Surveying the Republican Field

I’ve been rather silent lately on the Republican field of presidential hopefuls. Now that the field seems more settled, and we’ve had a couple of debates that include newcomer Rick Perry, I’d like to offer a few thoughts about the perceived strengths and weaknesses of the candidates. There are some I favor over others for one reason or another, but one thing is crystal clear—no matter who the nominee will be, it will be improvement on Obama. Even if my least desired candidate wins this nomination, nothing could compel me to vote for another four years of what we have experienced since January 2009.

The latest debate was in Tampa, just down the road from me, less than thirty minutes from my home. I didn’t attend; neither did I watch it live, but I picked up on some of the highlights by watching video clips and hearing/reading commentary. Here is the field of dreams, so to speak:

In order to be fair and not show any favoritism, let me take them alphabetically.

Michele Bachmann: She is a true believer in the Tea Party principles, which focus on fidelity to the Constitution and reining in the power of the federal government. Her background as a tax lawyer is a positive, as well as the wonderful testimony of caring for more than twenty foster children. Her Christian faith seems to be genuine. I have no issues with her as a person. There are some negatives, though. She has little or no executive experience, and there are tales circulating that she has not shown any particular management skills. Historically, the last time anyone jumped from the House of Representatives to the White House was in 1880, when Ohio congressman James Garfield emerged as a dark horse nominee for Republicans. The uphill climb is steep for Bachmann, and the odds are not very good. If she should win the nomination, could she pull in voters outside of the true believers in her principles?

Herman Cain: I love his spirit and his Christian testimony. His experience at surviving stage four cancer is inspiring. He also has an excellent record in the private sector, turning companies around and making them successful, the chief of these being Godfather’s Pizza. I also believe he understands the economy—what works and what doesn’t. He makes a lot of sense. His lack of government experience is viewed by many as a negative; for others, it is a positive. The odds for him gaining the nomination are slim, but he does poll very high on the likeability scale. Next week, I’ll be sitting at a table with Cain at a Republican meeting here in my Florida county. I look forward to getting to know the man better. If he doesn’t get the nomination, why not a place at the political table, perhaps as secretary of the treasury?

Newt Gingrich: The former Speaker of the House is a cautionary tale for all aspiring political leaders. He was the architect of the Republican ascendancy in the mid-1990s. His Contract with America was the basis for taking back the Congress in 1994. Yet once he had the power, he was cleverly outplayed by Bill Clinton, and was accused of shutting down the government. For the rest of his tenure, he was off his game. He still brims with constant ideas; his spirited and intelligent performance in the debates wins heartfelt applause from the audiences, yet his poll numbers remain low. The problem is he’s damaged goods. He not only failed as House Speaker, but he failed in his personal life. Three marriages will leave a lasting impression. He says he’s turned the corner on his personal failings, but his time has come and gone. No chance.

Jon Huntsman: Former Utah governor. Also former ambassador to China—appointed by Barack Obama. His views are the most liberal of the field. He is the darling of the Sunday talk shows even though consistently polling at 1%. He also comes across as sanctimonious. Not a prayer. No need to waste any more space in this blog.

Ron Paul: He commands perhaps the most fervent followers of any candidate. Yet his appeal is rather limited to those followers. His strength is his desire to ensure that the Constitution is honored. His weaknesses, unfortunately, are many. In my view, he doesn’t really understand the threats we face from nations such as Iran; he even said they have a right to possess nuclear weapons. While I agree that we don’t need to stick our national nose into every other country’s problems, his isolationism is untenable in this world as it exists today.And I have zero patience with his “blame America” rhetoric for 9/11. He’s no better than the most rabid leftist with that viewpoint. While there might be some valid reasons for opposing a fence on the Mexican border, his comment that someday the government might use it to keep Americans from escaping [apparently seeing a similarity with the late and unlamented Berlin Wall] is, as analyst Charles Krauthammer commented, “weird.” I have no confidence that a President Paul would do what’s necessary to protect this country.

Rick Perry: The Texas governor’s entrance into the race elicited quite a bit of excitement, and he almost immediately shot to the top of the polls, riding the wave of the good economic news from his state. He’s also made a name for himself as a staunch defender of federalism—wherein states are not overawed by the federal government and maintain control of their own affairs. Perry also courageously told the truth about Social Security. His weaknesses, though, have surfaced, particularly in the last debate. He believes in allowing illegal immigrants to have in-state tuition costs for college. He opposes a fence along the Mexican border [though he does call for stronger border security in other ways]. He tried to force, by executive order, all twelve-year-old girls in Texas to be inoculated against a certain sexually transmitted disease. Yes, there was an opt out for parents, but critics suggest it should have been an opt in, or not promoted at all. There are suspicions he is not the small-government conservative he claims to be. The verdict is still out. He could be the real thing with a few flaws, or he could be hiding his true views. I will continue to watch, listen, and learn. I’m really trying to be open on Perry and not prejudge. I still need more time to determine what I believe about him.

Mitt Romney: In a blog post several weeks ago, I basically said I cannot support Romney for the nomination. My views have not changed. Frankly, I don’t trust that he’s the real deal. He used to be pro-choice; now he says he’s pro-life. Is he? What proof do we have? He is the author of Romneycare in Massachusetts, the forerunner and one of the inspirations for Obamacare. The individual mandate in the Massachusetts law should disqualify him for the nomination. Honestly, I don’t know why so many Republicans see him as the salvation of the party. If he should win the nomination, I believe he has a good chance of toppling Obama in the general election [Republican pragmatists believe this ardently], but what will that mean for the Republican party and the nation? Will he really keep his promise to overturn Obamacare when he can’t bring himself to admit his plan was wrong? Does he truly have solid principles grounded in constitutional authority? Sorry, but my doubts abound.

Rick Santorum: A genuinely good guy, solid on all the social issues and an advocate of a strong defense. When it comes to policy and worldview, I have no quarrel at all with Santorum. I just don’t believe he has any chance at all of winning the nomination. He comes at this from a position of weakness; his last political campaign resulted in the loss of his Senate seat from Pennsylvania. How does one go from losing a Senate seat to winning the presidency? I don’t think it can be done. He doesn’t project the aura of a winner at this point. That’s a shame, but it’s reality.

I predict I will upset some of you who waded through this analysis. I may be wrong about Romney. I might have all my doubts about Perry erased over time. I may end up voting for someone in the Florida primary that would surprise me today. At this time, I have no favorite candidate, but I do have some I don’t support at all, as you can tell from my comments. I just want to stay open and keep learning about each of them. By the time of the Florida primary, some of them may no longer be in the race. And there’s always the possibility that a former governor of Alaska might decide to enter the fray. Now, wouldn’t that be interesting?