Brian Birdnow

Why can’t the GOP groom good candidates? A look at the current field of announced and/or presumed candidates would be helpful. The top tier of Republican possibilities are, in no particular order, Donald Trump, Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, and Mitt Romney. Each of these persons would carry substantial baggage as a Presidential candidate. Donald Trump, of course, bears comparison to the 1992 Ross Perot phenomenon. He is an eccentric billionaire who makes outlandish statements, cares not who he offends, and provides good copy for the journalists. Some would say that he is a headline seeker and bears more comparison to Professor Harold Hill, than to Ross Perot. Trump cannot win the Presidency, even if he somehow wins the GOP nomination. Likewise, Sarah Palin is a sure loser. The media have done their job well and made the comely former governor a national laughingstock. This is the same treatment that the prestige media meted out to Dan Quayle during the 1988-92 epoch, but Quayle stayed the course. Sarah Palin gave her enemies a perfect attack plan when she quit on her fellow Alaskans in 2009. Newt Gingrich is a clear case of too much old baggage. The former House Speaker still excites hatred among the Democrats because he was successful and he beat them at their own game. Newt, however, raises suspicion among the “values voters” over his checkered romantic past. He has always been mercurial and unpredictable and those are two qualities that no seasoned political professionals want in a candidate. Mitt Romney has to fight the well-founded impression that he is simply too liberal to represent the GOP.

Among the second tier of potential Republican candidates we see a similar scenario. Mike Huckabee is a former moderate Chief Executive of Arkansas who seemed to like big government a little too much. Michelle Bachman has suffered the Palin Treatment at the hands of the media, and, while she conducts herself well in jousts with the likes of Chris Mathews, she spends too much time fending off media attacks instead of enunciating policy positions. The supremely talented Haley Barbour has withdrawn his possible candidacy, probably realizing that a portly Southern governor offer a rich vein for Foghorn Leghorn-like caricature. Ron Paul, meanwhile, is a niche candidate whose libertarian message warms the hearts of many Republicans. His seeming indifference to Islamic terrorism and refusal to admit that we are involved in a war infuriates those same Republicans.

The GOP third-tier is composed of a number of state governors. Chris Christie of New Jersey and Scott Walker of Wisconsin have ignited passions in their respective states, but it is probably a little too soon for either of them. Tim Pawlenty, the former Minnesota governor has been attempting to drum up support for at least two years, but seems to have made little headway. Mitch Daniels of Indiana and Gary Johnson of New Mexico are capable, but largely unknown. Many will argue that President Obama was largely unknown when he began his own Presidential campaign, the day after he was elected to the U.S. Senate. This is certainly true, but Gary Johnson cannot expect to have an adoring media carrying his water while barely holding theirs.

The GOP problems are many at this time. The Party does not seem to groom good candidates, and, of course, the Party doesn’t send out a unified message. The media regularly trashes GOP candidates and ideas, and the Party has never defined an effective response. The Republicans are well rid of the incompetent Michael Steele, but it remains to be seen if the new leadership team will improve matters.

Meanwhile, what does all of this mean for 2012? It seems clear that the American people don’t want Socialism, but, puzzlingly, they like Barack Obama! The people want spending restraint, sensible taxation and policies designed to encourage economic growth and to reignite the powerful American engine, but they do not want to vote for a Republican candidate at the top of the ticket who will encourage such policies. The end result of the 2012 elections, barring something completely unforeseen, will be stasis. We will end up just where we are now. We will be fighting a holding action, winning some and losing others, but we’re likely to be stuck with four more years of Obama and Socialism-Lite.


Brian Birdnow

Brian E. Birdnow is a historian and teaches at a university in the St. Louis area.