Monday, February 6, 2012

A Voter's Guide To Republicans

When you're hot, you're hot.  No one does political videos like Bill Whittle, and here's another excellent one:

For what it's worth, I've been trying to decide if I should post a big comparison or write-up of the GOP candidates, and have ultimately decided it's not worth the time.  Instead, here are a few general thoughts to roughly outline where I'm coming from.

Most of the pretenders have dropped out by now.  The only one of them with a halfway realistic shot at any point was Rick Perry, but being another Texas Governor and lacking any authentic conservatism, it just wasn't going to happen for him.  I suspect he was simply running in order to become known for a serious potential future run.

There are four main candidates still standing now, so here are my thoughts on each based on my understanding of them at this point in time (in order of easiest to most difficult to comment on).

Ron Paul
He's a certified nutcase.  I will grudgingly admit that he's pretty solid on a number of economic issues, but otherwise he's a wacko in every sense of the word.  His foreign policy ideas are suicidal, he lacks all notion of common sense in terms of social policy, and he's made a whole lot of really awful statements throughout his political career.  It frightens me that so many Republicans would actually support him, though I suspect that much of his support comes from people who simply don't fit into any other categorization and are simply anti-government.  Don't believe anyone who suggests that he's the 'Tea Party candidate'.  He has no chance at winning either the primary or the general, and can only cause turmoil by splitting the right-leaning vote.

Mitt Romney
He's the frontrunner and the 'inevitable' candidate.  You know, like Hillary Clinton and Rudy Guliani were 'inevitable' last time around.  He lost Iowa, he won New Hampshire (where no one else even tried), and he cleaned up in Florida (because his advertising dollars were a 65-to-1 avalanche blanket of the entire state, and the vast majority of them were aimed at destroying Newt Gingrich).  For me, he's the John McCain of this year - the least good viable candidate.  I would vote for him over Obama, but only by holding my nose really hard.  The two biggest issues of this campaign season are shaping up to be the economy and Obamacare.  As Governor of Massachusetts, he implemented Romneycare, which has tanked the state's budget, driven up health care costs, and infringed upon the freedoms of people living there.  Romneycare is essentially the same thing as Obamacare (in fact, Obamacare was actually built on the foundation of Romneycare).  If Romney is the GOP nominee, one of the most potent issues against Obama -- since Obamacare was first proposed through now, almost two years after it was passed, it has had a steady 55-60% disapproval in every legitimate poll ever taken on the subject -- has been rendered irrelevant.  Not only can the GOP not afford to give up such a powerful campaign issue, but the country itself cannot afford another President who does anything less than fight tooth and nail for a full repeal, and Romney has already stated flat out that he won't fight for repeal.  On the economy, Romney does have a decent business background, but the Democrats have smoothly laid down a foundation of him being an elite rich white guy who hates poor people and indulges in class warfare (I know, the irony of it smacks hard), and he will be thrashed mercilessly on it.  Given the mood of the country, that thrashing will connect with a lot of people, and will hurt Romney big time.  Add to that a few of his more idiotic statements lately ("I love to fire people" and "I don't care about poor people" come to mind), and Romney isn't really helping himself, either.  It doesn't matter that those snippets are out of context, and that if the context was filled in around them he's actually dead on correct...the liberal media will ensure that doesn't happen.  He's the guy the Republican establishment wants because they think he'll draw the Independent vote, but he's the guy who appears to be the least liked by the actual voting base.  He's not anything remotely approaching genuine conservatism, so he generates zero enthusiasm in the conservative base of the GOP.  Remember how much enthusiasm the similarly non-conservative McCain got?  Exactly.

Newt Gingrich
To me, he's the most perplexing of the bunch.  On the one hand, Newt is the most potent debater and seems to revel in zinging the media and Obama whenever possible.  He's also pretty good at it.  For example, he's the one who first called Obama the 'food stamp President', which accurately points out the immense increase in the number of people who have become dependent upon government during Obama's first three years.  He's gotten the most standing ovation moments on the campaign trail, and I think he would genuinely destroy Obama in a live and open debate (might take out the liberal moderator while he's at it, too).  He's a brilliant historian, very well versed in the actual motivations and machinations of the Founding Fathers, and I believe he genuinely knows and understands conservatism like few others on the national stage.  On the other hand, Newt has a maddening tendency to undermine that foundation with monumentally stupid moves like endorsing global warming (which has now been thoroughly disproved, by the way) while sitting on a tiny little couch with virulent anti-American and anti-Republican Nancy Pelosi.  He's fundamentally an idea guy, which sometimes leads him to toss out half-baked ideas -- like establishing a permanent base on Mars -- that make him look a bit crazy.  Personally, despite his conservative underpinnings, I think he's still a Washingtonian at his core, and he believes that government is the best solution for a whole lotta problems.  The social conservatives of the right-leaning base have a hard time with him because of his infidelity issues (though to be fair, I think I've started to see a trend toward the base caring a lot less about that lately), and the all-important Independents have a generally poor view of him.  Bottom line: he's got the mental firepower and the intestinal fortitude to cause a lot of damage to the Democrats and Obama...if he's not too busy playing nicey-nice with them.

Rick Santorum
That leaves us with former Senator Rick Santorum.  He's probably the most boring, the least wealthy, and the least well known.  In my opinion, and in the opinion of a lot of other right-leaners, these are actually positives.  I'd be absolutely shocked if anyone could dig up any kind of scandal or skeletons in his background.  Sure, the Obama machine will do their best to find something, and will likely make stuff up if they don't, but I don't see it sticking.  Between having a special needs child, a strong and authentic Catholic faith, a single and (by all accounts) happy marriage with un-screwed-up kids, and a long history of consistent pro-life stances, he's a no-brainer for the social conservatives.  He won Iowa based on those hidden strengths, and in other less metropolitan states he will probably do well for the same reasons.  I think one of his biggest problems is that he's been out of elected office for several years.  Sure, he's got a long career to point to, but it's somewhat aged experience.  He's going to have to be 110% on top of his game in terms of policy (and that includes looking like he's 110% on top of his game) if he's going to overcome that critique.  He also has a few votes that encouraged big government (which is really unpopular among the GOP base right now), and that may prove to be problematic at some point.  Another thing that may or may not matter is that he's not flashy.  A lot of Republicans aren't so concerned with policy nuances or details, they just want a candidate that they can proudly claim as 'their guy'.  Preferably one who can articulate properly and doesn't resort to saying 'whatever' during interviews.  George W. Bush had his strengths, but appearing to be a savvy, intelligent, and articulate leader wasn't one of them.  I think a lot of Republicans supported him but were somewhat ashamed to do so, and often sat on the edge of their seats when he gave major speeches for fear of him looking like a dolt.  These people envy their Democrat counterparts because even when he's 100% wrong and blindingly clueless, Barack Obama sounds and looks like a million bucks.  I don't know if Santorum can be this guy, but I think it's possible.  Santorum has the least amount of money, but after winning Iowa and hanging tough through the next couple states, he's proved that he's for real.  As Romney and Newt continue to slander and destroy each other, Santorum has flown pretty much under the radar, and if he can hold on long enough he may prove himself to be the most reasonable candidate left standing.  He's not as well known nationally, but that won't be a problem for long, and in some ways may prove to be a benefit.  He doesn't have deep pockets like Romney or a long-time Washington machine like Newt, and is going to have to strategize very carefully to maximize the dollars he's got, but if he can prove that he's the best shot at unseating Obama, the money will come.  He's been awfully sharp in the last couple of debates, scoring major points against the other guys on big issues like Obamacare/Romneycare, the economy, and the environment.  He has rightly pointed out that he's the only one who hasn't (at some point) formally supported those policies that are most hated by much of the Republican base, and if he can propagate that message far and wide enough, he could generate some real support in the coming weeks.  I think the question for Santorum is simply whether or not he can linger long enough...can he hang around until the base rallies around him as their preferred not-Romney candidate?  That is the question.  He's still a long shot at this point, but probably the closest to a genuine conservative in terms of history and policy that we're going to get.

As I've said before, I'm not thrilled by any of these guys.  I think this year is similar to 2008 in that it's more a question of finding the least bad choice to go up against Obama than to identify the best choice.  Obviously, the primary season is already underway and it won't be long until Missouri heads to the polls.  Now that the field has narrowed down quite a bit, it's time to start forming opinions and paying attention (if you haven't been already).  I reserve the right to change my mind as new information comes to light and as we see how these candidates conduct themselves moving forward, but if I had to pick someone to vote for tomorrow I'd pick Rick Santorum.

For what it's worth.

Your thoughts are most welcome if you'd like to drop a comment below.

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