Field of Dreams?

by Steven F. Hayward

I like what I’m seeing right now. I’m with Ramesh, Jay Cost (“On paper, it would be hard to come up with a GOP field that looks as electable as this one does”), and, just this morning, George Will, in thinking the GOP presidential field, like Twain’s remark about Wagner’s music, is better than it sounds.

Last month I went back and compared Obama’s approval ratings to Jimmy Carter’s at comparable periods of their term, and at this point in 1979, Carter was just starting his political nosedive, chiefly because of rising inflation and gas lines. Up to this point in 1979, Carter looked like a fairly strong bet for reelection, in part because the likely Republican field looked fairly weak. Reagan? Old, extreme, and implausible. Howard Baker? Voted for the Panama Canal Treaty, the equivalent of crossing the Tea Party today. George H.W. Bush? An Eastern Establishment Rockefeller Republican. Jack Kemp? He was the Paul Ryan of his day, except in the end he would end up a non-candidate.

A year and a half out, all candidates look weak, flawed, or unacceptable to some degree. While Jay Carney points out some problems with Tim Pawlenty’s record, try this thought experiment: What would we say about the prospects of a two-term governor of a blue state, who raised taxes massively his first year in office, signed a bill liberalizing abortion laws, supported the Equal Rights Amendment, signed two sweeping environmental statutes creating huge new bureaucracies, and sharply increased benefits for welfare recipients? A totally unacceptable RINO, correct?

That would be Governor Ronald Reagan, who changed his mind about abortion and the Equal Rights Amendment (as did many Republicans), and learned from having to raise taxes that the usual bulwarks against a ever-growing state are insufficient (hence Proposition 1). Similarly, Pawlenty and others might deserve some slack for being friendly once to cap-and-trade before the full horror of how the idea would work in practice (the Waxman-Markey bill) became apparent.  It was the recognition of how the Equal Rights Amendment would go wrong that changed Reagan’s mind along with most other conservatives. Rather than lament that each person in the field falls short on one Tea Party measure or another, conservatives should reflect on how much the entire field has been drawn in a much more conservative direction. (By the way, shouldn’t we be serving “DeMint Juleps” at Tea Party rallies? I’m working on a recipe that includes Southern Comfort, tonic, vinegar, and several twists of lemon and lime.)

To be sure, Obama managed to kill Osama bin Laden, while Carter couldn’t even bring himself to kill a rabbit, let alone get six working helicopters to Tehran. Still, the scene looks much better for Republicans than it did in 1996 or 2008.

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