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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

My take on the candidates

I'd like to start out the journey by making clear my thoughts on each Republican candidate, my hopes for who wins, and my thoughts on who actually will. I'll go in order of present national poll standing according to the Real Clear Politics Polling Index; the other chances are purely my current estimations.

Herman Cain – Cain’s recent surge to a slight lead over Romney has been a product of the Tea Party, the heightened Republican reliance on limited government, his catchy 999 tax plan, and the lack of better alternatives. However, I speculate that his I don’t think Cain being black will hurt him amongst republicans, because even the rare racist people are oftentimes eager to show the world how non-racist and tolerant and open-minded they are. I think it will hurt him amongst democrats, however. This is partially because they'd view him as a copycat and a gimmick that Republicans are only running for said purpose, but mostly because they oppose his stances on affirmative action and the welfare state, and Democrats are made uncomfortable by minorities who oppose special treatment for minorities. Regrettably, those stances would likely limit his acquisition of black votes (but for sure he’d get more than the others). Obama would portray his 999 plan as "a tax break for the rich" who need to "pay their fair share", which would hurt him in a general election. He'd have a shot, and ideologically Cain is pretty sound, but even republicans might balk at his idea for a VAT (as do I), and ultimately I don't think he could stand with Obama at a debate from a rhetoric angle.
RCP Index: 26%
Chances he wins the Republican nomination: 20%
Chances he wins the general election: 8%

Mitt Romney - That Mitt Romney is a frontrunner speaks to exactly one thing: how weak and/or problematic the rest of the field really is. As conservative website Free Republic puts it, Republicans are generally "pro-life, pro-family, pro-gun, pro-small government, pro-constitution, pro-liberty...Governor Romney is none of the above." That is, he’s none of the above until he needs to be. What’s really stunning is his lack of any principles or consistent ideology whatsoever. This is what makes him one of my personal least favorite candidates. The only ideology he's committed to is the ideology that will give him the best chance of getting elected at the time. He's got more flip-flops than a beach. He made Romneycare and pro-choice stances in liberal Massachusetts, and then blasted Obamacare and made pro-life stances for republicans. He was a fantastic businessman because he is able to detect trends in the market and position his business in the best strategic place to target that market by providing consumers with whatever they wanted to buy. He's used that same skill to great success in politics: he notices the trends in the electorate, and then changes his message to whatever it is the people want to hear now. But that’s just so slimy! And in a general election, I think that would be exposed as insincere. He's not a tireless champion of small, limited constitutional government, he's a champion of keeping himself in office. That's the textbook definition of a career politician, whether he's spent his whole career in politics or not. He is, at his core, a big government republican, and if there were ever an election in which that is a death knell, this is it. But at the same time, when it comes to playing the game of politics, steering clear of gaffe’s, and looking good in a debate without actually saying anything controversial, he’s probably the most capable man in the fight. Career politicians tend to succeed at advancing their careers, and with lots of money and many high profile endorsements, he just may do so.
            RCP Index: 24%
Chances he wins the Republican nomination: 30%
Chances he wins the general election: 15%

Rick Perry – Despite being in third place, he is honestly the one who I think has the best chance of getting the Republican nomination. He's not actually evangelical at all, he's hardly even religious, he's just putting on a facade right now to help him out in the bible belt. He was poor in the first few debates, but he's righted the ship a bit. He's enabled job creation like crazy, and jobs will be the “change” of 2012. He's successfully marketed himself as the anti-Bush republican. He's demonstrated a willingness to reach across the aisle, and can win the massive and growing Latino vote with his immigration policies: while these may piss off some suburban white folks, it won't piss them off enough to vote democrat, and it's certainly not something Obama would attack him on. And you know what his best attribute is? He's not any of the others! Each time a new candidate has risen in the polls (Bachmann, Cain, Perry, etc.) the media has quickly turned up as much dirt as they can on them and sharpened the microscope. They found a sex scandal, VAT hatred, abortion flip-flops and foreign policy uneasiness for Cain; they found generic bible-thumping and all around unintelligence for Bachmann. All they found for Perry was that somebody spray painted the n-word on his dad’s property. I don't see any major "yeah, but..." flaw that would take him out of consideration. He's a tough guy who loves his guns, has experience running the executive branch of a large state and has had success in driving the economy of that state, which is more than can be said for most of the others. The last time we elected somebody inexperienced, it didn't work out so well, and if I had to guess who will eventually get the nod, I'd put my money here.
            Present RCP Index: 10%
            Chances he wins the Republican Nomination: 30%
            Chances he wins the general election: 20%

Gingrich - He makes a great talking head, because he's rhetorically very talented. But he also was involved in a sex scandal at the same time as he was blowing hot air and feigning anguish at Clinton's sex scandal. Ultimately, he's too polarizing to gain a wide enough coalition to win. Give the man a radio talk show or maybe even a Vice Presidential place on someone else's ticket, but I think he fan base is mostly middle-aged white conservatives who fondly remember the 90’s and would happily vote for another Republican if he lost. He has little to offer the ticket that others can’t offer, but much baggage to bring along with him.
Present RCP Average: 9.4%
Chances he wins Republican nomination: 5%
Chances he wins general election: 2%

Paul – He’s perfect. But no, in all seriousness, I don't think he can win. However, I think that's only because he can't win the primary, not because he couldn't win a head to head with Obama. Think about it. There are a lot of disgruntled democratic doves sitting around thinking to themselves "Why the hell are we in more wars now than we were under Bush? Why the hell are we still in Iraq and Afghanistan and ALSO in Libya and Yemen?" There are a lot of unemployed people sitting around who realize Obama cannot create jobs. And while some republicans may balk at his foreign policy, would they really balk at it enough to vote democrat? The tea party has given new life to the small government factions of the Republican party and Paul is the only candidate who has been speaking that language for the past 40 years, the only one who they can trust will come through on his promises to shrink government. His name is not Barack Obama, which means republicans will vote for him if they really have to, but his name is not any of the other Republican candidates, which means he may get independent support. Four years ago, public trust in government was low, and Obama won on a campaign centered around change. McCain tried to defeat that message by calling Obama a "radical". He failed, because the conditions were bad and people were less scared of even a radical change than they were of "more of the same". Well, today, public confidence in government is even lower, and I think that “change” rhetoric could still be mighty effective if people see a candidate who is honestly, genuinely, undeniably a change. Not even democrats can say with a straight face that Paul doesn't represent change. Their only strategy will be to discredit crazy uncle Ron as a radical, as a raving lunatic, to scare people away from the very change message Obama preached in 08. Perhaps I trust the American people too much, but I honestly don't think it would work. I think Obama's appeal would be crippled without his change rhetoric, and I think the "I'm a moderate!" rhetoric he would fall back upon would crumble when Paul reminds everyone that Obamacare was jammed through without a single Republican vote. What would be left for Barack to say? His campaign would be all attack and no self promotion, because he hasn't done anything worthy of promoting (at least, nothing popular enough to effectively promote). If any other republican candidate were to win, he could still paint them as the stuffy old George Bush clone who "got us into this mess in the first place" and stopped him from fixing our problems with "partisan games in Washington", yada yada yada. But painting Ron Paul as "just another evil republican" wouldn't fly, because he’s clearly different from the rest. I think the traditionally democratic groups of a) young people, b) prison reform advocates c) drug legalization advocates and d) foreign policy doves would switch to the right in a heartbeat, and I think that the youth vote especially would rejuvenate the republican party and set it up for success in the future once all the old people who still believe in Medicare and Social Security die off. Conclusion: Ron Paul won't win the republican nomination. But if he did, I bet he would beat Obama in a head-to-head fight. If it ever happens, you can quote me on it.
            Current RCP Average: 8.2%
            Chances he wins Republican nomination: 10%
            Chances he wins general election: 8%

Michele Bachmann - Sarah Palin's older, less hot sister. They're saying the same things. To her credit, Bachmann is slightly more intelligent, less folksy and less narcissistic (she wouldn't make her own nature television show, for instance), but she wouldn't escape that image because she's a republican woman and whenever a republican woman gives impassioned rhetoric they're viewed as batty. She did win the Iowa straw poll, but she’s too much of a Bible thumper to win over the libertarian vote, too hated by moderates to have a chance at winning the General election, and too likely to attack people’s tax plans with references to them being the devil’s work (as she did here:
            Current RCP Average: 3.8%
            Chances she wins Republican nomination: 2%
            Chances she wins general election: 0%

Rick Santorum – Basically a Christian Mitt Romney without the flip-flops and without having ever been a governor. A social conservative who’s shaky on his economic ideology and who most people feel lacks the credentials to be a President. Nobody knows who he is. He’s young and attractive, but seems much better attacking during debates than promoting his own candidacy. He’s ultimately too much of a social conservative hardliner to win the general election, even if he had anything unique to offer the ticket anyway.
            Current RCP Average: 1.8%
            Chances he wins Republican Nomination: 0%
            Chances he wins general election: 0%

Jon Huntsman – Hey, I like the guy. He strikes me as an intelligent, rational, knowledgeable, economically sound Republican. He’s moderate-liberal on social issues which would help him in the general election, and he’s perhaps more qualified than any non-Ron Paul candidate on the other issues. Unfortunately, nobody knows him, and he’s kinda ugly. Which means he and Ron Paul would make great running mates!
            Current RCP Average: 1.2%
            Chances he wins the Republican nomination: 3%
            Chances he wins the general election: 3%

For those of you who are counting, that means I put Barack Obama’s chance of reelection at about 45%.

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