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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

GOP's 2012 Motley Crew Dwarfs Dems' '08 Lineup

It's no secret that a lot of prospective Republican primary voters were initially cool to the field of candidates seeking the party's 2012 presidential nod. This was evident not only in the large chunk of "undecided" voters in poll after poll but also the constant turnover at the top of the field. Now, more and more voters appear to be settling on a candidate, if only tentatively. My personal favorite, Jon Huntsman, Jr., won't win the nomination, but that won't stop me from trying to wrangle a date with one of his daughters. (For the record, Huntsman was my first choice before he even entered the fray.) If I had to make a prediction, then obviously Mitt Romney is the heavy favorite to win the nomination; Newt Gingrich probably has the second-best chance. What I never really understood, though, is why so many people kept saying the GOP had a weak field of candidates. I'm not sure what that assessment was based on.

In 2008, the Republicans had an embarrassment of riches when it came to our choice of candidates; there was "America's Mayor," Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, who rescued the 2002 Winter Olympics and accomplished more than any Democrat ever had in the way of health care reform, and the eventual nominee, John McCain, who in addition to being a solid conservative with an incomparable record of legislative achievement, is truly one of our greatest living heroes. The Democrats, on the other hand, had an embarrassment, but that didn't stop their incredibly flawed nominee from winning the presidency. (Obama's victory was even more impressive when you consider that he wasn't even the strongest contender in a weak field.) The 2008 Democratic primary campaign was notable in many regards, not least for producing perhaps the most monolithic top tier of primary contenders in either party in recent memory. Think of it: three U.S. Senators, all of them lawyers, none with any real leadership experience, and two of whom had never held public office prior to being elected to the U.S. Senate. This is not to say that Senators or lawyers do not make good commanders-in-chief--J.F.K. and Richard Nixon were both better-than-average presidents--but America could do a lot better than the three tools who led the Democratic field in '08, so you can understand my reaction to Jonathan Capehart's latest column, in which he described the current GOP campaign as "a mystifying mosh pit of unsatisfying characters." That actually wasn't so objectionable, but then he went on to declare, "Four years ago, Democrats ... had an impressive field of candidates to choose from." He added, "The Republican race for the nomination is the exact opposite." I knew I had to call him out on that.

Before I tear Capehart apart (for the second time this month), I should mention that I actually agree with a lot of what he wrote about the Republican race for the nomination this time around. Witness:

Terrible debate performances aided in knocking Perry from the top spot. But his attempts to reclaim the magic of August, when he entered the race, have been shameful. He dabbled in birtherism and then disavowed it. His dance with insanity stomped all the announcement of his flat-tax announcement, which was meant to relaunch him and his campaign. Hints from Perry’s campaign that the Texas governor might skip future debates were lame. Then Perry unintentionally did his best Charlie
Sheen imitation
at an event in New Hampshire on Friday.
And yet he sits atop a stockpile of campaign cash that he is already deploying in the form of television ads in Iowa.
If Republicans follow their tradition of giving the nomination to the fella who was rejected the last time around, then Romney's a shoo-in. Unfortunately for him, he has to watch the GOP electorate romance everyone but him — Donald Trump, Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Chris Christie, Mitch Daniels, Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio . . . did I leave anyone out? — before his entreaties are accepted.
The open flirtation with anyone but Romney must be galling to the successful former Massachusetts governor. And yet he keeps giving primary voters reasons to distrust him.

That's where Capehart stopped being reasonable--and I stopped agreeing with him. He contuines:

Romney has been all over the map on abortion, gay rights and health care. But he has now added flip-flopping stances on climate change and Ohio’s law restricting collective bargaining to the roster.

First off, Romney never flip-flopped on the aforementioned Ohio law (as I prove here). Second,s hi supposed "flip-flop" on "climate change" apparently consisted solely of a recent statement the candidate made in a speech at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, viz., "My view is that we don't know what's causing climate change on this planet." (Romney had previously expressed an unequivocal belief "that climate change is occurring and "that human activity is a contributing factor.") Personally, I don't consider that a flip-flop. If you believe something but aren't sure of it, then you don't "know" anything. Also, Romney said "we" in the Pittsburgh speech, whereas his earlier comments clearly expressed his personal view. These may seem like semantics, but if this is what the trolls on the Left are going to characterize as "flip-flopping", then they can't fairly accuse me of nit-picking.

As for Romney's alleged stance-shifting on other issues, I also disagree that he's "been all over the map". He changed his mind on the abortion issue. Lots of people do (including yours truly). There's no getting around that, but it shouldn't be a politcial negative. (Voters didn't seem to have as big a problem with Ronald Reagan and George Bush's similar conversions on the issue.) As for gay rights, I think it's a matter of opinion as to whether or not Romney's been "all over the map" on that. In the first place, it depends on what you consider "gay rights." In my view, because no one has the right to marry someone of the same sex, being opposed to same-sex marriage is not an anti-gay rights position, and it certainly isn't "anti-gay." Other than his firm opposition to same-sex marriage, I'm not sure what else Mitt Romney's detractors claim evince a flip-flop from his avowed support for gay rights. As for health care, what?!? "Romney has been all over the map on health care."? Really, Jon? Have you not noticed that Romney's single biggest political liability in his quest for the Republican nomination is the health care reform law he crafted, championed and signed into law as governor? Have you really not noticed that, despite repeated entreaties from conservatives, he has consistently refused to disavow it? In fact, he has defended it relentlessly. You're crazy, Jon, or you're just stupid. (Perhaps both.)

If it seems like I got off on a tangent in the previous few paragraphs, then it's because I felt the need to delve into this absurd "flip-flopping" charge that has dogged the on-again/off-again GOP frontrunner because it provides an excellent example of how uttelry nonsensical much of the criticism of the 2012 GOP presidential field has been. The absence of Chris Christie, Paul Ryan and Mitch Daniels is palpable, for sure, but we've still got an illustrious cast of characters that towers above the train of fools the Dems had to pick from in '08. I've already sung the praises of Jon Huntsman and Mitt Romney, so let's take a look at some of the others:

  • In addition to having the most impressive record of any Speaker of the House in the past half-century, Newt Gingrich has that rare (and, in politicans, almost non-existent) quality of brilliance restrained by humility. He is so smart that, unlike many people with a comparable intellect, he knows how to speak so as not to pander to people without also sounding like a pompous ass. (Paul Ryan is the only other modern-day politician I can think of who has demonstrated this highly impressive talent.)

  • When Americans look at and listen to Herman Cain, they see/hear a man truly worthy of making history as our country's first black president. Unlike Obama, who embodies virtually everything people say they hate about politicians, Cain has never held elected office. Unlike Obama, he has run several businesses and served his country in the United States Navy (as a ballistics specialist, no less). True, both Cain and Obama deal in sound bites, and at times both are guilty of inappropriate flippance. Nevertheless, Cain's improbable path to the presidency (if only theoretical) is a far more compelling story than that of a "community organizer" who grew up in a tropical paradise, went to the best schools and seemed to put his law degree to the use of everything but the practice of law.

  • Ron Paul and Rick Santorum are both men of firm convictions. I vehemently disagree with each of them on some things; on others I think each man is 100% right. Both men can bost achievements that the current president cannot. Santorum worked hard as a legislator and managed to get a significant number of bills passed, most notably the Personal Responsibility & Work Opportunity Act (better known as the landmark Welfare Reform Act) of 1996. Paul has attracted a passionate throng of supporters who, in contrast to the legions of Obamaniacs out there, can actually explain what their candidate stands for and believes in.

Since I've previously criticized Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry, I won't try to now tout them as first-rate candidates, though I'll reiterate my position that either of them would make a better president than Barack Obama, as would Gary Johnson or Buddy Roemer. Hopefully, though, my point is well-taken that the GOP's options for 2012 are much, much better than the Democrats' choices in 2008.

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