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Waiting for Cream to Rise to the Top

Fred Barnes writes:

Why do the potential Republican presidential candidates (with one exception) seem so old, dull, and uninteresting? There are a few simple answers. Most of the candidates are a generation older than most of the new Republican luminaries, compared with whom they are indeed duller and less interesting. At the moment they’re not where the political action is either. They’re not quite irrelevant, but close.

He argues, quite correctly, that at least for the next few months, all eyes will be on Congress:

At this time four years ago, the presidential race was about to take off. But the center of gravity in politics and government has shifted. The big play is now in Congress with Republicans in control of the House and in the statehouses with governors like Jindal, Christie, Perry, and a slew of newcomers like Scott Walker in Wisconsin, John Kasich in Ohio, and Rick Scott in Florida. The presidential contest will have to wait.

But implicit in his analysis is the conclusion that the likely contenders don’t match up all that well against the non-candidate Republicans. Part of the issue is generational, as Barnes points out. But there are other problems with the batch of commonly mentioned candidates.

For one thing, they all seem to have been around forever. Yes, in most cases, they’ve been on the national stage for only a couple of years. Mickey Kaus has called it the Feiler Faster Thesis – the omnipresence of media has sped up the pace of coverage and the pace of politics. A year on the national stage is now like five years in the 1990s. We’ve seen so much of many of the likely contenders (e.g., Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee) that they seem tired and old hat. Is there anything either of them could say that would surprise us? Most likely, only a gaffe.

And of course, each of the likely contenders has not simply small flaws but jumbo problems. Republicans are far more self-aware than the mainstream media give them credit for being. A majority of Republican activists and primary voters know that RomneyCare is quite possibly a debilitating issue for Romney. Many Republicans — Tea Partiers included — understand that Sarah Palin has serious issues with independents and is increasingly obsessed with how the media cover her. (One dig against John McCain was that he was thin-skinned; Palin is quickly developing the same reputation.)

The focus of the country will turn both to Congress and to a slew of new governors. And after a few months, Republicans might discover that one or more of the congressional standouts or one of the governors seems fresher and more capable than the retreads currently mulling a race. So I’d suggest that you ignore the likely candidates and watch the performance of people like Paul Ryan, Mike Pence, Chris Christie, Bob McDonnell, John Kasich, and Bobby Jindal — the best of the lot may wind up at the top of the presidential contender list.



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