Thursday, April 21, 2011

GOP 2012 Presidential Field: The View from John Jay Park

During this blog’s “Month of Heroes,” remember that it is wisest not to have any political heroes.  We fight for the day when there will be no electoral politics. 

But in the meantime, it’s good to see former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson announce his run for president in New Hampshire this morning.  He’s a libertarian Republican but perhaps best known nationally for his opposition the drug war.  You have to wonder if he considered announcing one day earlier, on “4/20.” 

(I heard a rumor that the Ron Paul event taking place in New York City on Monday the 25th might feature some sort of announcement as well.  I hope to be there – and at the May 2 debate at NYU at which Objectivist John Allison shall surely crush Constitution-dismissing young pundit Ezra Klein.  NYU also sees an Intelligence Squared U.S. debate on immigration the next day, May 3.)

I am not worried, at this early stage, about the libertarianish candidates drawing votes from each other in the GOP primaries, so long as we all agree to stick to whichever one survives the winnowing.  My real fear is that we are already seeing the GOP field divide into two tiers, with roughly five candidates polling in the double digits who are mostly statists – and roughly six candidates polling only in single digits who are mostly libertarian-leaning ones I might actually endorse. 

We’re a year and a half away from the election, but last time I checked RealClearPolitics’ aggregated polls, the field looked sort of like this:

•Huckabee, Romney, Trump, Palin, Gingrich (all double digits, ranging from about 20% down to 10, respectively)
•Paul, Bachmann, Pawlenty, Daniels, Santorum (all single digits, with Johnson and Cain not yet tracked by them)

The top tier at this point is mostly the ones who, at least in the past few years, seem more focused on celebrity than on policy-making.  Most of them may melt away once debates begin. 

In electoral politics, people routinely discourage stating the truth – such as “We might lose” – but I prefer to prepare for the worst and then contemplate the somewhat-acceptable moderately-plausible.  If current trends hold (and of course they never do), then, I must confess that Newt, for all his flaws, might be the best of the top tier folk so far – if we had to choose from that tier, I mean, much as I’d be thrilled by Paul or Johnson winning, not to mention Daniels or Pawlenty.

Newt, if it comes to that, at least understands federalism and decentralization –pushing both after the 1994 GOP takeover of Congress, even if not consistently.   He has brains and the ability to appeal to the religious (though Giuliani showed how unforgiving they can be of divorcees, so he might not have that flank as well-covered as we might think).

If I had to bet on the outcome at this point, though, I would predict it’s going to be a Mormon vs. a black man in the 2012 general election (so reporters can start preparing fluffy pieces on that theme instead of talking about spending cuts and deregulation).  Technically, I voted for Romney in 2008, as the handiest anti-McCain protest vote available to me by the time the New York primary rolled around.  All so meaningless now – yet, disturbingly, perhaps also a sign of things to come. 

And speaking of ominous prophecies, tomorrow’s topic: Narnia and the Apocalypse!

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