Sunday, September 9, 2007

GOP '08: Hard to get fired up about anyone

Looking at the "short list" of Republican presidential hopefuls I am more baffled than inspired.

There's Rudy Giuliani, former New York mayor, who isn't far enough to the right for some Republicans and who hasn't helped his own cause by making such stupid statements as illegal immigration isn't a crime.

Yet, Rudy has a ton of name recognition and, in the days following September 11, 2001, demonstrated more leadership in one finger than President Bush did with his whole body.

Rudy also isn't much of a consensus builder. "My way or the highway" may have worked wonders in New York City but it might not play out so well in Washington.

John McCain's 15 minutes of fame were up about six years ago.

McCain's stunning 2000 New Hampshire primary win was no match for the money of special interest groups backing Bush. McCain's "straight talk" manta faded into oblivion as he squandered his legitimate opportunity to be the voice of the loyal opposition within the GOP.

The "Shiite wing" of the Republican Party never trusted or liked McCain. Ironically, liberals and moderates are now befuddled by a McCain who became so wishy-washy that it's hard to know where he really stands.

The nation could have used a voice of experience, conscience and reason. For some reason McCain, who had the stripes to be those things, chose to squander those opportunities and in so doing has lost most of his base of support. That said, he could still be vice-presidential material but his lack of support from the GOP right makes that a real longshot.

Mitt Romney is another leopard trying to change spots. Is he a moderate? A conservative? An opportunist? The former Massachusetts governor who saved the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics has been too inconsistent for my taste. A guy who can't stand by his beliefs and positions is perhaps a man not to be trusted. I also wonder whether he has the breadth of experience necessary for the job. Lord knows we've been disappointed more than once by an inexperienced governor who wanted to become president. Maybe he's not ready for prime time but Mitt could be a worthy vice presidential nominee.

Some of the same could be said about former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee with the exception that Huckabee has been more consistent about his positions and has a track record of doing unpopular things (such as raising the state gasoline tax to fund highway and bridge work) that needed to be done. Huckabee had been gaining some support, perhaps because of disillusionment with the other Republican hopefuls. At the end of the day, Huckabee may not have what it takes yet he might make a worthy running mate.

The most recent entrant is also perhaps the most mysterious.

Fred Thompson, actor and one-time Republican senator from Tennessee, jumped in at the last minute and is rapidly becoming the darling of many Republicans who call themselves conservatives. Except for his broad pronouncements on federalism, Thompson has been vague on the issues and snubbed Republicans by skipping the debate in Durham, New Hampshire in favor of a guest spot with Jay Leno.

Expect to see a lot of attention -- and flaming -- because Thompson is a late entrant into the race and his record hasn't had much scrutiny. Many of his positions -- at least the ones we know -- seem to mirror Congressman Ron Paul's. Maybe Thompson comes off better in front of the camera due to his acting experience but Paul's track record should make him the darling of the Republican right. Plus, it seems that Thompson falls apart when he's off script as witnessed by his inability to come up with a straight answer about what he'd do to find Osama bin Laden and squash Al-Quaida.

Fred may be great on "Law and Order" but this is real life and he may be too far to the right to be electable.

Then there's Sam Brownback who definitely has Republican right-wing stripes but little name recognition away from Kansas. Bottom line: not electable.

Don't underestimate for one second the importance of being electable. Bill Clinton was the master of that message.

In 1992 Clinton took a few pages from the Republican playbook to make himself appear more moderate and then told the black lesbian in a wheelchair faction of the Democratic Party to sit down and shut up or else face defeat. The Democrats won that election but for some reason Clinton's stroke of genius has gone unnoticed by those who should be paying attention. Ideological purity sans electability equals nothing.

Now, what are some races that might interest me?

For starters, Elizabeth Dole and Colin Powell. This "dream team" ticket could bury Hillary and Barack.

For starters, Senator Dole has legitimate stripes, having served in the Senate plus holding two cabinet posts and being president of the American Red Cross. Plus, people generally like her (as opposed to Hillary who seems to be either loved or hated with little or no middle ground).

Colin Powell may be too moderate for some Republicans but he surely is electable. Plus, in a match against Barack Obama, Powell would eat Obama for breakfast. Obama's credentials take up a page while Powell's fill a book. With the deck stacked against Republicans these days, it would take a "dream team" ticket to even have a remote chance of winning.

Two of my other favorites you won't see on the ballot: Richard Lugar and Arlen Specter.

If they gave a test for the job, Dick Lugar would win. Here is an honorable, principled politician who, as mayor of Indianpolis, crafted the Indianapolis-Marion County Unigov. An expert in urban affairs, Lugar also helped run the family farm and became a recognized expert in foreign affairs during his Senate career. At a time when public confidence in politicians is so low electing a person with the experience and integrity would be a significant antidote. On that basis Dick Lugar would be a clear victor.

Arlen Specter would never win an award for personal diplomacy but the Philadelphia district attorney turned United States Senator probably doesn't care. Too liberal for some Republicans, the outspoken Specter is widerly considered one of the brainier people on Capitol Hill who is not afraid to speak out when the spirit moves him. A combination of Lugar and Specter would cause some Republican right-wingers to go into a tailspin but could provide a level of competence and integrity that could easily outclass anything the Democrats throw on the ballot next year.

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