It's the first week of 2007. And that means, of course, that it is time to break down the races for the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations. Yes, everyone is tired of politics. But in the post-election, pre-Democratic-Congress glow of the holidays, we mustn't forget about the coming political onslaught. If you thought 2006 was a nasty year in politics, just wait.
The problem for Republicans in 2007 will be finding a nominee who is conservative enough to govern, but well-known enough to win in 2008. No Republican presidential nominee without significant name recognition going into his primary run has emerged victorious in a general election since Warren G. Harding in 1920. Calvin Coolidge had already been president when he ran in 1924. Herbert Hoover had been secretary of commerce in the Harding and Coolidge administrations (a prestigious and attention-garnering office at the time). Dwight Eisenhower, of course, had been the most famous American general of World War II. Richard Nixon had been a prominent congressman and senator, as well as vice president under Eisenhower. Ronald Reagan had been both a motion picture star and governor of California. George H.W. Bush had been Reagan's vice president; George W. Bush was H.W.'s son.
Republicans, far more than Democrats, rely on candidate star power to woo voters. It is far too easy for the mainstream media to caricature relatively unknown conservatives (see Dole, Bob or Goldwater, Barry). Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, perhaps the most viable Republican candidate in terms of his positions and experience, may be out.
Who, then, can provide this star power? There are three bona fide Republican stars in the 2008 field: Sen. John McCain of Arizona, former Mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich of Georgia. Each has serious drawbacks, and each has excellent selling points. McCain brings his massive popularity and media-darling status. He also brings his advanced age, his campaign finance reform record, his Gang of 14, his wishy-washy stance on homosexuality (including a vote against a constitutional amendment to protect marriage), his anti-conservative economic populism and his anti-torture positions. Giuliani brings his likeability, effectiveness and unblemished record of crisis management. He also brings his controversial personal history and his social liberalism. Gingrich brings his conservative strength and Southern appeal. He also brings his checkered past and a widespread public perception of extremism.