragmatically, I think it will be tough to overcome in getting the delegates he needs in the Bible belt.
Chance of winning primary – 5%
Chance of winning general – 35%
Haley Barbour – I am totally open to being wrong here, but I just think that a deep, deep southern accent is going to be tough to overcome. I think that is silly, but I think it is a fact. He is sharp, experienced, and competent. But he was a lobbyist for big tobacco and big pharma. I just don’t think this will fly. It also makes for complicated racial deal in a general election based on the silly stereotype the media has assembled of Gov. Barbour. Bottom line, I don’t think this is going to happen, but he will run, and he could be a darkhorse.
Chance of winning primary – 5%
Chance of winning general – 25%
Mike Pence and John Thune have made this piece shorter an it otherwise would be. The reality is that Pence would have been my candidate had he entered the race. And if Obama is re-elected, the then Governor of Indiana, Mike Pence, will be my guy in 2016.
I should say that I do believe Obama will be re-elected next year, but I don’t believe that is inevitable. If we had any kind of front-runner candidate, I would feel differently. This field is just plain sad. They are all either ideologically or personally or politically flawed. As you can see from the above, I believe Christie has the best chance to beat Obama, but I don’t think he will run. I think Pawlenty has the next best chance, theoretically. I consider Newt and Sarah a non-starter. Romney may very well be the technical front-runner for the nomination (organizationally, financially, etc.), but he is vulnerable. And can not beat Obama.
My conclusion – it is wide open (as far as who the nominee will be). I suspect it will be Romney, Pawlenty, or Christie. Out of those three, I think Christie would be a serious race. Pawlenty would be interesting. Romney would not end well.
These are my fallible predictions. I will re-visit as facts change. Like Keynes said, when the facts change, I change. What do you do? -)