Gut Check

No one particularly cares about my opinions on the GOP candidates, but the initial impetus for this blog was to 'think out loud' so here's my shot at contributing to the noise. Most of it truly is noise, and most Americans, those who don't read political pundits everyday or carry around a double-bit axe  just to have something handy for grinding, are not distracted by the noise. They vote with their gut. Sometimes they use it to vote 'for' someone, but often they use it vote 'against' the other guy.

Obama was elected by blacks and the dependable left. They voted for him, they felt he represented them. Independents and other inch deep types voted against George W. Bush. Some were also voting against John McCain because it was "his turn", as part of the Republican establishment, to run. And some voted for Obama, by not voting. It always works out that way. The Democrats were effective in generating interest in (and covering up problems with) an acceptable candidate and the Republicans, fearfully politically correct, couldn't or wouldn't differentiate themselves, so why not vote for "change"? Simplistic maybe, but it's how it seems to me.

In the 2012 Presidential election there will be a considerable block of people who want to vote against Barack Obama and as long as the Republican candidate can remain "acceptable," which they will have proven they can do by winning the nomination, they should be able to pick up enough 'against' votes to beat Obama. Conservative pundits, establishment types and the mushy middle rely on the Buckley Rule to make their for and against arguments on candidates. Buckley said conservatives should support 'the most conservative candidate who is electable'. The last part is, of course, the tricky bit, especially considering that there is no consensus about which of the two (currently front-running) big government candidates, Romney or Gringrich, is more electable. And I can honestly say, as one of the unwashed masses, that I don't believe anyone can sufficiently define "electability" for the rule to make sense.

In my view, neither of those two is electable. They are both insiders, "his turn" candidates, and no one, especially the 30 million who watch American Idol, will be as excited about voting 'for' Gingrich/Romney as they are voting 'against' Obama.  A candidate can say all the right things for months, but really, what's the difference? Big government is big government, an insider is an insider and party aristocracy is party aristocracy. The American public knows lip-synching when they hear it ... why do you think they watch 'Idol' in the first place? They want to see genuine, everyday people like themselves using their God-given talents and succeeding, not the next Disney pop stars singing cover tunes.

Initially, I was on the Herman Cain band wagon. There was no doubt about him being an outsider and his pure American success story would be hard to beat. I wanted to see two black men running for President, especially ones with such contrasting ideologies, to take race out of the equation. It would have leveled the playing field. But he missed the "acceptable" boat with questionable personal issues and a seemingly superficial grasp of issues. I liked that he defaulted to principles when trying to articulate positions he clearly didn't have details on, but he couldn't have won the nomination with that tactic. He was on the stage too long.

Speaking of on the stage too long, I'm really glad Sarah Palin decided not to run. Not because I dislike her. On the contrary, of all the political personalities on the conservative side if I could wave a magic wand and make her President, I would. Not only do I think she would be a great President, it would be delicious watching her detractors squirm while the country excelled. Without a magic wand, getting elected would have been impossible. Debates with Obama would have been entertaining, as would the press and their sabotage efforts, but, in the end she would not have won because she is a woman. It would not be the men who kept her from winning, it would be the women. A President Palin would be threatening to a lot of outspoken, high profile women ... you wouldn't see her being endorsed by NOW or the hosts of The View. Now that I think about it, I suspect there are a lot more male voters in Alaska than female ones, so I'll use that as the evidence for what my gut is telling me. American women could comfortably vote for a woman like Hilary, so obviously second in the relationship with her man, but not Palin. She is not a prop or the heir to a political empire.

Women are also threatened by Michelle Bachmann, though it's not exactly the same. Bachmann comes across as a little too shrill, a little too convinced of her own righteousness, a little less humble. The other difference between these two women is experience and accomplishment. People don't get elected to the Presidency from the House of Representatives because, honestly, what do they really accomplish? They are opinion mongers with a vote, and their bread and butter is topped with slices of pork. They are representatives, not executives. They are one of us, not leaders of us, and that makes whatever political accomplishments they have seem unimpressive ... something any of us could do with the right nudging and contributions from lobbyists and special interests. Is Michelle Bachmann principled? I have no doubt that she is, but I don't see people putting her in an executive position. The thing that turned me off from Bachmann was really minor ... a comment about a disorganized staff, another about changing Chiefs, the shuffle in her campaign leadership ... and I found myself feeling that these similar things said something important about her. When I factored in her personality, the righteousness, my own experiences working for similar personalities, it wasn't difficult to go from "these are plausible incidents" to "she probably can't lead a diverse group." That may be unfair, but it's hard to get past the impression and I don't think I'm alone.

The same sorts of questions come up about Gingrich and his leadership of the U.S. House. I'm sure there are two sides to the story, but for the average American, the name Gingrich is a lot closer to meaning double-talking-political-grinch than it is to principled, effective leader. If they don't know about the ins and outs of his tenure as Speaker of the House, they have at least absorbed that it was contentious. And they likely know something about his personal life. Unfortunately, someone in their third marriage is not unusual in our society, but it's still not considered an enhancement to character. Ask anyone who has been divorced. It's probably on their "life lesson" list, not their "accomplishment" list. Gingrich carries a negative political and personal vibe with him, plus, he's an arrogant, big ego, know-it-all who has a government related answer to everything. His vertical leap is higher than his likeability index. There is little doubt that Gingrich is capable of saying the right things, the things that will differentiate him from Obama, because he is, after all, the "smart" Republican. It's doubtful, however, that the American public will trust him. Oh sure, the policy wonks and political dilettantes will like him, because his intelligence reflects their own, you see, but your average Joe knows that "smart Republican" in the nomination press is simply code for sneaky, greedy and morally bankrupt in the general election press. Newt would eviscerate Obama in a debate, but how would he govern? Just like Obama ... ego first.

Mitt Romney is, even more than Newt, the "next in line" for establishment Republicans. He's likeable. He's an experienced leader. He says the right things. He's polished. He has resources. He is John McCain and Bob Dole. He is Mitch McConnell. He is Kay Bailey Hutchison. He is George H.W. Bush. He is safe. He is boring. He will move this country not one iota in a conservative direction because he truly is a reach-across-the-aisle, compromising, moderate. The Tea Party will be put back in its place, waiting to be called upon again for the next progressive over-reach, even though it will likely be too late. The phrase "anyone but Romney" exists because people know he is the business-as-usual-why-bother-voting candidate. Nominating Mitt Romney is like guaranteeing bad weather on election day; people will stay home. They won't be at the voting booth 'holding their nose', they'll be at the bar drinking shots and punching up songs from Nothin' Matters and What If It Did on the jukebox.

If Mitt is Kay Bailey, Ron Paul is Ross Perot ... different, energetic, bold, consistent and ultimately, divisive. He is an anti-Obama candidate; there would be no mistaking them and no one could say "they are both are the same." You could say that about Paul versus the rest of the Republican field, too. His uniqueness is his biggest selling point. It's also his biggest problem. Last election we voted for change, but we really didn't want that much of it and so there is this backlash. Despite low approval ratings for Congress and a perceptable increase in distrust of the government, no one is ready for a revolution whether it's an "Occupy" one or a libertarian one. I appreciate having Ron Paul in the race as a Republican because he helps move the party in a more libertarian direction, but he would not be able to do that as President. If Ron Paul is elected President in 2012 he would, essentially, be Bizarro Obama. He would have two years with a Republican Congress, but not get much done because his agenda would be too extreme. Then in 2014 the Republicans would be in the same position as the Democrats in 2010, defending a President they didn't really support, and they would lose control of Congress. In a bizarro sort of way voting for Ron Paul, the most anti-Obama candidate, turns out to be sorta like voting for Obama instead of against him. The average voter isn't thinking consciously of this kind of scenario, but at some level they recognize that Paul's ideology is equally extreme as Obama's.

Rick Santorum is an anti-Obama candidate, too. He's well spoken, experienced, informed and principled. If he got the nomination, and the associated funds, he would definitely provide a contrast to Obama. The general public opinion of him probably runs from "who?" to "the anti-gay pro-life guy" and little else. I like Rick Santorum. He could be an effective anti-Obama candidate. He beats the social conservative drum a bit too loudly at times, not that there's anything wrong with that. The majority of Americans are not worried about a newly elected President imposing some Christian version of Sharia Law, but social issues will be used to create an emotional, extremist caricature that Santorum does not have the resources to overcome. I hope he does well in Iowa. He needs a turn at the top to get his non-social message out. He also pushes the party to the right. His biggest asset is that he seems to be the truly principled politician, but, unfortunately, that is probably one reason behind his lack of resources. Is it possible, as a politician, to be too principled and honest? Santorum once said that losing the Senate race in 2006 was not as bad as not standing on principle. I truly respect that, and would hope to live up to that standard, but my cynical self says you'll never beat Obama standing on principles because he plays by different rules. Santorum's principles, regardless of their popularity, make him predictable and an 'unsexy' candidate. Not only that, he's not even interested in pretending to be sexy just for the sake of winning.

John Huntsman, another non-sexy candidate, should be considered reasonable and acceptable. He was a governor with a conservative record. He doesn't have the personal baggage of Newt, but it's a toss up between him and Mitt on who has less charisma. A lack of cash doesn't seem to be a problem for Huntsman and, ironically, for him, it's a turn off because his Daddy is rich. He is John Kerry running on Heinz money. Like Newt, he can say all the right things. He may even be able to point to specific policies and actions as governor to back up the words, but in the end, he worked for Obama. We may all understand that it was political manuevering on Obama's part to get a prominent Republican in his administration, and that for Huntsman it was a good spring board to a national and international stage, but my gut tells me at some level these two men have something in common, at least enough to make the back scratching deal on the ambassador job. What is Huntsman's vibe? It's very similar to Obama's actually ... arrogant, entitled, educated and generally above it all.

Which leaves us with Rick Perry, my Governor. Perry has been a good governor. I'm willing to give him credit for working to create a regulatory and economic environment that is "open for business," but he makes a mistake by touting it. For practical reasons he has to, but in terms of "vibe" and "impression" and "style" he's focusing too much on it and needs to let other people make the point. It is the one area where he begins to sound like Obama ... too much "I." The reason Perry has been a good governor, in my view, is that he has mostly stayed in Austin, out of my sight. His comments about making the federal government inconsequential really resonated with the public partly because it's what they want to hear, and partly because how sincerely he delivered it. Perry stumbles when he tries to play a role outside the scope of his sincerity.

All the candidates can make the case that they are anti-Obama in terms of policy. Perry, however, has the best anti-Obama "presence." He's publicly humble. He is not the next great political orator. (Yes, I know Obama is not really a great orator either, but who am I to disrupt a publicly accepted meme?) And then there's Paint Creek, TX vs. Hawaii and Indonesia, executive experience vs. none, shooting coyotes vs. cruiser bikes and mom jeans and military pilot vs. community organizer. Like Obama, Perry is a career politician, and that bothers me, but give me good ol' boy Texas politics over Chicago machine politics, especially when you factor in that he's not part of the Texas/Bush political aristocracy (ask Kay Bailey how that worked out for her). There is also a whiff of cronyism around Perry (that's better than the stench around Obama), but give me Gardasil over Solyndra and Harold Simmons and Red McCombs over Andrew Stern and John Corzine.

The current GOP front-runners are like all the other entitled nomination candidates they have run at us for years ... Newt is McCain is Mitt is some Bush. Rick Perry? Rick Perry is Bill Clinton - a common man who figured out politics, a legitimate candidate outside the establishment, with good instincts and strong connections - and the huge bonus of not being a Democrat and serial adulterer.

In 2008 Barack Obama was correct. The American people voted for change. They thought they were voting for a change from "the failed policies of the past" and Obama successfully hung that on the Republicans, in some cases deservedly so. Those failed policies were "Republican" for the first two months of 2009, but the public quickly figured out that they are more properly labeled "Big Government" policies. After Obamacare and bailouts and cronyism the public knows what needs to change and they are rightfully skeptical of anyone promising to deliver the kind needed.

You don't stem the tide of government growth by electing one of the anointed because it's how they got anointed. And even if there were some objective test where you could say "this candidate is the most conservative" and by some miracle they were also the most "electable" (whatever that means) it would not matter if they could not practically move the country in a more conservative, libertarian direction for the long term. The progressive agenda, incrementally implemented over the past century, has pushed the country to the current precipice. We can wave the Constitution all we want, but there will be no immediate relief. The way back will be slow going, and in the process of governing each path chosen by our leaders will need to take us away from the precipice ... not balancing along the edge, not jumping off and hoping for the best, not blindly charging back leaving behind things worth keeping ... slow, predictable progress toward proven principles and policies.
Love the halo, O.

Going with my gut, Rick Perry seems to be the one candidate who can do that, not because he has the most detailed policy plans or because his style is motivational or his appeal is universal, but because over 11 years as Governor of Texas he has managed to push and nudge and pry the environment away from the precipice without demanding more of my time and resources and effort, without bankrupting the next generation and without sparking a population boom in a dependent class. I don't want a transcendent President. I want one that is trustworthy, sincere and gets results without whining or making excuses. I want Calvin Coolidge, not Teddy (or Franklin!) Roosevelt. I'm looking for John the Baptist, not Jesus Christ. We recently elected one Messiah and that hasn't turned out so well. Perry has admitted he is not a perfect candidate, an honest and easy admission, but I trust him to point the way and my gut tells me he can win.