Is the GOP Field That Bad?
A gang of governors could surprise the pundits—but they’ve got their own vulnerabilities.
You may have been hearing—say, in a few million places—what a sad and weak field the Republicans have mustered for 2012.And it’s not just left-wing media types. Even National Review Editor Rich Lowry says: “It is slowly dawning on the Republican mind that the party’s choice may effectively come down to Mitt Romney or Tim Pawlenty. This prospect produces a range of emotions running from disappointment to panic.”But what if they’re all wrong? What if the MSM is clueless? What if the GOP contingent is stronger than it looks?The Weekly Standard’s Jay Cost makes the case for the current crop of 2012ers. He makes two key points:“Crossover appeal. Huntsman, Pawlenty, and Romney all won statewide elections by performing better than the party normally does in each state.“Records as governors. All three of these candidates earned a national reputation as governors, which will give them all an opportunity to point to their executive records in contrast to President Obama's.”Both true. Except that they’re not really running on their gubernatorial records. Romney, most obviously, is spending much of his campaign trying to explain away his Massachusetts health plan. Nor is he advertising his pro-choice stance as governor, which he has since abandoned. Huntsman, in his brief time on the trail, hasn’t talked much about Utah. Pawlenty does campaign as the guy who held the line on taxes and spending in blue-state Minnesota—but is often pressed on having raise cigarette taxes (which he calls a fee) and leaving his successor a deficit of nearly $5 billion.Another key point by Cost:“No ‘gotcha votes.’ There's a second advantage that comes from not having been in Congress. When you're in the House or the Senate, you end up having to vote on pretty much every divisive issue that the country deals with. Many of these votes are irrelevant -- having to do with the legislative process or being for/against bills that have literally no chance of becoming law.”That’s true, but there is an alternative playbook for use against governors. I know this because George Bush 41 used it against both Michael Dukakis and Bill Clinton. A determined oppo team vacuums up every bad thing that ever happened in the state—tax increases, low test scores, pollution, corruption, a murderer’s furlough—and hangs it around the former governor’s neck. Here’s the tag line of a 1992 Bush ad that pictured a lone buzzard against a bleak landscape: “Now Bill Clinton wants to do for America what he has done for Arkansas. America can't afford that risk.”It’s true that governors make better presidential candidates, which is why four of the five men to make it to the White House before Obama had previously served in Atlanta, Sacramento, Little Rock and Austin. But it hardly promises a free ride.