Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sunday Question for Liberals

I'm intrigued by the perspective offered by Jamelle Bouie and Matt Yglesias, who both suggest that liberals could be better off if the Republican party nominated more non-crazy, moderate candidates, even if it cost mainstream liberals a few seats on the margins (obviously, this works -- or doesn't -- in the opposite direction for conservatives, but this is after all the question for liberals).  I'm not sure whether they're correct or not; on the one hand, it's true that candidates matter only a bit on the margins in most general election contests, but on the other hand the most important vote in the House is the vote for could certainly argue that partisanship trumps ideology in most cases, including within the White House. 

At any rate, it leads to an obvious question for liberals: of the current crop of GOP candidates for president, which one do you think would actually do the  best job as president?  Feel free to include ideology in your answer (in which case presumably liberals believe the most moderate of the candidates would be best on that score), but I'm also interested in your general perception of these folks as pols and/or their governing skills.  What I don't want is a "increase the contradictions" answer, even if you do believe that it would be better for the nation in the long run to suffer four years of a horribly incapable very conservative president than to have four years (and then presumably four more) of a successful moderate conservative who would then lead to more GOP success in the future.  I'm guessing that I won't get too many mentions for the Sage of Wasilla, but who do you think would be best at it?  If you're looking for a list, here's my (ace reporter) brother's current version -- and while I'm not convinced his ranking if all that accurate, then again I'll have to give him some credit after the #2 candidate on his list won the Value Voters poll this weekend. 


  1. Mitch Daniels I suppose. I can also imagine Mitt Romney being an ok President, although I can also imagine him being awful, depending on the circumstances. (His transparent lack of any principle can cut both ways.)

    On the other hand, I think Palin is clearly the worst option, with Pence being close behind.

  2. Wisconsin has non partisan voter registration, so I can and will vote in the Republican primary in '12. I'm generally favoring Daniels or Romney, just because their records show them to be serious about governance in the way that the rest of the field isn't.

    However, I'm not optimistic about a moderate resurgence in the Republican party anytime soon. I'd sooner predict that the whackadoodles take over and let the party dwindle down to a regional rump party, and the Democrats split into a moderate party and a progressive party.

  3. To the first point, I don't think Yglesias and Bouie are right. Though I guess I ought to preface by saying that I favour the Westminster system and hard ideological realignment is probably the only way that America will ever shift towards even a de facto Westminster system.

    As for the actual question, going down David Bernstein's list, I would say that I rank my top three as Romney, Bush, and er.... honestly, everybody else ties for last for me.

  4. Your brother's list breaks down into four categories:

    1) People I despise: Gringrich, DeMint, Pence, Barbour, Palin, Sessions, Rice (probably the smartest of the bunch but waaaay too associated with W) etc.

    2) Empty suits: Perry is the best example but Quayle certainly fits. Perry certainly does all the right things to qualify as despicable, but since he lacks real power I just regard him mainly as a monkey throwing poop from the sidelines. It's funny that the only admirable thing he has done (tried to get girls vaccinated against HPV) is the only real thing to get him in trouble. It's back to safe topics like secession for him.

    3) People I have not paid attention to because they have not done things despicable enough to draw my attention: Pawlenty, Thune, Daniels, McDonnell, Kyl, Kasich

    4) Others: Romney, Whitman, Jindal, Bush

    I suspect that the best choice comes from category three or four. Whitman's campaign has turned me off and she doesn't have any experience in politics so I would not choose her. Jindal reminds me of Mr Rogers with the creepy dial turned to 11. I haven't paid tons of attention to his governing though. Bush seems generally ok, but his Tom DeLay imitation is quickly pushing him out of this category and into the despise category.

    That pretty much leaves Romney or someone I have not paid attention to. So my uninformed choice would be Romney. My informed choice would possibly be one of the people I listed in category three. If I were to start researching, I would start with Pawlenty, Daniels and McDonnell.

  5. Hope this isn't too much of a cop-out, but I don't think it matters. Republicans line up rank and file, and jump and squat according to the play book. The list is a roster of light-weights, simpletons, crazies, and an ultra-rich mannequin with polyurethane hair.

    Who ran the country during the Reagan and W Presidencies? St Ronnie was simple-minded, before he lost it. W was totally incompetent, and a failure at everything he ever did. I always felt he was fundamentally irrelevant to his own presidency.

    I know this seems harsh, but I'm not joking. Any Rep will give us some combination of further reduced taxes, fiscal irresponsibility, more saber-rattling, gutting of regulation, increasing power of mutli-national corporations, reduction/elimination of social programs, and increases in unemployment and poverty. All in the name of freedom.

    On the surface, Palin looks the worst (though it's pretty hard to slither under Gingrich or out-crazy Santorum,) but the specific administrative skills or ideological details will scarcely matter. Any Republican win will be a disaster.

    Lo siento,

  6. I don't know much about Mitch Daniels so I can't rightly comment on him, although Sullivan praised him mightily this past week.

    Of the names bandied about, I'd say Romney. Despite his used car salesman demeanor and willingness to do anything to get elected, I suspect that in terms of governance he'd be the least-bad option. Of course, that would depend on how captive he was to the crazies in Congress and the Beck-Limbaugh-Palin wing.

  7. No one wants to fall too head over heels for Daniels without reading Indianapolis's own Doghouse Riley and his long series of blog posts at Bats Left/Throws Right re "Midwestern States Governed By Surly Megalomaniacs with Napoleon Complexes".

  8. Once upon a time, I actually respected Newt Gingrich, because at least he had principles and could govern the House (albeit principles I couldn't stand) and I was able to separate his immoral personal life from his...well, immoral policies, but that's a matter of opinion.

    No more, as right now I'm studying (for seven months) in Jordan, and I'm generally disgusted with the rise of Islamophobia in the USA, and Gingrich has been one of the worst offenders.

    I suppose if I had to pick, someone like Mitch Daniels, since I generally like Andrew Sullivan and Ezra Klein and take them seriously when they make statements about candidates. There are no "moderate" Republicans that have a chance at the nomination--I wouldn't mind a President Snowe, Collins, Brown, or even up to Lindsey Graham...but I'd obviously prefer a President Obama.

  9. Mitch Daniels, for a number of reasons: he actually seems serious about the deficit, not just about using it as a political football (as evidenced by his comments earlier this week about raising taxes); he doesn't seem ideologically opposed to government action to solve vital national issues like health care (as evidenced by the not-insignificant number of uninsured Hoosiers who got coverage under his Healthy Indiana plan); and, perhaps most appealingly on an emotional level given what we've seen from his party over the past year, he just seems like a decent guy.

    I don't harbor any delusions about the man; I'm sure I'll disagree with a lot of what he has to say if he runs, and I worry that he's a bit TOO obsessed with the deficit to the point where he's willing to sacrifice other vital national priorities. Plus, I used the word "seem" in each of my statements above, because presidential campaigns tend to change people (Exhibit A: John McCain). Overall, however, I would be thrilled to see an Obama vs. Daniels race.

    All of that said (and probably for those very reasons), he'll never win a primary, and I think he knows it. I doubt he'll run.

  10. Let's remember Mitch Daniels' embarrassing tenure at OMB during the Iraq War. It was so bad that even the hawkish George Packer had to read him out of respectable presidential contention for a staggeringly silly innumeracy with regards to the Iraq Occupation paying for itself.

    Both Chait and the Prospect are right to point out that Democratic Registration gains have eaten into the reasonable wing of the GOP, such that Christine O'Donnell has an easier time winning, which is a long-term problem. I'd ache for the world to give the GOP a time in the wilderness and shadow, like the Democratic Party had between 1968-1993, but I don't even want their hands on one of the branches of government. (given their pursuits and the groups that they attack, however, there is a point in the future where too many pensioners die off and their are too many Latino/socially liberal/etc voters who won't cross lines to vote for them. Not sure how to map that out, though; it'll cut off GOP 'safe' states like Georgia and Arizona soon enough, though)

    Be that as it may; I'd be willing to vote for John Huntsman. Other circumstances would indicate Huckabee, but his economic populism-by-way-of-analogy seems dodgy at best, and would certainly prevent him from locking the nomination. I'd consider Bush the Medium if I thought he'd ever run, and Charlie Crist on the same day he breaks free of his glass closet.

  11. I want to like Daniels, I do, because he's presented himself as the sort of earnest, wonky, low-key competence candidate that is sometimes able to avoid some of the wastes of time and energy that more persona-based candidates can get sucked into. But good Lord, his performance as OMB director before and during the Iraq War was shameful. Perhaps he really thought that the whole thing would cost $60 bn or whatever it was, in which case he's too stupid to be a proper competence candidate. I suspect it's more likely he knew it would be much, much, much more but did what his bosses wanted from him. In that case he's either (a) too manipulable or (b) too willing to outright lie about something really important in a case when he knows his deception will be discovered soon, as long as it's not discovered until after the relevant decision has been made. I don't begrudge him his partisanship. People who position themselves as less partisan can still work for people who are highly partisan, and of course you're going to put the best spin on your boss's projects. But this goes way beyond that. I think, anyway.

    Other than that, something like Jim's four categories -- though I'd be reasonably confident of putting Pawlenty and Thune into the "empty suit" category.

    TBH I wouldn't mind a dark horse Chris Christie run. He wouldn't be the first half-term Governor of New Jersey to go for the gold.

  12. Oops, hadn't seen McDevite's comment when I posted. I'll second his Huntsman though.

  13. Huntsman will come up a lot for the same reason that James Buchanan won the 1856 Democratic nomination -- helps to be out of town when the shit hits the fan.

    Nothing like the rest of Buchanan's resume, thought.

  14. I think it's nuts to want the other party to nominate and elect people who appear to be sensible. The problem is always the same.....whatever "sensible" republican you put in office always becomes a raving right wing nut once they're in office. I actually can't remember a time since perhaps George H.W. when they actually had a reasonable character run for president. Which is where my grand new idea comes in.......

    Supposing that the republicans win overwhelmingly in november to the point where it's obvious that Obama will be hamstrung for the next two years I think he and his whole administration should just resign the day after the election! Make the American people have to suffer through two years of President Boner. If they like it then wonderful. I suspect that they wouldn't. The polls tell us that the american people give totally conflicting answers about what they want, like, and don't like about the government right now. I don't think they should be allowed to create havoc by creating a government that doesn't work.......which is what would happen if the republicans take charge. NO......they should have to put up with the consequences of their stupidity for two years and see how they like it.

  15. We're WAY off into the hypothetical weeds here. A GOP Prez in 2012 that I *don't* want to be a colossal failure? I mean, given the state of today's GOP, this is a very odd hypothetical. "if you had to choose between a sadistic and an unskilled dentist....."

    In late 2007, I would have said Huckabee. He struck me then as a person who I disagreed with on every issue, who was more devoted to social conservativism than fiscal, but who was, at his core, a decent human being with compassion. Since then, he has done absolutely nothing to maintain that imgae, and now seems craven, stupid, and lacking in compassion.

    Now? Pawlenty? Daniels? I'd need someone whose raison d'etre was fiscal rather than social or neocon. I interpret this identical to a preference for rationality.

  16. I, like Matt Jarvis, would have said Huckabee in 2008: in an environment with a guaranteed Democratic Congress, his antediluvian social views would have had very little impact (beyond Court nominations, where I think any GOPer with a reasonable chance of getting up would be more or less equally bad), and he'd been willing to buck orthodoxy on the war in Iraq. On economics, he is, from a left-wing perspective, far and away the most preferable candidate, since he's actually willing to contemplate a role for government beyond being 'the night watchman'. If he'd been elected in 2008, he might even have enacted a fairly decent universal health-care scheme.

    But foreign policy IS important, and Huckabee, on immigration and Israel, has surrounded himself with one heck of a scary team. And with a Congress that looks increasingly likely to go Republican -- the House this time, maybe the Senate in 2012 -- social views matter as well, and Huckabee doesn't have strong enough views on economics that he'd be willing to resist the Tea Party trend -- he's a populist, willing to work with a Democratic majority in Arkansas but hardly willing to carry those views into Washington if unnecessary.

    So, with that in mind, considering that Paul Johnson seems to have pretty much no shot and that Huntsman, jr., will probably be regarded as an apostate from the GOP until Obama leaves office, I think Mitch Daniels is probably the best of a bad lot.

    I do have a soft spot for Pawlenty, though. I know Jeff Fecke, who has to actually live with the guy, doesn't think much of him, but he's got an interesting upbringing, an interesting narrative for the GOP, and although his social views are bad they're not Huckabee-bad.

    Ideally, of course, Charlie Crist runs as an independent and taps Lincoln Chafee as his running mate, giving us two eminently-reasonable, experienced 'Republicans' for the price of one. But that aside...

  17. I would have to say Romney. I think his record with the Olympics and as Governor of Massachusetts demonstrates he has some good executive experience.

    I also think that Romney's lack of principles would mean that, if thought it would be in his best interest, he could govern in a moderate fashion and be open to achieving some progressive goals even if he doesn't use fully progressive means.

  18. I'd tend to say Romney, as well. He's got a decent record as a manager, and his ideological flexibility means I'd probably agree with him once in a while. Of course, he wouldn't have to move nearly as far to the left to appease the American people as he did to appease the voters of Massachusetts.

  19. Ross Douthat on Daniels and Iraq

    Money quote:

    'But the question is whether it was the Office of Management and Budget’s job to figure out in advance how wrong Donald Rumsfeld’s plan for Iraq would turn out to be.'

  20. For the Classicist, ni modo. I'm glad you gave numbers to what I had snark for. One more reason to consider him either "stupid or lying" is his claims to the awesome fiscal rectitude of Indiana, when his state is in the black because of stimulus dollars, rather than fucking around the public employees in his state.

    For everyone else...

    Isn't wanting Romney, MA Governor, to be President kind of like hoping Santa Claus to be president, as both are a figment of the imagination? I'm not sure what Romney believes, in his heart of heart, save that he, like his father is the Most Deserving presidential candidate. And given the current primary schedule, I doubt he'd survive. Plus, Mormon of the magical underpants believing that Christ and the Devil are brothers.

    You're right, however, to note that Huntsman can't/won't run til 2016, at the earliest.

    Chris Christie won't much survive being governor of NJ, let alone launching a successful presidential campaign. Either because of the policies at hand; or because he's a physically repugnant human being running against the nation's Zeitgeistiest President since JFK. And flop sweat McJowelly versus that is going to be far worse than Nixon-JFK, or Mondale-Reagan.

    I, for one, look forward to the Barbour-Pence ticket.

  21. Oh, Ross Douthat, for all the half-hearted soul-searching that Thomas Friedman can't get from his taxi driver.

  22. McDevite, I don't know what your point is, except that you don't like Douthat. I don't care much for him either, for reasons that aren't pertinent. What is pertinent, is that I think his discussion of this matter is more sensible than Packer's.

  23. I'd have to go with Romney, in that at least he seems capable of competence. Admittedly, he's willing to throw every single one of his principles out the window in pursuit of votes, but I don't think he'd drive the country entirely into a ditch.

    I don't know enough about Mitch Daniels to have a cogent opinion. Maybe I'd change my mind once I learned more.

    The rest of the field makes me want to drink a Drano margarita when I think of them leading the country.

  24. Without even realizing Jon had written this, I happen to have just updated my rankings today:

  25. Back during the 2008 primary, I sent a big message to all my Michigan friends to avoid the voided MI Dem presidential primary and vote on the GOP side for Mitt Romney. The reasoning was that

    1. If it came down to him and McCain head to head, he might spend insane money going negative on McCain and weakening him.

    2. If he actually beat McCain and got the nomination, we'd get to go up against a candidate who was very weak in polls against Democrats.

    3. If he actually won the presidency, he was generally competent enough to not screw everything up, and he'd try to stay on the popular side of the issues. It'd be kind of like direct democracy -- when Gallup calls your house, you're telling Mitt Romney what to do. Playing the median voter game makes Republicans a lot less dangerous.

    All I can hope for in a Republican these days is that he's not ideologically committed to horrific things and that he's not grossly incompetent. As far as I can tell, Romney isn't incompetent and doesn't have any principles so he can't have bad principles.

  26. I'm not sure it makes much sense to blame Daniels for the (staggeringly) bad cost estimate for the Iraq War. It seems like a classic "garbage in/garbage out" scenario.

    As OMB director, I can't imagine he'd have had any input as to the estimates of troop levels, duration of combat, support staff, munitions, fuel, etc. etc. Rather, he was probably given those estimates by others at DoD and/or State and his job was to calculate up the costs based on them.

    From most accounts I trust, Daniels has been an effective -- and unideological -- governor.


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