2012: Sur­vival of the GOP’s fittest

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

Seven­teen months be­fore Amer­i­cans go to the polls to elect their next pres­i­dent, the field of Repub­li­can can­di­dates is rapidly be­ing win­nowed down to its strong­est con­tenders.

While the na­tional news me­dia, es­pe­cially net­work news shows, have been fo­cus­ing on a hand­ful of du­bi­ous Repub­li­can can­di­dates (most of whom were best known as TV celebri­ties), three or four for­mer or present gov­er­nors have emerged as the lead­ing men in the race.

They are for­mer gov­er­nors Mitt Rom­ney of Mas­sachusetts, Tim Paw­lenty of Wis­con­sin, John Hunts­man of Utah, and pos­si­bly Mitch Daniels of In­di­ana.

There are oth­ers in the race who are given vir­tu­ally no chance of suc­ceed­ing: Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, mak­ing his third lib­er­tar­ian run for the pres­i­dency; Rep. Michele Bach­mann of Min­nesota, a leader in the Tea Party move­ment, who is ubiq­ui­tous on the TV talk shows but was turned down for a lead­er­ship post in her party; and for­mer House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who led the GOP out of 40 years in the wilder­ness to take con­trol of the House but whose shoot-from-the-hip speak­er­ship and his per­sonal life was one of al­most con­stant con­tro­versy and tur­moil.

No sooner had Mr. Gingrich an­nounced his can­di­dacy than he had to de­fend his state­ment that Amer­i­cans should be re­quired to carry health in­surance, a piv­otal Oba­macare is­sue now be­ing fought out in the fed­eral courts.

Lately, less at­ten­tion is be­ing given to for­mer Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the 2008 vice-pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee, who is mak­ing her liv­ing as a re­al­ity TV per­son­al­ity, au­thor and speaker. She fled her state’s gov­er­nor­ship un­der Demo­cratic fire be­fore her term was up and has made no se­ri­ous ef­fort to put to­gether a cam­paign or­ga­ni­za­tion.

In the space of about a week, three hope­fuls dropped out of the pres­i­den­tial marathon: Mis­sis­sippi Gov. Ha­ley Bar­bour, for­mer Arkansas Gov. Mike Huck­abee and TV re­al­ity show host Don­ald Trump.

Mr. Bar­bour, ar­guably the GOP’s best strate­gist who gov­erned one of the poor­est states in the coun­try, said he did not have “the fire in the belly” for a gru­el­ing pres­i­den­tial race. His wife told a Mis­sis­sippi TV sta- tion that the pos­si­bil­ity of a na­tional cam­paign “hor­ri­fies” her.

Mr. Huck­abee, who sur­prised ev­ery­one by win­ning a hand­ful a GOP pri­maries in the 2008 race, did not want to give up his lu­cra­tive Fox TV show. As the dead­line neared on a de­ci­sion to stick with Fox or run, he made a bread-and-but­ter de­ci­sion.

Mr. Trump, more of a TV im­pre­sario and self-pro­moter than any­thing else, was not a se­ri­ous con­tender. Mak­ing Pres­i­dent Obama’s birth cer­tifi­cate his open­ing is­sue to seize TV at­ten­tion, when vot­ers are mostly fo­cused on 9 per­cent to 12 per­cent un­em­ploy­ment and a weak econ­omy, sig­naled he was in it solely for the me­dia at­ten­tion. When he abruptly dropped out last week, polls found that nearly two-thirds of the vot­ers sur­veyed said they would never vote for him.

In the end, he chose to stay with his NBC TV show, “The Celebrity Ap­pren­tice,” a ti­tle that would have de­fined a Trump pres­i­dency as much as it de­fines the one we have to­day.

In the mean­time, at least three for­mer gov­er­nors were putting to­gether ma­jor cam­paign or­ga­ni­za­tions and rais­ing money for what will likely be the costli­est pri­mary cam­paign in Amer­i­can his­tory.

Mr. Obama is plan­ning to raise, by some es­ti­mates, $1 bil­lion for his com­ing cam­paign, a daunt­ing ob­sta­cle to over­come, even for the most se­ri­ous of his chal­lengers.

Mr. Rom­ney, who has kept his head down for much of this year, has been fo­cus­ing on meet­ings with donors and build­ing his war chest. He col­lected $10.2 mil­lion May 16 in a na­tion­wide, one-day, phonebank fundrais­ing ef­fort, a sign of his strength at this early stage of the 2012 elec­tion cy­cle.

Mr. Hunts­man, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s am­bas­sador to China, is also ex­pected to en­ter the race soon. He is a suc­cess­ful, tele­genic, two-term gov­er­nor, who, as a Mor­man, could draw votes away from Mr. Rom­ney. Mr. Paw­lenty also is run­ning at full throt­tle, with early ap­pear­ances in the first cau­cus and pri­mary states. Mr. Daniels, a low-key per­son­al­ity who is well liked by party con­ser­va­tives for cut­ting spend­ing and taxes, is still mulling over whether he will run, ad­mit­ting that his wife is not en­thused by the idea and that, in the end, she will de­ter­mine his de­ci­sion.

But these can­di­dates have been get­ting lit­tle to no at­ten­tion on the nightly news, which tends to fo­cus on the sen­sa­tional rather than the se­ri­ous can­di­dates with some­thing to say. A head­line over a story about Don­ald Trump’s de­ci­sion to drop out of the race that ran on Politico’s web­site on May 17 said his “exit sig­nals end to silly sea­son.”

Nearly a dozen can­di­dates have been or are now run­ning for the right to take on Mr. Obama next year, but the net­work news shows have given over­whelm­ing at­ten­tion to can­di­dates who are, or were, more celebri­ties than can­di­dates wor­thy of con­sid­er­a­tion.

The fo­cus now turns to the three or four can­di­dates who ac­tu­ally have ex­ec­u­tive ex­pe­ri­ence, who have run state gov­ern­ments and bal­anced bud­gets, and who op­pose the failed poli­cies Mr. Obama has pur­sued over the past two years, from Oba­macare to $1 tril­lion­plus deficits to an econ­omy most Amer­i­cans say is still in a re­ces­sion. One will be the Repub­li­can Party’s nom­i­nee.

Don­ald Lam­bro is a syn­di­cated colum­nist and for­mer chief po­lit­i­cal cor­re­spon­dent for The Wash­ing­ton Times.

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