Monday, February 12, 2007

Our Next President Will Be ... Far From Perfect

For politics buffs it seems that we are already very deep in the 2008 presidential race. John Fund reminds us in this brief look at recent history that we are still so far away from November 4, 2008 that almost anything could happen. He looks at several recent presidential elections and discusses what the state of affairs was 21 months out.

Fund’s little exercise is almost comical. He notes, for example, that at this point in 1991, George H. W. Bush’s 91% approval ratings sent some very qualified potential Democrat candidates running for cover. Bill Clinton was still eight months away from announcing his presidential bid. I was under the impression you’d better have a major campaign machine up and running by now or you’re a lost cause. Fund shows that this is a mistaken notion.

It would seem at present that Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) is the duly anointed Democratic nominee. But even this assumption is probably too presumptuous at this early stage. The GOP side is far more open; much like the Democrat field was four years ago. Oh, and by the way, Fund notes that four years ago Senator John Kerry (D-MA) lagged some 63% behind Senator Joe Lieberman (ID-CT).

A recent Wall Street Journal editorial makes the point of how open the GOP field is by discussing the current significant candidates. The would be anointed nominee, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) has many wonderful qualities, but is having trouble gaining traction with the Republican base, having alienated them with his ‘maverick’ positioning and his sponsorship of the McCain-Feingold incumbency protection act — uh, campaign finance reform.

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has a proven track record of getting things done, but “is something of an empty policy slate.” The unnamed WSJ author says that Romney has “a thin political skin and perhaps a too malleable policy core.” For all the love some Utahns seem to have for this adopted native son, I’m afraid he comes across too much as being willing to say anything he thinks will help him win an election. Malleable policy core indeed.

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani currently ranks in some polls as the GOP front runner because of his strong anti-terror stance and his handling of the Big Apple in the aftermath of 9/11. But he has a baggage train 20 miles long. His personal life is a wreck. And once people understand his staunchly held liberal social positions, his desirability among the GOP base will probably drop. Still, it’s too early to tell.

Many Republicans said during the scandal with Bill Clinton’s peccadilloes that private character matters in public office. But just in the past few days I have heard some that once echoed these words claim that Rudy’s private life issues won’t affect their support for him. Is that what hypocrisy sounds like?

And if you thought Rudy’s baggage was hefty, it’s not as hefty as that of former Representative Newt Gingrich (R-GA). I’m afraid that party insiders will never forgive him for screwing up the opportunity the GOP had after the 1994 takeover of Congress, in which he played a significant role. Perhaps his worst sin was coming across as crusty and unsympathetic as he played against Bill Clinton’s charm and rock start status. Does Gingrich have a chance? I’d say it’s a very slim one, but stranger things have happened.

Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) is billed by some as the only true conservative in the race. But his recent anti-war position is going to alienate a lot of the GOP grass roots folks. The war may be unpopular even with this group, but seeming insubordination and looking weak on terrorism will likely trump any points Brownback scores from his socially conservative positions. As with Gingrich, it’s impossible to read the tea leaves on Brownback’s chances at this point.

And who knows what might develop or who else might step up and join the fray, even months from now? It’s simply too early to tell. Every Mr. Knowitall that is out there spouting off about what is going to happen in this race will probably be wrong in some major way about what they are prognosticating (unless they are only dealing in generalities).

At this point, I don’t see any particular candidate that aligns well with what I’d like to see. But that’s OK. That’s how our system works. Some dream candidate may step forward, but I seriously doubt it. Eventually I will winnow down my choices to the most acceptable among them and will vote in the primary election for someone that won’t get his/her party’s nomination. And finally I will vote for a candidate that doesn’t meet my criteria very well, but at least seems better to me than any other choice available. That is how a democratic republic works in a pluralistic society.


Charles D said...

I think it's not yet time to break out the cruet of oil for the anoitings. I will let you handicap the Republican candidates, but on what has to pass for my side of the fence, the pickings are very slim.

I see the current top 3 as Clinton, Obama and Edwards. Clinton has the name recognition, but much of that recognition is not positive in nature. She is so disliked by so many on both the right and left that I can't see her lasting until the finish.

Obama has the advantage of having almost to track record, but his support in the African-American community is tepid at best, and he has no labor track record so he's got a long way to go yet.

Edwards is a good talker, but he does have a record and it doesn't exactly match his talk. I don't see him getting anywhere unless one of the other 2 take a sudden nose dive.

The Republicans have done pretty well in the Presidential races recently because their candidate appealed to their base and excited them enough to get out the vote. No Democratic candidate has done that in a long time and none of the current pack are likely to either.

That may explain why the Dems are not acting to end the war. They want to hang that albatross around the Republican contender's neck so they can win even though their candidate is a namby-pamby flip-flopping empty suit (or dress).

Jesse Harris said...

My dream candidate already has an exploratory committee. Too bad he won't go much further than that.

Bradley Ross said...

Valuable reminder, Scott. DL doesn't seem too enamored of Obama, but I think (like a lot of other people) a Clinton/Obama ticket would be unbeatable.

Scott Hinrichs said...

An acquaintence noted that I failed to mention Representative Duncan Hunter (R-CA). That is only because he is not mentioned in the WSJ article I was citing. He is strong on border security but has some history of lobbying dealings that appear to have been less than above the board. Right now he doesn't hit the WSJ's presidential radar scope, but, as I said, almost anything could happen.

Scott Hinrichs said...

Oh, and if history is any indicator, (which it may or may not be -- kind of like an investment prospectus), all but eight presidents have had prior executive experience as a governor, U.S. VP, or military general (see here.

Of the exceptions, six were either a U.S. Representative or a U.S. Senator or both. W.G. Harding was a Lieutenant Governor, and Herbert Hoover was a millionaire mining engineer and former U.S. Secretary of Commerce under two presidents (one of whom treated him more like a VP than a cabinet secretary).

Of the possible candidates mentioned in this post and comments so far, it appears to me that only Mitt Romney has been a governor, VP, or military general. (Some have been lower ranking military officers.) Some might argue that Newt Gingrich's experience as Speaker of the House qualifies, but it's not in the same realm as the executive positions mentioned above. We have never elected someone that has only been a mayor (even of one of the nation's largest cities), so the stats do not favor Giuliani.

So, if having been a governor, VP, or military general were the most significant criterium (and I'm not saying that it is) and history is a reliable indicator (and I'm not saying that it is either), Mitt Romney would statistically have a 400% better chance than any one of the others mentioned here of becoming president. I guess the quote about statistics often attributed to Disraeli or Twain is true.

Scott Hinrichs said...

Oh, and if it is true that much truth is said in gest, I wonder how many Utahns would be pursuaded to vote for a Democratic presidential nominee if Rep. Jim Matheson was doing more than just joking here.