It’s still very early, but the race for the GOP presidential nomination in 2008 is starting to shape up. Here’s a quick-and-dirty breakdown of 20 names most-often mentioned, ranging from top-tier and second-tier candidates to has-beens and just-might-be’s.
1) Due to his high name recognition and the fawning press that he gets from the mainstream media for trashing other Republicans, Sen. John McCain is currently one of the two frontrunners for the Republican nomination. On the upside, McCain is a Vietnam vet, a true blue fiscal conservative, and he has a lifetime American Conservative Union rating of 83%, which isn’t terrible.
On the other hand, McCain is probably the single most widely despised Republican on Capitol Hill amongst conservatives in the know. That’s because he seems to take particular delight in poking his finger in the eye of other conservatives in order to draw praise from liberals in the press.
McCain sponsored campaign finance reform that ran roughshod over the 1st Amendment, he was the ringleader of the Gang-of-14 compromise which may make it easier for Democrats to block conservative judges over the next two years, he voted against Bush’s tax cuts multiple times, he’s the prime mover and shaker behind the atrocious Senate amnesty plan for illegals, he supports a radical Kyoto-like bill that would do massive damage to the American economy in the name of reducing greenhouse gasses, he opposes a Constitutional Amendment banning gay marriage, and he even said twice back in 1999 that he opposed overturning Roe v. Wade (although he has flip-flopped since then). Combine that with his advanced age (he’ll be 72 in 2008), his discussions with John Kerry about becoming the Democratic veep in 2004, and the fact that he committed adultery in his first marriage, and it becomes obvious that McCain isn’t anywhere near as great a candidate as his supporters try to make him out to be.
With a guy like McCain, even if he wins, Republicans still lose because they’d be forced to have him as their party’s representative in the White House for at least four years.
2) The support for Rudy Giuliani amongst many conservatives is rather puzzling. Yes, he’s charismatic, did a great job of cleaning up crime when he was mayor of New York, and did a masterful job of holding things together in New York after 9/11. However, Rudy Giuliani is not conservative in the least. In fact, he’s so ideologically ambiguous that he has more in common with the Democratic contenders than his Republican counterparts on perhaps a majority of issues.
Rudy Giuliani is pro-abortion, pro-partial birth abortion, soft on gay marriage, pro-gun control, and even once said he was open to endorsing Bill Clinton for President. Speaking of Clinton, Giuliani’s former wife accused him of “open and notorious adultery.” Is this really a guy that Reagan Republicans would be happy to have as their President? All I can say to conservatives is be careful what you ask for because you just might get it.
3) Mitt Romney is an interesting character. Although he is the outgoing governor of the very liberal state of Massachusetts and was named as one of the Top 10 RINOs (Republicans in Name Only) less than a year ago in HUMAN EVENTS, he’s not as liberal as he might appear at first glance.
He opposed raising taxes in Massachusetts, balanced the budget, fought gay marriage (although unfortunately, he lost) and has flip flopped on abortion (He now has a pro-life stance). He’s even publicly calling himself a “conservative Republican.”
On the other hand, according to recent polls, even if you set aside the debate about how conservative he is or isn’t, the “Mormon issue” is starting to look like an insurmountable obstacle to his candidacy. According to Rasmussen Polling, 43% of Americans and 53% of Evangelicals say that they, “wouldn’t consider voting for a Mormon candidate.” For good or ill, that probably means that Romney is unelectable.
4) Putting former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in the top tier is probably a bit of a stretch at this point, but after George Allen’s untimely political demise, Newt is basically the “conservative choice” by default. That’s not to say that Newt doesn’t have his charms. Not only is he extremely well informed and conservative, as the author of the Contract with America, he’s the closest thing to a flag carrier that Reagan Republicans have.
Unfortunately, Newt is also carrying around some extremely heavy baggage. He has had multiple wives and multiple extra-marital affairs. He’s also notorious for hashing out a divorce agreement with his first wife while she was in the hospital recovering from uterine cancer. On top of that, Newt, who was an extremely polarizing figure back in the 1990s, got caught up in a rather silly ethics flap over an advance on a book he wrote. Also, he gave up his leadership position in Congress after his fellow Republicans lost confidence in him back in 1998.
In short, Newt has a checkered past that would probably be revisited in excruciating detail in 2008. On the other hand, Newt’s baggage is probably not much heavier than Rudy Giuliani’s and Rudy’s numerous personal flaws don’t seem to be curbing anyone’s enthusiasm for his candidacy.
5) Although Rep. Tom Tancredo has a significant fan base in the Republican party because of his tough stance on illegal immigration, he hasn’t made a name for himself on any other issues and his comments about nuking Mecca and Miami being a “Third World country” indicate that he may not be ready for the big show. Still, even though Tancredo probably can’t win the nomination, his endorsement, which would be like the good housekeeping seal of approval on the illegal immigration issue, could turn out to be very important.
6) Duncan Hunter, a congressman from California, is perhaps the most intriguing of the second-tier candidates. Hunter is conservative, charismatic, and tough on illegal immigration. He’s also a former Army Ranger, who fought in Vietnam, has a son serving in Iraq, and is the current chairman of the Armed Services Committee.
On the other hand, Hunter is not a free trader, and although he belongs to the fiscally conservative Republican Study Committee, his record on spending issues is fairly pedestrian.
The weakness of the field overall combined with Hunter’s foreign policy credibility and tough stand on illegal immigration may give him an opportunity to climb the ladder into the top tier if, and this is a big “if,” he can significantly build up his name recognition and convince the base that he’s a fiscal conservative.
7) Sam Brownback is a socially conservative senator from Kansas who might have had an outside shot at filling the now vacant “conservative candidate” role had he not been one of the strongest backers of amnesty for illegal aliens in the Senate. As it is, Brownback, who’s not especially charismatic and has almost no name recognition, is better known for being in favor of unlimited illegal immigration than anything else. That’s not an especially promising way to start a dark horse campaign for the presidency.
8) Mike Huckabee, the former minister and soon-to-be ex-governor of Arkansas has a cheerful personality, has gotten some attention for losing more than 100 pounds, and is, as you’d expect from a former minister, quite socially conservative. However, he doesn’t come across as hawkish, fiscally conservative, or tough on illegal immigration. Given that he doesn’t have high name recognition either, it’s hard to see how Huckabee is going to be able to climb up the ranks.
9) Jim Gilmore, the former governor of Virginia and RNC chairman, has been said to be considering a run at the presidency. Although Gilmore is certainly very conservative and has burnished his national security credentials since he left office, he hasn’t been the governor of Virginia for more than five years and he has very little name recognition. Since that’s the case, if he decides to run, it seems likely that he will have an extremely difficult time getting any traction.
10) After hearing that Tommy Thompson was the former governor of Wisconsin, you might think that he’d be an interesting dark-horse candidate for the presidency. After all, Wisconsin barely went blue in 2004 and if Thompson could turn it red, along with perhaps Minnesota, which is next door, that would be an additional 20 electoral votes that the GOP could rake in. However, as Bush’s Health and Human Services Secretary, Thompson shepherded through the biggest new government boondoggle since the LBJ presidency, the Medicare prescription drug program. That’s just not the sort of thing you want to have on your resume when you’re running as a Republican nominee for the presidency, especially when the base is particularly grouchy about issues related to fiscal conservatism.
11) Does a moderate, not particularly popular or well known, pro-abortion governor of a liberal state like New York’s George Pataki really have a shot to become President? Honestly, probably not.
12) Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska is best known for his anti-war stance, his criticism of other Republicans, and for being nearly as despised by conservative bloggers as John McCain. Hagel’s chances of being the nominee in 2008 are about the same as those of Richard Nixon — and Nixon’s dead.
The Has-Beens and Just-Might-Be’s — If They Decide to Run
13) Secretary of State Condi Rice has a surprising amount of grassroots support for a candidate who has never run for office before and if she were to get into the race, she’d probably become a top tier contender. However, the fact that she’s a never married woman in her 50s would be a major hindrance (The Democrats would tag her as a lesbian or a weirdo) and as she actually revealed her domestic policies (of which, people know almost nothing at present), it’s likely her support would drop significantly.
14) George Bush’s replacement as governor of Texas, Rick Perry, is a socially conservative, fiscally conservative candidate from one of the most important states for Republicans. There has been some talk that he wants to be considered as a vice president in 2008, but if Perry were to get into the race, he’d have a good shot of moving right up into the top tier.
15) The current governor of Minnesota, Tim Pawlenty, would be an intriguing candidate if he chose to run. Pawlenty is conservative and could likely bring Minnesota and Wisconsin (20 electoral votes) into the GOP column in 2008. Although he has minimal name recognition at present, he would get a long, hard look if he got into the race.
16) Is the time right for South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford to dip his toes into presidential waters? This quote tells you just about everything you need to know:
“Governor Sanford’s reforms have saved South Carolina taxpayers tens of millions of dollars. … Mark Sanford has made a real difference. He is a true taxpayer hero.”
—Citizens Against Government Waste Political Action Committee Chairman Tom Schatz
Sanford would have a real uphill battle to get the nomination, but in a field this weak, he’d be guaranteed to at least get a long, hard look from the base.
17) When does it not make sense for a popular, fiscally conservative governor of an important swing state who is popular with Hispanics not to run for President? The answer to that is when his last name happens to be Bush, as in Jeb Bush. At the moment, Republicans have had enough of the Bush family in the White House and if Jeb wants to have a chance to win, he’ll want to wait until at least 2012 at this point.
18) Normally, you’d think that the sitting Vice President would consider a run at the presidency, but Dick Cheney isn’t particularly popular, has had heart problems, and has said definitively that he’s not going to run.
19) Sen. George Allen was slowly morphing into the “conservative candidate” in the race before he lost to Republican-turned-Democrat Jim Webb in what was perhaps the nastiest political battle in the country. After losing, Allen is out.
20) After the GOP’s crushing loss in 2006, Sen. Bill Frist decided not to run for the presidency, which makes sense because, after all, if people think the Republican Senate performed miserably and you were the Senate majority leader, a promotion probably isn’t in the cards.