If there’s one sentiment that seems to unite desperate Republicans in the run-up to the campaign of 2008 it would seem to be profound discomfort, if not outright disgust, with the current field of Presidential candidates.
I’ve heard literally dozens of demoralized friends and colleagues express their frustration with this crop of contenders in remarkably similar terms. The common mantra usual proclaims that this must count as “the worst group of Republican candidates in all of American history.”
Of course, this grim conclusion raises an obvious question: if this field amounts to the worst clutch of candidates ever, then which year yielded a better array of choices?
Last time (2004) there was no GOP alternative to President Bush. Does this constitute a richer spectrum of choices?
In 2000, the only serious, durable alternative to Bush was Senator McCain – and he’s an alternative once again this time. The other candidates included ego-tripping Senators Orrin Hatch and Bob Smith – who, in the style of this year’s Sam Brownback, ran more for attention and publicity than with any real thought of winning anything.
The 2000 race also brought its share of hard-right fringe candidates: Gary Bauer, Alan Keyes, Steve Forbes and Pat Buchanan (Buchanan eventually left the Republican Party to run on the “Reform Party” ticket, garnering a paltry 0.4% of the vote.) At least this year’s angry fringe candidates (Tom Tancredo, Ron Paul and Duncan Hunter) can point to real political experience, having each won many terms in the House of Representatives. When it came to Bauer, Keyes, Forbes and Buchanan eight years ago, as well as the brief campaign of Elizabeth Hanford Dole, none of them had ever won election to public office before. Why would we consider a field full of seasoned political veterans less formidable than a group of stumbling amateurs?
Going back to other recent elections, the struggle for the ’96 nomination came down to Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, columnist Pat Buchanan, and former Tennessee Governor Lamar Alexander—with the Buchanan and Alexander campaigns quickly collapsing in the face of Dole’s established position in the party. As in 2000, magazine publisher Steve Forbes and unemployed orator Alan Keyes also tried, without much success, to generate support and other members of the Senate and House (“B-1 Bob” Dornan, Senators Richard Lugar of Indiana and Phil Gramm of Texas) briefly put their names in play before hasty withdrawal. Who, precisely, in that uninspiring field makes it tower over today’s choices of Giuliani, Thompson, Huckabee, Romney and McCain?