A Smaller (and Better) GOP Field

Some conservatives are panicking over the state of the 2012 GOP presidential field. The list of Republicans of presidential timber who aren’t running, some have suggested, seems more impressive than the list of those who are.

It would be easy to grumble about all the highly-qualified Republicans who have opted to stay on the sidelines at this pivotal time for our country. But I think that’s exactly where they should be.

For the ambivalent presidential candidate — in today’s media climate, and up against an uncommonly ruthless political operation — the correct choice is always not to run.

Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels. Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. All have recently declared that they will not seek the 2012 Republican nomination for president. And all made it clear that part of the reason they’re not running is that their heart isn’t totally in it.

Daniels found himself “caught between two duties.” “I love my country,” he explained. “[But] I love my family more.” Barbour conceded that he simply doesn’t have that “absolute fire in the belly” that he knows would be necessary to win the country’s highest office.

Huckabee said he realized “that under the best of circumstances, being president is a job that takes one to the limit of his or her human capacity,” and felt God calling him in a different direction.

I respect the decision these men have made. As Huckabee said, even “under the best of circumstances,” a presidential run can be brutal. But, as I suspect all these men also know, whoever wins the 2012 Republican nomination will face in the Obama campaign what promises to be the most vicious and under-handed presidential campaign in recent memory.

From his initial run for the Illinois State Senate, in which he got several rivals thrown off the ballot, Barack Obama has shown an uncommon willingness to use whatever means necessary to win.

This is the man who while running for president in 2008 told supporters never to be outdone in ruthlessness. “I want you to argue with [Republican and independent voters] and get in their face,” Obama told supporters at a campaign event in 2008. “If they bring a knife to the fight,” he urged supporters at another campaign rally, “we bring a gun.” That’s the Chicago way, after all.

Obama surrogates smeared GOP nominee John McCain with unsubstantiated allegations of marital infidelity, insinuated that McCain being too old to serve, and did everything they could to reinforce the idea that any opposition to Obama was a result of racism.

In contrast, McCain refused to raise, or allow his campaign staff to raise, what was perhaps Obama’s greatest liability, his cozy relationship with his radical reverend, Jeremiah Wright.

Little has changed. Despite the Democrats’ constant calls for “civility,” they have shown no signs of softening their rhetoric. On the House floor last week, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) accused Republicans who support Medicare reform of wanting to get Medicare patients dumped from their nursing homes.

The Democrats’ win in last week’s New York special election was partly due to the Left’s “Mediscare” tactics.  One progressive group produced an ad displaying an elderly lady in a wheelchair being dumped off a cliff by a Republican. 

Also last week, House Democrat Jim Clyburn, who is black, blamed opposition to Obama on racism. “The president’s problems are in large measure because of the color of his skin,” he told reporters. And new Democratic Party Chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Shultz accused Republicans of waging “a war on women,” labeling the Republican agenda “anti-women.”

While Democrats always unleash their entire rhetorical arsenal, Republicans too often unilaterally disarm. Before deciding not to run, Mitch Daniels suggested that he would have run a “positive” and “friendly” campaign that sought common ground with the Democrats.

Such a campaign would be nice in an ideal world. But it simply won’t work against a modern Democratic party defined by demagoguery.

It has been suggested that some well-qualified Republicans have opted out of the race because they believe Obama is unbeatable. But while beating an incumbent president is never easy, Obama is beatable.

Let’s not forget: Republicans are only six months out from having won one of the most lop-sided mid-term elections in recent memory.

And much has happened since Obama last won an election. Millions of Americans have been added to the unemployment lists, millions of home values have plummeted and nearly two dollars have been added to the average price of a gallon of gasoline.

Given that, according to one poll, just over a third of Americans believe President Obama deserves a second term, it is absurd to suggest Republicans have no chance in 2012.

Republicans can defeat President Obama. But they mustn’t forget that as the likelihood of an Obama defeat grows, so will the viciousness of the left’s attacks on the Republican nominee.

I commend Republicans aspiring to higher standards of political discourse. But in this election, the nice guy will not finish first.