Stephen Hayes recently profiled Senator John Thune (R., S.D.) in the Weekly Standard, concentrating on his presidential ambitions. From everything I have heard over the last year, Thune is serious about running. Hayes, who had good access, has given him the most thorough treatment yet.
So it is noteworthy that the reader learns more about the senator’s high-school sports record and his musculature than about his legislative accomplishments and policy agenda. This is not an oversight on Hayes’s part but a reflection of the politician he is covering. Hayes alludes to the issue:
Despite his proximity to those who craft the Republican agenda, Thune does not have a signature issue—something Thune skeptics point to as a liability for a potential presidential candidate. But McConnell says that Thune’s work in leadership requires him to be a generalist and argues that he has been an important part of leadership.
“He’s been right in the middle of all of these major debates of the last year,” says McConnell. “Every senator has a vote, not every senator has equal influence. John is one of the most influential members of the Senate.”
Yet neither McConnell nor Thune nor anyone else appears to have provided Hayes with an on-the-record story of how Thune has exercised this alleged influence—an influence that must be very behind-the-scenes indeed, as it is news to the well-informed current and former Senate aides I ran the quote by. Perhaps McConnell was being polite about Thune, who has until recently been the only Republican senator being discussed as a presidential contender for 2012.
Hayes reports also that Thune has over the last year been promoting reforms to the budget process. He would have the Congress pass biennial budgets instead of annual ones and impose caps on a portion of the budget (everything but entitlements, defense spending, veterans spending, and homeland-security spending). Brian Riedl, who works on budget issues for the Heritage Foundation, observes, “You’re not going to balance the budget on these reforms. . . . If the goal is to add a couple positive tweaks to make the budget process work better, I think Senator Thune’s bill is a step in the right direction.” He adds, “It’s not a bad bill.”
Senator Thune would be acceptable as a presidential nominee to all factions of the party, and he lacks the disadvantages of several of the other potential candidates. He is not a polarizing figure; he has never supported anything that resembles Obamacare. That is, as far as I can tell, the case for his presidential campaign. That it is enough for some party insiders to take seriously is a sign that they are deeply worried about the Republican presidential field.