One Year Out: A Look at the State of the Race

A look at some of the headlines at this stage of the game in advance of the 2008 presidential election provides an interesting look at just how little we know and just how quickly things move over the course of an election season permeated at every level by round-the-clock coverage from old media and new media alike.

On the left, the story on November 6, 2007 was A Year From Election Day, Clinton Remains Person to Beat, in which CNN pointed out that a CNN/Research Dynamics poll showed that, while her support was fading, the now-Secretary of State was the top choice of 44 percent of likely Democratic Party voters interviewed.  Barack Obama, said CNN political director Keating Holland, had “not yet cut into her core constituency.”

On the right, the story from The New York Times was about how Texas Congressman Ron Paul raised a certainly respectable $4.2 million in one day, thanks to an Internet moneybomb commemorating Guy Fawkes Day.  Further, exactly two months into his candidacy, Sen. Fred Thompson was still considered among the frontrunners for the Republican nomination, and launched a group called Veterans for Fred Thompson from the steps of the State House in Columbia, South Carolina.

The Real Clear Politics poll average for this day in 2007 showed Rudy Giuliani leading the GOP field with 28.9 percent of the vote, and Thompson in second with 16.3 percent.  John McCain was in third with 15.1 percent.

Now, this past weekend brought us one year away from Election Day 2012, and the picture on the right is as cloudy as it was four years ago.

As it stands today, I still feel that it’s too early to advocate strongly in favor of one candidate or another.  Campaigns can deteriorate, new information can come to light about any candidate, personalities can clash, and one slip of the tongue can be total disaster.  Think “macaca” for example.  The one thing that is for certain is that there are more conservatives than liberals in these United States of America, and for that reason this election will be less about wooing independents and more about exciting the base.

Being PR-minded and always thinking perceptionally, I look at the field of candidates and ask myself two questions:

  1. Can this candidate prevail over Barack Obama in the general election?
  2. If elected president, will this candidate stick to conservative principles, advance conservatism, and set this nation on the right path again?

In light of that criteria, perhaps a look at the four major candidates is in order.

Herman Cain

Despite spending nearly all of last week at the center of a sexual harassment scandal rooted in anonymous sourcing, yellow journalism, and partisan politics, the former Godfather’s Pizza CEO has maintained–and even furthered–his status as a bona fide frontrunner for the GOP nomination.

An ABC News/Washington Post poll released on Friday shows that Cain is solidly in second place, two points back from Mitt Romney’s 25 percent and nine points ahead of Rick Perry’s 14 percent.  Meanwhile, an Insider Advantage poll released today shows that Cain’s lead in Iowa has expanded to a full 15 points — Cain’s 30 percent is double that of Romney’s 15 percent, and much ahead of Newt Gingrich’s 12 percent.

I recall saying, in my podcast last week with All American Blogger’s Duane Lester, that the story was moving so quickly and new information, substantiated or not, was coming in so fast and furious–Politico, for example, published 90 stories in just six days on the scandal–that it would take a while for the polls to reflect whatever the new perceptional reality will be with regard to Herman Cain.  Nevertheless, when you start receiving flak, it means that you’re pretty darned close to the target — given the level of the flak being received by Herman, it’s pretty obvious that he has the American left scared:

Recall, back in the 2008 election, that it took John McCain until a few days into actually securing the nomination to be on the receiving end of an anonymously-sourced sex scandal — it just so happened that his, a bogus report about a purported extramarital affair with a lobbyist named Vicki Iseman, ran top-of-fold on the front page of The New York Times. The Times was eventually sued, if I recall correctly, and issued an apology.

Frankly, I’m glad that he seems to be surviving the onslaught of criticism, and I hope that he does not suffer the same burst bubble of support as seen before with the likes of Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry.  While I share the sentiments expressed so well last week by The Sundries Shack blogger extraordinaire Jimmie Bise, Jr. in terms of the Cain camp’s abysmal PR response to an inevitable scandal, how that terrible response could be indicative of bigger PR problems, especially in the context of a general election, if someone were to put a gun to my head and asked me to choose one candidate right now, I’d have to pull the lever for Herman Cain.

I would love to see a debate between Cain and President Barack Obama.  Currently, an ABC News/Washington Post poll shows that Obama has a five-point edge over Cain, but we’ve got momentum and a failing economy on our side.  While Cain still needs to brush up on complex foreign policy issues, I cannot help but feel that Cain vs. Obama would look like a sage and likeable grandfather schooling his petulant grandchild on reality and the ways of the real world. His firm status as the anti-politician certainly helped him through this past week’s sex scandal, and I believe it would serve him well during the general election.  Put someone with gravitas, like Newt Gingrich for example, on the other end of his ticket, and Herman Cain would be darned near unstoppable.

Should Herman Cain be elected, if surrounded by the right people–Ambassador John Bolton as Secretary of State would be an example of the right person for a particular job–he would make an excellent president.  Whether or not his 9-9-9 plan were to become reality, aside from his support of TARP, Cain has consistently spoken of the need for pro-growth policies, and believes correctly that much of our current economic pain could be alleviated and the damage mitigated should we grow the economy organically.

I have no doubt whatsoever that, with Herman Cain, what you see is what you get.  I see resolve.  I see leadership.  I see likeability.  I see a guy who could win, and who would do the nation a service while serving.

Mitt Romney

Not only is the former Massachusetts governor the only GOP candidate actually leading Barack Obama in head-to-head polling–an ABC News/Washington Post poll released today shows Romney with a one-point advantage over the president–but Mitt Romney has been turning in the most consistently solid, unshakeable debate performances of any candidate.

Then again, Romney has had plenty of practice, not to mention an abundance of time to form a solid, consistent message.  And, for the most part, he has.  By the time he bowed out of the presidential race the first time at CPAC in 2008, many conservatives–myself included–looked at him like he was Barry Goldwater when compared with John McCain.  I recall being upset that day, knowing what we were forced to settle with, but I don’t feel the same love now.

With Mitt Romney, I don’t know that there’s much concern about his ability to beat Barack Obama in the general election.  His command of GOP and conservative talking points is uncannily stellar.  My concern with Mitt Romney is what would happen if he won.  I worry that we’d have little more than a wolf in sheep’s clothing and, worse yet, that President Romney’s policies would be attributed to conservatism. An example of some of my specific concerns:

  • The outright failure to come down solidly and unequivocally in favor of Ohio Governor John Kasich’s union reforms back on October 25 was an absolute non-starter for me.  While he later flip-flopped on the issue, the implementation in Ohio of the same sort of reforms we saw Governor Scott Walker stick his neck out on in Wisconsin should be embraced without question. Regardless of what the latest polling data, either you personally support those reforms or you do not — the fact that he did not immediately endorse them makes me wonder whether a President Romney would leave governors like Kasich and Walker without support from Washington, D.C.
  • Not only did health care spending increase under Governor Romney, but overall government spending did as well.  In his last budget as governor, spending increased by more than 10 percent.  I understand that Mitt is touting a spending cap at one-fifth of GDP, much like the Spending Limit Amendment proposed by Congressmen Mike Pence and Jeb Hensarling in 2009 and the “cap” portion of the GOP’s excellent “Cut, Cap & Balance” proposal this past summer, but I also understand that Mr. Romney has had difficulty sticking with one position for very long.

On the bright side, the prospect of a Romney presidency is palatable from a trade standpoint, as he was a supporter of CAFTA and generally looks down upon protectionism.  His proposal in 2008 to exercise more executive power with regard to trade by renewing trade promotion authority showed an understanding of just how the bureaucracy in Washington, D.C. can adversely affect issues reaching to the furthest corners of the globe.  On China, I get the feeling that he understands the threat — and knowing, as G.I. Joe characters were fond of saying at the conclusion of each animated episode during my youth, is half the battle.

With regard to entitlement reform, aside from the stubbornness preventing him from confirming that Romneycare has been disastrous in many ways, Romney shows promise in his support of personal savings accounts as a choice for social security reform.  He has proven consistently favorable toward school choice and insulating education from government where possible.  Further, with the exception of the aforementioned carbon emissions regulations, Romney sought to do the same through easing the regulatory burdens that stifled business in Massachusetts.

Do I believe that Mitt Romney would make a good president?  I don’t know.  So much depends upon the resolve of actual, bona fide conservatives in Congress.  Do I believe that a Romney president would be better for America than a lame duck Barack Obama?  Absolutely and without question.  Do I trust Mitt Romney?  I don’t know … do you?

Newt Gingrich

On Friday, when Speaker Gingrich and Herman Cain stepped out onto the stage at a Houston, Texas-area Tea Party event, billed as a Lincoln-Douglas style debate and broadcast live on C-SPAN, the pair stood for a moment arm in arm, with their free arms raised, as we have grown accustomed to seeing at the tail end of party conventions every four years.

Because of Cain’s open microphone, Newt could be heard saying that the folks in attendance were looking at the next GOP ticket, though he admitted that neither he nor Herman could decide who got what job.

Since the beginning, Newt Gingrich has been the only candidate that has not been rattled at one point or another.  As a result, Newt has consistently looked like the only adult in the room.  In debates, he has answered questions candidly, poked fun at reporters and the debate system alike when it needed a little prodding, and has brought a sense of gravitas to the proceedings.  He has almost come off as a fatherly figure, if that makes any sense.

Newt’s knowledge base is ridiculous.  The man is a walking, talking computer server filled with dates, times, speeches and philosophies.  Watching him debate President Obama in a town hall-style debate next year would be the political equivalent of the Super Bowl for armchair pundits the nation over.  But could Newt win in the general election against Barack Obama?  I don’t know.  A lot would depend upon the tolerance and capacity of the public at large — tolerance as to re-hearing the myriad personal problems, and capacity to absorb and understand exactly what he is saying and arguing.  At the heart of it, Newt is the anti-Obama:  supremely experienced, endlessly knowledgeable, apparently confident, yet affable.  Would that characterization come out for the world to see?  If so, he’d win.  If not, he’d look like a gray-haired lifetime politician who makes other people feel intellectually inadequate.

But, if elected, would Newt make a good president?  Immediately off the bat, the two things that concern me are (1) the loveseat the former Speaker of the House shared with another former Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, as the pair acknowledged the purported effects of man-made global warming and urged lawmakers and private sector folks alike to come together and fight against climate change, and (2) his vociferous support for an individual healthcare mandate.

With regard to the former, blogger Kathleen McKinley asked him about it following Saturday night’s great Cain-Gingrich debate in Houston, Texas.  His response: “It was a mistake, and I absolutely failed to convey the message I was trying to convey.”  If only Mitt Romney would take the same approach to RomneyCare.  In terms of the latter, I have yet to see Newt explain away his support for an individual mandate — at the Las Vegas GOP debate on October 18, 2011, he merely stated that the mandate was an idea promulgated by the Heritage Foundation.

Aside from those issues, there are a few issues that should make conservatives wary of a Gingrich presidency.  In 2003, for example, Gingrich went to congressional conservatives and pleaded with them to support the Medicare drug benefit bill that currently costs Americans more than $60 billion per year, and has added more than $16 trillion in unfunded liabilities.  Recently, Gingrich has defended the very same ethanol subsidies that former Vice President Al Gore has acknowledged as detrimental to the environment.

Still, it is difficult to negate what Newt did for this country through his leadership during the 1994 Republican Revolution, or the Contract For America.  While I worry that Newt would capitulate unnecessarily with the left at certain times and on certain issues, the former Speaker’s record is admirable, and his conduct in the race so far is even better than that.

Rick Perry

Oh, boy.  Where do I begin?  There from the beginning of Perry’s candidacy, I had high, high hopes for the Texas governor.  In many ways, though, he reminds me of Fred Thompson, the Recumbent Conservative; at times, I’m not so certain that Perry himself wants to be president of the United States.

While the man can deliver an absolute stemwinder of a speech when so inclined, his debate performances have declined quicker’n a well-fed hog in a thoroughbred race.  Inexplicably, rather than use the numerous GOP debates as an opportunity to hone his debating skills in advance of a general election should he garner the nomination, Governor Perry has actually floated the idea of skipping a few of the glorified stage shows — as though either Barack Obama or his sycophantic media would allow him to do the same.

Still, the governor’s record is difficult to argue with.  Since June 2009, for example, approximately 40 percent of all new jobs in America have been created in Texas.  The governor has cut spending, and has rejected the unfunded liabilities peddled by the federal government as strings attached to much of the stimulus money offered.  A balanced budget amendment to the state constitution was among his proposals designed to curb spending, and the governor made liberal use of his veto powers.

In terms of taxes, Perry’s record is a double-edged sword.  On one side, the governor has increased some taxes–such as gasoline, cigarettes and vehicle sales tax–while bringing property taxes town to a level that has kept Texas attractive for businesses and people looking to relocate aline.  Furthermore, Perry’s “Cut, Balance and Grow” tax plan shows promise.

But can he win in the general election?  No.   I don’t think so.  As Ronald Reagan noted, we need bold colors separating Barack Obama from our nominee, and while ideologically Obama and Perry could not be further apart–with the exception of weakness when it comes to border security–Perry’s lack of command of the facts and skill in disseminating them would not provide enough of a contrast with President Barack “Fifty-Seven States” Obama.  It’s a shame, too, because I trust Perry’s resolve.

The Rest of the Field

As noted above, understand that it is still too early to decide upon a presumptive nominee, and understand that each candidate in the remainder of the field brings something different to the table, and has been surprising in their own right.  Despite not yet gaining traction in the polls, Rick Santorum has managed to kick the trademark petulance and defensiveness aside for the most part and has been impressive in the debates.  Michele Bachmann has been the most notable victim of the GOP base’s interest bubbles, and I wonder whether she can recover as we draw closer to the primaries.  Ron Paul has been, well, Ron Paul — he has polled strongly, and as always is dead-on correct 90 percent of the time, while completely off the deep end the remaining 10 percent of the time.  And, of course, Jon Huntsman and Gary Johnson are still technically in the race.

The primaries are closing in, and fast.  While I personally do not believe it necessary to lock in on one candidate now, it’s high time to begin thinking perceptionally.  Further, whatever the result, whether the eventual nominee be Mitt Romney, Herman Cain or Jon Huntsman, we need to rally behind that candidate.  Yes, it might hurt.  Yes, it might mean that we are once again arguing against the other guy rather than arguing in support of our own, but no candidate in the GOP field could possibly cause as much long-standing damage to this nation as could a lame duck President Barack Obama.

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Comments

  1. Randy Wills says:

    Thanks, Jeff, for taking the time for a much needed critique of the Republican candidates on AR. I’m running late for a meeting, so this will be short (for me) but I just wanted to say that I couldn’t agree with you more.

    Allegations and personal history notwithstanding, the only ticket that I can get enthused about is a Cain/Gingrich – Gingrich/Cain one. I’m thinking here about the necessary Conservative/intellectual bonafides to lead this country out of the death spriral that we’re in. I’m not thinking “pretty” or “slick”. Romney is all of that and more. The problem with the “more” is that he’s anything that he thinks will sell to the electorate that he is currying favor with. I DO NOT TRUST HIM. Period, end of story, and he will not bring out the true Conservatives.

    Personally, I would much prefer Jon Huntsman to Romney. I may not agree with him on all of his policies, but I trust him and he has a lot more of the kind of “business experience” that we need in Washington that Romney, by far. In fact, I’m not sure why Huntsman has gotten so little traction when you compare him with Romney. There is no good explanation for Huntsman being on the bottom and Romney being at the top, as far as I’m concerned.

    It’s not that he MIGHT be a better president than Obama, but I, as a staunch Conservative loathe the idea of voting for the person I distrust most.

    And I would suggest that all of the readers of AR visit Redstate this morning and read Erick Erickson’s corresponding critique. Are you two brothers? You two must at least come from the same gene pool.

    Gotta run. Not time to check for typos, so expect the usual two or three.

    Randy.

  2. Jordan Bell says:

    “Ron Paul has been, well, Ron Paul — he has polled strongly, and as always is dead-on correct 90 percent of the time, while completely off the deep end the remaining 10 percent of the time”

    So why choose to highlight candidates who are right 10% of the time, and completely off the wall 90% of the time?

  3. Kahleeka says:

    Your last sentence says it all!

    It’s a bitter pill we must swallow!

  4. whats_up says:

    @ Randy,

    As usual a good comentary. HOwever I dont think Gingrich and CAin can be on the same ticket. Aren’t they both from Georgia?

  5. Jeff Schreiber says:

    What’s Up — I think that Gingrich is a VA resident.

  6. Jeff says:

    Jeff, here’s my take on the race. It comes down to Romney, anti-Romney, Paul, and “other”. Romney keeps hovering around 17-25%. I don’t see that changing. Conservatives don’t like his flip-flopping and don’t trust him. The anti-Romney consists of Cain, Gingrich, Perry, and Bachmann. That core group has been consistently in the 50% range combined and as one gathers support, the others decrease. Paul is consistently around 10%. This leaves the rest of the field and undecideds as “other” and have been hovering around 15-20%.

    I see one of two possible scenarios possible: The anti-Romney group eventually narrows and supports one candidate. Bachmann doesn’t have the money and her campaign is on life support. Perry has appeared to have stopped the bleeding and has money, a powerhouse support team, and a network on the ground capable of making a run. His tax and energy plans seem to have gotten more praise than criticism. Gingrich is cash strapped, so the question remains if he is able to go the distance (plus his ground game is weak). Cain was also cash strapped, but the recent events helped bolster his coffers, but not to the extent of Perry. If Cain crashes due to the so called “sex scandal”, then the 25-30 percent he currently has will be looking for another place. It may go to Gingrich, or it may go back to Perry if he can shore up the doubts. In short, if this group congeals as one candidate, they will destroy Romney. Any of them are capable of beating Obama….I don’t worry about the polling against him for now, it will change dramatically…just look at trends of prior elections.

    Now, the interesting part: If the anti-Romney group does not congeal, I see where it is possible for this to be decided at the convention. If that is the case, it could end up being anyone…one of those who threw their hat into the ring or someone who is currently on the sidelines….

  7. One of the best analyses I’ve read thus far. My favorite new phrase coined by AR: Gingrich as the Anti-Obama. Classic….and so right on!

    Randy–As someone who lived under Huntsman’s governorship, I can tell you that he is no conservative. He’s a nice guy who comes from a great family (Huntsman Sr is an extremely wealthy man and a generous philanthropist); but he’s a RINO. If anyone is concerned about some of these candidates buying into global warming, add Huntsman to that list. In 2007, he signed the Western Climate Initiative, a memorandum of understanding among governors from Western states that included cap and trade. Among other things: He supported a February 2009 initiative to allow civil unions in Utah, which has a ban on gay marriage in the constitution; very willingly sought and took stimulus funds, and admitted there should have been more; supported in-state tuition for illegal immigrants. While Huntsman has some strong tenets, like his flat taxes and the economic growth experienced in office, many of his positions have raised eyebrows among conservatives.

    Let’s also not forget Romney is a hero where the ’02 Olympics are concerned. It was becoming quite the disaster until he was brought in to salvage the situation. The Salt Lake Olympics are one of the few such events to actually make money rather than lose it. Yes, Romney has his flaws which can’t be discounted; but he has some serious street cred in the economic arena.

    I never thought of a Cain/Gingrich, Gingrich/Cain ticket. I like the sound of it. Watching this pair debate their counterparts would be conservative porn–absolute gravy to an already delectable dish.

  8. Randy Wills says:

    Thanks, “whats_up”, and I think that Jeff answered your question. It didn’t occur to me to check that out, so again, thanks. And by the way, during that last discussion that you and I had on “whose morallity?”, I meant to sum it up by offering the observation that I serioulsly doubt that there is much, if any, daylight between your “morallity” and mine.

    And thanks, “goddessdivine” @9:07 PM: You provide a much clearer and more conplete picture of Jon Huntsman than I have been able to put together, so I’ll take your word for it. I guess I’m moved less by policy disagreements with Huntsman and more by the fact that , whoever he is, I have a strong feeling that he is trustworthy. That’s worth a lot to me.

    But I’ll keep your words in mind,

    Randy

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  1. [...] covered it in my podcast with All American Blogger’s Duane Lester.  I covered it in yesterday’s horserace-style piece.  I’ve said it time and time and time again on Twitter.  Because of his immense talent, [...]

  2. [...] covered it in my podcast with All American Blogger’s Duane Lester.  I covered it in yesterday’s horserace-style piece.  I’ve said it time and time and time again on Twitter.  Because of his immense talent, [...]

  3. [...] This excellent piece comes as a natural extension for many who are supporters of Herman Cain but worried that he may not be able to overcome the allegations of sexual harassment permeating mainstream media coverage for the past week-and-a-half.  It is also fairly reflective of what I had to say two days ago about Speaker Gingrich. [...]

  4. [...] This excellent piece comes as a natural extension for many who are supporters of Herman Cain but worried that he may not be able to overcome the allegations of sexual harassment permeating mainstream media coverage for the past week-and-a-half.  It is also fairly reflective of what I had to say two days ago about Speaker Gingrich. [...]

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