As this year’s Conservative Political Action Convention (CPAC) winds down today, it has become evident the Republican Party possesses a wealth of articulate and principled conservatives from which to select their 2012 presidential nominee. Interestingly, it also appears the so-called top-tier candidates may not be the GOP’s strongest options for defeating Barack Obama. The inclusion of lesser known names into the discussion of attributes and liabilities raises the plausibility that the next Republican nominee will emerge from a current position of relative obscurity.
The Presumptive Front-Runners
Sarah Palin is clearly a bonified conservative, but her percieved devisiveness may trouble Republicans who simply deem her too risky. Her ability to galvanize Republicans in the face of utter vitriol from the left is extremely useful in ideological efforts such as the TEA Party movement, but the “Woe is me” stance only goes so far in a presidential campaign. She may also appear to bring some of the attacks on herself. While she wins arguments with David Letterman and the creators of Family Guy, these dustups undermine her efforts to cultivate a perception of leadership. As the left appear geared to define Republicans as mere obstructionists, it is disappointing that Palin has not used her visibility to help direct the Republican policy agenda.
Mitt Romney poured tremendous resources into his 2008 presidential run and lost to John McCain and Mike Huckabee as Republicans apparently found him unlikeable and an unreliable conservative. In his new book No Apology, Romney supports the TARP bailouts as well as the Obama stimulus and declares that global warming is a “clear and present danger… caused at least in part by human activity.” He attributes the banking and housing crisis as an absence of governmental regulation. Romney will be bashed mercilessly by conservative opponents over these progressive positions.
Newt Gingrich has shown a propensity to support big government Republicans over principled conservatives. His succor to statist Dede Scozzafava in the controversial NY-23 congressional race was an enormous gaffe. While he later conceded this was a mistake, he is now endorsing progressive Republican Senator Bob Bennett (UT) who has supported Wall Street and Automaker bailouts. Like Romney, this will not fly amongst conservatives.
Tim Pawlenty has packaged himself much the same as Romney. He won the governorship in liberal Minnesota and, like Romney, has made a considerable shift to the right through his political career. He is not seeking re-election, presumably to devote full attention and resources to a presidential bid. He will likely struggle to emerge from Romney’s shadow given the proximity of their moderate positions.
Mike Huckabee’s strength in 2008 was his presence as the sole representative of the Christian right. He will surely not have a corner on that market next time around. His brand of conservative populism is unlikely to stand out amongst candidates to the right of him.
Scott Brown is frequently mentioned as a rising political star and possible presidential contender. This borders on the absurd. To his credit, he has unequivocally dismissed such talk and seems focused on his role in the Senate.
Jim DeMint has been the exegesis of Reagan conservatism. Through his first term, he is the only Senator holding a perfect 100 rating from The American Conservative Union, which sponsors CPAC. His willingness to engage the President directly has elevated his stature. During his speech at CPAC on Thursday, DeMint accused Obama of “selling socialism” and leading a government “teetering toward tyranny.” His prediction last fall that the health care bill would be Obama’s “Waterloo” created lasting memories. DeMint’s leadership in supporting conservative candidates has built important bridges. His Senate Conservatives Fund has contributed $1.2 million to Marco Rubio and other primary candidates in Texas, California and Pennsylvania.
Marco Rubio is a dynamic and genuine conservative whose political stock is likely to soar if he wins this November’s election for Florida’s open Senate seat. Honored with the opening speech at CPAC, Rubio declared the Democrats are systematically redefining our government, economy and country. Rubio’s rapid emergence from obscurity to front-runner over Governor Crist is a testament to the sheer force of his charisma and correct principles.
Mike Pence is also extraordinarily articulate and charismatic. Opening all meetings with a prayer, Pence connects with Christians could effectively win a number of Huckabee supporters. As House Republican Chairman, he has gained exposure and continually espouses that a “great American awakening” is ongoing and could culminate in a Republican takeover of the House in November. Pence describes himself as a Christian, a conservative and a Republican – in that order.
Rick Santorum has not been shy about discussing his interest in seeking the Republican nomination. A stauch supporter of life, Santorum supported Rush Limbaugh’s desire to see Obama’s policies fail and warned strongly about the burgeoning size of government long before the TEA party movement took hold. He publicly opposed the stimulus bill and renounced support for then-Republican Senator Arlen Spector after its passage. If DeMint and Pence decline to enter the race, Santorum could build a substantial core of support among Christian conservatives.
Haley Barbour is a less dynamic figure, but remains an intelligent and creative political strategist. As Chairman of the Republican Governors Association, Barbour led the party to important victories in New Jersey and Virginia. He was also Chairman of the Republican National Committee when the GOP recaptured both houses of Congress. He also could do well with former Huckabee voters.
Michele Bachmann is not likely to run for president, but she is worth mention as a possible VP candidate sometime down the line. Another strong conservative, Bachmann is sharp and willing to publicly engage the administration.
Other more moderate candidates such as John Thune and George Pataki cannot be ruled out. While it appears Republicans will desire a genuine conservative after the McCain disaster, a moderate could once again be the benefactor if the conservatives split votes among multiple candidates.