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Picking a winner from flawed field

Editorial for Jan. 5, 2012

Once upon a time we had a gut feeling former Alaska half-Gov. Sarah Palin, because of her love for the spotlight, would get into the race for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. We also thought too-old-to-be president Ron Paul, Republican Congressman of Texas, would go rogue and run on a Libertarian Party ticket with his son, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, as his running mate. We believed all along that Herman Cain’s campaign for the GOP nomination was all about self-promotion and that it would implode because of some past indiscretion that the candidate was arrogant enough to think would never come to light. We thought Rick Perry was a loud-mouthed Texan with George W. Bush-like bravado who can’t think on his feet, and his debate performances after he got into the race proved we were right. We’ve concluded after months of following former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum that he is a likable man who has a very narrow appeal because of his stances on issues like gay marriage and women’s reproductive rights. We dismissed Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota before she won last summer’s Ames Straw Poll in Iowa because she’s a pathological liar to whom nobody is willing to entrust command of U.S. military forces. Before that, we accepted Donald Trump and his threat to run for president as a Republican for what it was: grandstanding by a TV personality with never a chance of him making good on his threat. We take Mitt Romney’s bid for the White House quite seriously. The problem is, watching Romney debate on stage or campaign on the stump is like watching reruns of the worst episodes from the final season of “The West Wing.” The mega-rich Romney, who’s been running for president since 2007 at least, projects a stilted, wooden presence when among voters that suggests he’s not quite comfortable mingling with mere mortals who are earning minimum wage and barely keeping up with the bills. Nonetheless, the former Governor of Massachusetts, who held his own in the series of debates leading up to the Iowa caucus, is the prohibitive favorite to win the GOP nomination now that former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich’s star turn as the front-runner has waned in Iowa. As for the kickoff event of the 2012 presidential campaign, we’re still trying to figure out why the circus-like Iowa presidential caucuses to be held on Jan. 2 — and in which an estimated 120,000 to 130,000 registered GOP voters were expected to participate — carry so much weight, especially when Iowa voters have a terrible track record when it comes to anointing the eventual nominee. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, a first-time contender who’s gone all-in in the New Hampshire primary on Jan. 10, seems like a perfectly responsible, centrist GOP candidate who reminds us of former President George H.W. Bush when the latter opposed Ronald Reagan for the GOP nomination in 1980. For progressives, Bush Sr. seemed like a reasonable alternative to the sitting Democratic president, Jimmy Carter. We figured, if we lost that election to Bush Sr., at least it would be to someone who wasn’t as rigid in his views about the role of government as Reagan was. Alas, Democrats lost that 1980 election, which ushered in eight up-and-down years of Reagan leadership that began the historically significant decline of America’s middle class that continues unabated to this day. Huntsman, for whatever reason — be it Tea Party sentiment running against his educated reasonableness or his lack of Beltway exposure and experience — has failed to gain traction in his bid for the White House. Pre-caucus polls in Iowa put him dead-last among likely participants. That’s crazy. GOP voters should be worried about the state of their once grand party and ask themselves what’s wrong with their nominating process when the smartest guy in the bunch can’t get noticed. Maybe conservative voters view him as being to similar to President Obama: smart, sophisticated, knowledgeable, articulate, quick on his feet, decisive about what he wants to accomplish, and willing to take the occasional great risk to further America’s interests. Huntsman isn’t a perfect candidate by any means; but in a field of flawed candidacies, many of which appeal to narrow bands of single issue-oriented voters, at least Huntsman hasn’t stooped to pandering to special interests for support. In fact, Huntsman has given Iowa a miss, conceding that his broader message of cooperation and compromise in furtherance of national interests doesn’t sell well in the midlands. We find this astonishing. But as Huntsman noted in a recent interview, “They pick corn in Iowa. In New Hampshire they pick presidents.” We’ll see about that come Jan. 9, when the final results of the first primary of 2012 are tallied. SB


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