Commentary Magazine


Who’ve They Got?

Politico has a lengthy article on GOP-establishment efforts to stop Sarah Palin in 2012.

Top Republicans in Washington and in the national GOP establishment say the 2010 campaign highlighted an urgent task that they will begin in earnest as soon as the elections are over: Stop Sarah Palin. … Many of these establishment figures argue in not-for-attribution comments that Palin’s nomination would ensure President Barack Obama’s reelection, as the deficiencies that marked her 2008 debut as a vice presidential nominee — an intensely polarizing political style and often halting and superficial answers when pressed on policy — have shown little sign of abating in the past two years.

The premise of the article and the blind quotes are a bit silly. I don’t doubt that many Republican insiders feel this way. But here’s the thing: the way to “stop” Palin, if that is the goal, is to find someone better. If we’ve learned anything this year, we know that the smoke-filled rooms have been replaced by mass rallies and upstart candidates. There is no party machine that can prevent a determined candidate — one who can raise millions at the drop of a hat — from running.

So who’ve they got? So far, the most dynamic (Chris Christie) and the sharpest not-really-new face (Paul Ryan) say they aren’t running. Mitt Romney is well financed and experienced but has authenticity and RomneyCare liabilities. Mitch Daniels has stumbled out of the gate, revealing a certain imperviousness to the concerns of the primary voter (e.g., touting a VAT, proposing a truce on social issues, sounding a preference for a penny-pinching national security policy). Tim Pawlenty is good on paper but has yet to excite anyone. John Thune is perfectly acceptable to many conservatives but hard to see catching fire. And Mike Huckabee’s liabilities in 2008 (an anti-free-market strain of populism, problematic pardons while governor) remain.

That is not to say that these candidates cannot overcome their weaknesses and impress the electorate. But someone will have to if Palin is to be “stopped.” It is hard to upend a candidate in a primary on the electability argument. So the question for these insiders is: who ya got? I throw out one possibility. Last night at the World Series game, Bush 41 and 43 were greeted with rousing cheers; Bush 43 threw the first pitch, hard and over the plate. Yes, it was Texas. But “Bush” is no longer an epithet. Just saying.