The Republican field is so weak that the party is poised to blow an opportunity that seems to come once in a generation: the chance to soundly defeat an incumbent President in a manner that fundamentally realigns the role of government in the United States.
At least that’s the narrative than many in the media have presented this year. Of course, most of the people presenting that narrative are partisan liberals that work for partisan outlets, including the New York Times’ Paul Krugman, CNN’s James Carville, NBC’s Chris Matthews, and Time Magazine’s Mark Halprin to name a few. I would argue that advancing the proposition that the opposing party cannot field a decent candidate certainly advances a partisan agenda. It also reveals a kind of partisan myopia. If one doesn’t respect an opponent’s ideals, it is difficult to see how a group of leaders sharing such ideals really aren’t worthy of respect.
On the other hand, Charles Krauthammer and other partisan conservatives have also criticized the field as weak. Krauthammer commands enough respect that I believe he really feels that way. However, when lesser pundits criticize the field, I’m reminded that lazy members of the media seem to enjoy pursuing easy narratives that make them comfortable. And the narrative of a weak opposition field is tried and true. In more than one election year you have heard of a slate of candidates referred to as “the seven dwarves.”
I disagree with the characterization of a weak Republican field. In fact, I would suggest that this Republican field is the strongest slate of candidates the party has seen since 1980. Each candidate brings unique qualifications to the table. Let’s take a quick look:
Speaker Newt Gingrich was the architect of a Republican revolution that significantly changed the course of American government. Under his strategy, the party took over Congress after decades as a minority party. Then under his leadership, the federal budget was balanced, welfare was reformed, and America entered into an era of growth and prosperity.
If Gingrich doesn’t capture the party’s nomination, then the nominee will likely be one of two governors. Governor Mitt Romney is a Republican who won election in a deep blue state, proving that he can garner the votes of moderates and some liberals. Governor Rick Perry is entirely different, the chief executive of a deep red state that has had been strong on job creation and economic growth. Additionally, Romney boasts extensive private sector experience.
Congressman Ron Paul offers Republicans a real libertarian choice that has been missing from many presidential campaigns. Love him or hate him, one must acknowledge that Paul represents an ideology that holds influence over significant thinking on the right side of the political spectrum.
While Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum are not likely to win the Republican nomination for President, they represent powerful factions of the Republican party whose ideas merit consideration. Bachmann is a Tea Party darling, and the Tea Party has energized the Republican base with the simple message that federal spending and taxes are too high. Santorum is the typical religious conservative that has traditionally seen regular representation in Republican campaigns, but he’s a much more effective messenger than past standard bearers such as Pat Robertson.
Finally Jon Huntsman’s lack of success may be attributable to the fact that he’s a Republican who seems to have a good grasp of the issues, but is very comfortable working with Democrats to advance a pragmatic vision. Republican voters tried that with John McCain, and don’t like what that brought them.
In summary, the field is deep and talented. I believe that any of the losers of the nomination would make excellent choices for cabinet posts, and I didn’t even mention erstwhile candidates Herman Cain or Tim Pawlenty. So why do so many Americans that aren’t liberal partisans long for the next Reagan instead of embracing the riches before them?
I believe it’s due in most part to the inane format of the debates. It’s hard to look good when put on the defensive, be it by the liberal media or by a handful of challengers. We all remember how good Ronald Reagan looked when rededicating the Statue of Liberty or mourning the crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger. We forget how testy and argumentative he looked when he yelled about how he paid for his microphone or how confused and old he looked trying to cram his story about a time capsule into a tight debate timeframe.
I am sure that once a candidate is nominated and he can get on message, he will run circles around a President whose actions have destroyed jobs, whose policies have reduced America’s ability to produce energy, and who has redirected tax dollars to his corrupt friends who promise environmentally friendly fool's gold.