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November 08, 2012 1:36 PM Conservative Reaction To Election ‘12, Part IV: New Leaders

By Ed Kilgore

One thing on which pretty much everyone in both parties who was not on the payroll of a candidate pretty much agreed: the 2012 GOP candidate field was a poor one. At one point or another in the nomination contest cycle, the leader among Republicans in at least some national polls was Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Donald Trump, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum. Partly that was because potentially more formidable candidates declined to run for one reason or another (the difficultly of taking on the Romney and Perry money machines was an under-discussed factor), including the “unseasoned” nature of several relatively new elected officials.

So looking forward, Republicans have every reason to assume an improvement in the 2016 candidate field. And moreover, the dominant “movement conservative” faction has a special incentive to unite behind a single candidate, having failed to do so this year. Indeed, partly for that reason, and partly to deny the less-than-scintillating congressional leaders Bohner and McConnell the role of party spokesmen, we could well see an aggressive effort to promote a small group of potential 2016ers as the faces and voices of the party.

In terms of who makes that short list in what order, I think there’s an understandable tendency at this particular moment, within and beyond the ranks of GOP activists, to overreact a bit to the party’s “Latino problem,” to the benefit of Marco Rubio and perhaps his original patron Jeb Bush. Rubio has a history of questionable associations and financial irregularies (both reflected in his close friendship with about-to-be-former congressman David Rivera, who was trounced Tuesday night amidst escalating inquiries into his business dealings). And there’s never been much evidence that he’s popular with Latinos beyond his corner of the Cuban-American community. Jeb Bush, of course, must deal with the undertow of his last name, to which he added with some unhelpful comments about Republican tax ideology during the current cycle.

And Jebbie’s not the only one who’s hurt his own stock; most notably, Chris Christie (and to a lesser extent Bob McDonnell) sowed a lot of bitter seeds with his praise for Obama’s handling of Sandy, which Dick Morris (among others) blamed for destroying Mitt-mentum at the end of the campaign.

I won’t go through the whole list of 2016 possibles (Huckabee and Santorum from campaigns past; Susana Martinez for those who think demographics are everything; Bobby Jindal, if he can overcome his “exorcism” problem; Nikki Haley, who has her own extensive personal and political baggage; Rand Paul, whose instant national following is offset by the intense controversy aroused by his foreign policy views; Mike Pence, the grim ideologue who is now governor of Indiana; and on an on).

But the real question is whether Paul Ryan can nail down the Titular Leader of the Republican Party role that absolutely no one wants the soon-to-be-forgotten Mitt Romney assume. Nobody is blaming Ryan for any aspect of the 2012 loss. He remains wildly popular among quasi-libertarians, fiscal hawks, and social conservatives. He looks, at least, like someone who could help appeal to the younger voters who are tilting heavily against the GOP, and is accustomed to talking to the midwestern downscale white voters the party will continue to need in presidential elections. The biggest asset and potentially the biggest problem for him is his position in Congress, which could make him the focal point of opposition to Obama over the next two or three years or a “traitor to the Cause” complicit in fiscal deals. He certainly managed during Obama’s first term to make himself simultaneously a conservative-movement matinee idol while inspiring goo-goo eyed admiration from the MSM as a constructive figure in Congress, so maybe he can keep pulling it off; if he’d just become fluent in Spanish, he might even run away with the 2016 nomination.

The less Republicans want to change their ideology, the more they’ll talk about “new leaders.” Ryan still qualifies, but he’d be wise to quickly show it was the Romney campaign that made him hide his conservative light under a bushel during the general election campaign. Given his high visibility in Congress, that’s bad news for anyone hoping against hope for a new GOP willingness to compromise.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

Comments

  • boatboy_srq on November 08, 2012 1:49 PM:

    So looking forward, Republicans have every reason to assume an improvement in the 2016 candidate field.

    This is not, given the evidence, particularly persuasive. The reason that Bachmann, Cain, Gingrich and Santorum were "inferior" candidates wasn't because of lack of experience or a failure to adhere strictly to Teahadism nearly as much as because once on the national stage - and faced with more intense scrutiny - they simply imploded. Perry, in turn, was cast out because he merely hinted at a shred of empathy, which is something the Teahad apparently cannot abide unless it's empathy for the poor misunderstood downtrodden wealthy white guy.

    I for one expect nothing but more of the same from the GOTea in 2016, especially if the voices clamoring for more Teahadist orthodoxy win over the leadership. The pool of potential candidates available to these people, who would be most loudly advocating for Conservatist principles, each carry more baggage than the would-be Ann the First (with her horses, cars, homes and all).

    One thing I do think we're likely to see more of sooner is more thorough investigation of Teahadist candidates. Bachmann's girlyhusband, Cain's lobbying, Perry's humanitarian streak and all the other "little foibles" are now big enough to kill a campaign before it even has a chance to hire a publicist or solicit funding. And given the predictable tendency of these people to have closets brimming with skeletons, the likelihood that they can find a defensible candidate in just three years (they could wait until 2016, but if they haven't identified at least a couple viable candidates by the end of 2015 there's not much point) is exceedingly low.

  • boatboy_srq on November 08, 2012 1:51 PM:

    BLEEPING tags - that should have been nothing but more of the same...

  • bobbo on November 08, 2012 2:04 PM:

    Good luck, Paul Ryan! It reminds me of the stunning electoral victory by the last losing VP candidate to later run at the top of the ticket, President Walter Mondale.

  • Marko on November 08, 2012 2:06 PM:

    Paul "Lyin" Ryan? I don't think so. He's got a bad rep with 50% of this country: women. He is so anti-abortion it's pathetic. If they put this guy up in '16 (and I really hope they do), they are doomed to failure. Again.

  • Gandalf on November 08, 2012 2:08 PM:

    funny how the most qualified candidates aren't ideologically pure enough for the republicans. Chris Cristie has the audacity to tell the truth and say Obamas doing a good job in helping out New Jersey so he's personna non grata with the repubs. Huntsman who actually was the most sane candidate they had barely registered a blip during the primaries.
    They've basically reachec their own cliff and jumped off it. If during the next four years the economy gets better and Iran doesn't invade Israel the republicans rantings will become so meaningless that they'll either change or go the way of the whigs.

  • BillFromPA on November 08, 2012 2:13 PM:

    Two years can be a long time, and that's about when the GOP field will be shaping up, but I can't see anyone on the bench that's any better than the pathetic crew that took the field this time. When I say pathetic, I'm referring to the reaction that sane America had towards them, obviously insanity is a virtue to the 'base'.

  • Gandalf on November 08, 2012 2:17 PM:

    funny how the most qualified candidates aren't ideologically pure enough for the republicans. Chris Cristie has the audacity to tell the truth and say Obamas doing a good job in helping out New Jersey so he's personna non grata with the repubs. Huntsman who actually was the most sane candidate they had barely registered a blip during the primaries.
    They've basically reachec their own cliff and jumped off it. If during the next four years the economy gets better and Iran doesn't invade Israel the republicans rantings will become so meaningless that they'll either change or go the way of the whigs.

  • c u n d gulag on November 08, 2012 2:23 PM:

    Conservatism cannot fail - it can only be failed.

    So, their ideology will remain the same
    They'll be out there looking to find a lead singer who can do a cover version of "The Horst-Wessel Song," while not scaring the moderates.

    They are a cult, in search of the right personality.

  • RepublicanPointOfView on November 08, 2012 2:34 PM:

    What a bunch of pablum in this posting.

    We, the wealthy funding wing of the party, still own this party. Right now, the odds-on favorite of our wing is Linda McMahon. She would 'expand' our party; she would provide the self financing we desire from candidates; and she has extensive campaign experience.

    Our fall-back position would be Jeb Bush. He is quite acceptable to the social conservatives; he is acceptable to the religious conservatives; he is an original PNACer; and most importantly he is one of us and understands that this country is needing one of us to rule it.

  • CJColucci on November 08, 2012 2:48 PM:

    If memory serves, the only defeated Vice Presidential candidate who went on to win the Presidency was FDR. I'm less sure, but I think none has even gotten the nomination.

  • bigtuna on November 08, 2012 2:52 PM:

    Rock County, WI , the home county of Paul Ryan, voted 59/38 for Tammy Baldwin, and 61/38 for Obama.

    Maybe Pauly is ready for the national stage, but he might not be able to go home again ....

  • iamcurious on November 08, 2012 3:13 PM:

    I was amused to read in Politico this morning that the GOP is going to push Marcio Rubio forward as their "Latino" poster boy. The large Mexican-American demographic in this country has no natural alliance with conservative Cuban-Americans, but what the heck, they're all brown, right?

  • Mimikatz on November 08, 2012 4:22 PM:

    There was an interesting discussion on Now with Alex Wagner this am on the micro targeting techniques used by the Obama campaign. Apparently they picked the brains of academics in the behavioral sciences about what persuades and mobilizes people to act (not the same thing) to the point that they are now better than businesses at it. They hired a bunch of nerd graduate students and PhDs to assist them. The Dem intellectual advantage is apparently immense at this point. The GOP is a generation behind, That is what a true respect for data and science will bring.

    The GOP is going to be led by the Bobby Jindals and Marco Rubios fronting for the same rich white guys for as long as they treat ideology as gospel and science as heresy, and ordinary Americans will continue to desert their product in droves.

  • G.Kerby on November 08, 2012 4:40 PM:

    If memory serves, the only defeated Vice Presidential candidate who went on to win the Presidency was FDR

    Oh how soon we forget Dick Nixon ...

  • G.Kerby on November 08, 2012 4:42 PM:

    My bad, Nixon was a defeated Prez candidate ....

  • PTate in MN on November 08, 2012 5:47 PM:

    No. No! You can't bait me into thinking about the 2016 election yet. Really. I want some election-free time.

    ....

    But Ted Cruz, the new Senator from Texas, fire-breathing, rightwing, anti-communist Senator? I'd keep an eye on him. He is as handsome as Paul Ryan, but, unlike Ryan, he is actually smart, qualified and competent. If he plays his cards right, he'll be running for POTUS in 2016.

  • N.Wells on November 08, 2012 6:18 PM:

    Good one, RPOV. In fact, the ideal Republican tag team would be McMahon with Jeb Bush as VP: her for the reasons you mention, while he'd contribute absolutely insane levels of name recognition. I'm quaking in my shoes already.

  • yellowdog on November 09, 2012 11:01 AM:

    Losing VP candidates have a mixed record in retaining their national stature. For every Lloyd Bentsen, who brushed off the Dukakis experience in 1988 pretty easily, there is a William Miller, a Jack Kemp, or a John Edwards, who never got over the loss.

    Which will Ryan turn out to be? In a party with a stronger bench, Ryan's future would not be very good. However, this is the party that looks at Herman Cain and sees potential. Ryan is a proven mediocrity, but that won't hurt his standing in this party. Ryan's performance on the ticket was hardly stellar. He did not help carry his home state. He was not credible in his criticisms of Obama's record--especially in his convention speech. He was bland and shallow in his head-to-head debate with Joe Biden. He did not bring in any particular segment of the electorate that would not have voted for Romney anyway. He was absent from swing states for fairly long periods and from local media--as the Romney folks apparently thought he had to be put under wraps while the candidate tried his 'Moderate Mitt' theme. All in all, not very helpful to the ticket. Conservatives think this guy is great, but most moderate voters took a look at Ryan and yawned. If he is the best the GOP has, the party is in real trouble.