Searching for the Gipper

Is there another Ronald Reagan on the horizon for 2008, a leader who can rally the coalitions that gave Reagan an eight-year mandate? Let’s examine (in alphabetical order) some of the most frequently mentioned Republican presidential candidates. Just for fun, let’s create a 1-to-10 “Gipper meter.” Ten would be a Republican leader of Reagan’s experience, stature, vision and charisma. One would be Lincoln Chaffee.

Sam Brownback: The young congressman from Kansas who replaced Bob Dole in the U.S. Senate has championed the cause of social conservatism in the upper body of the congress. This has made him a hero among so-called values voters, who find precious few senators from either party willing to fight for their issues. Compared with Reagan, Brownback would rate at least a 7 or 8 for ideology, but would only get a 2 or 3 for experience and charisma, thereby rendering him a mediocre 5 overall at best.

Bill Frist: The now-retired U.S. senator from Tennessee has created about as much excitement as a potential presidential candidate as he did as Senate majority leader. In other words, he is boring and has accomplished little. His rating on the Gipper meter: 2.

Newt Gingrich: The former speaker of the House probably comes closer than anyone on the current scene to living up to the experience, stature and vision of Ronald Reagan, and what Newt lacks in charisma, he more than makes up for in knowledge and debate skills. I would give him an 8 on the Gipper meter.

Rudy Giuliani: America’s mayor, as he was dubbed in the days following the 9/11 attacks, is greatly admired for his courage and leadership during that time, and as the man who cleaned up New York City. In stature and charisma, he rates a 10 on the Gipper meter. For vision, he would get a 5. Ideologically, especially on social issues, he is very liberal and therefore rates a zero in that area. His electability in a general election campaign is probably off the charts. In the primaries, however, he will never make the grade.

Chuck Hagel: The senior senator from Nebraska has so alienated his core constituents by imitating his hero, John McCain, that he probably could not get re-elected to his current position, let alone win a Republican presidential primary. He thinks he is a Reagan conservative. Voters will let him know otherwise if he runs for president. He has charisma, and little else, except ego. I give him a 1 on the Gipper meter.

Mike Huckabee: The slimmed-down governor of Arkansas shares much of Reagan’s vision, as well as his values, but his charisma, experience and stature are lacking. Overall, a 3 on the meter.

Duncan Hunter: Announced his intention to run for president just before this year’s congressional election. As the representative from California’s 52nd District, Hunter has served in the House for 25 years, and is currently chairman of the Armed Services Committee, thus giving him a high Gipper meter rating for experience. He is straight forward in expressing his conservative opinions, which are consistent with Reagan’s. Since few people know him, and since Americans have rarely ever elected a president straight out of the U.S. House of Representatives, Hunter is a long shot. Overall, I would give him a 6.

John McCain: The architect of the incumbent protection act (laughingly called campaign finance reform) and of the Senate’s “Gang of 14,” which prevented the GOP leadership from exercising the constitutional option that would have shut down Democrat filibusters of judicial appointments, the senior senator from Arizona has spit in the eye of the Republican base just once too often. His political experience is strictly as a congressional compromiser. He is irritating and visionless. I would give McCain a 2 on the Gipper meter.

George Pataki: The governor of New York is Rudy Giuliani without the charisma. A zero on the meter.

Mitt Romney: The governor of Massachusetts is an unknown entity to most of the country. He has the charisma, the experience (Americans tend to elect governors to the presidency) and the vision. If he turns out to be as conservative as he wants us to believe he is, and if he can overcome the fact that he is a Mormon with evangelical voters, he could position himself as the next Ronald Reagan.

Come to think of it, there was only one Ronald Reagan, and we may never see his equal again.