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The First Serious Candidate of 2012?

April 26, 2011 1 comment

Unpublished update: I wrote part of this article on Friday, with Ron Paul still “thinking.” Then boom, Monday he gets in. So some of this should be taken with that in mind–I’ve edited it since, but in my mind Paul is just “getting” in, so I haven’t completely made the transition. So I must say something I would have never said in 2008: Paulistas, I apologize.

It’s official: Gary Johnson will be seeking the Republican nomination in the 2012 primaries.

Gary who?

Gary Johnson, the former Governor of New Mexico. It’s alright if you don’t remember him–his term ended in 2003. You may recall, though, a governor of a smaller western state being one of the highest ranking Republicans (and indeed, official of either party) to call for the decriminalization of marijuana. Yeah, that was him. So why am I getting excited over a candidate that would seem, at face value, to be little more than a historical footnote?

Well, for starters, I see Johnson as the first serious candidate to officially enter the race. Now now, I know what you’re thinking–don’t Tpaw, Mittens, even the Donald have a better chance at this point? Perhaps, but as you’ll hear me belabor over the next six months while I continue to write on the ebb and flow of the race, because, hey, even an unpaid blogger seeks good copy, things change. Nobody could beat George H.W. Bush in the early part of 1991. Nobody.

But when I say serious, I don’t mean an attitude of a candidate that’s “in it to win it.” What I mean is a candidate that is serious about their ideology and has put forth or presents real solutions to the problems facing America. Newt may have once stood on the edge of being that candidate, but nowadays, he’s more “anti” than anything else. Romney, well, we’ve already discussed Romney’s issues–in that there are really few he hasn’t flipped or flopped on. Huckabee, too, is largely a Tea Party cheerleader these days. And although I’ll admit that I’m anxiously awaiting Pawlenty’s alternative budget, right now, he seems more focused on shaking the perception that he’s just too dull to take on the One.

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The GOP’s tricky electoral math for 2012

Right now, there’s plenty of ink and binary characters being spilled on both parties chances in 2012. Some are comparing this to 1992, others to 1996 in terms of the incumbent’s chances. Some have the Republicans on an unstoppable comeback, others have the GOP nearing implosion. However, we all know that few elections are an exact replay of the one before it. What exactly constitutes a swing or marginal state can change from election to election. Why, in 1980 Hawaii was thought to be winnable for the GOP, as it was in 2004, if only momentarily. Same with Maine in other elections. With that in mind, 2010 did at least give us an idea of which states may still be marginal, given Republicans winning it last year but the Democrats in 2008, often by similarly large margins. And so we present to you Dr. Larry Sabato of UVA’s first projection for 2012.

There’s plenty for both sides to take exception to–Republicans would say New Mexico is much closer to being a marginal state and two straight landslides (thanks to VA’s unique position on the electoral cycle) should put the Old Dominion in the leaners category, while Democrats would argue that Montana at least leans a little closer to them and that there’s no way they lose Maine.

Regardless, however, the map shows just how tricky the math is for Republicans. The fact that New York and California are almost completely out of Republican reach means that Democrats start with a big built in advantage. If you give each party their “leaning” states, Democrats start with 247, while Republicans have just 180. One interesting way to digest these results is to input them into 270towin.com, a fun site that presents an electoral college calculator. Color each state the way you think it will go, and the site will calculate the number of ways, if you give both parties less than 270 votes, the number of ways to get to the magic 270.

The big problem for Republicans? If you input this map into the site, giving both parties their leaning states, there are 14 different combinations that lead to a Republican victory. The problem? All of them require Florida. Again, both sides will have their talking points. Republicans will point to congressional pickups and Rubio’s win in 2010, while Democrats will point to Rick Scott’s cratering approval ratings in the state. However, the fact of the matter is that Republicans just don’t have the same sort of EC base built in that the Democrats do, largely due to the fact that their safest states are amongst the largest. In fact, Texas is the only red or “reddish” state that has more than 12 electoral votes.

That said, 2010 was a positive movement in that Republicans made important gains in PA, WI and MI, as well as North Carolina and New Mexico. The last two aren’t as important–if you give both to the GOP, FL is still a neccesity. However, take any of the first three out of the Democratic column, and a Floridaless path to victory emerges. Again, this is all just the analytical talk of shooting the breeze for the time being. We have quite some time to go in this cycle–more than a year, in fact. However, it should point to the importance of a) nominating a ticket that has a wide personal appeal to a large swath of Americas, both suburban and rural, and b) running on issues that appeal to pragmatic, more centrist voters that do not betray our core principles.

But, until we have a better idea of who those candidates might be, kill some time and come up with your own path to victory. For the record, I’m not 100% on the above, so if you can find a Floridaless path to victory that does not involve MI, WI or PA, by all means, please share! But do note that the the site won’t calculate scenarios where there are more than 12 states in play, as the number of possibilities increases exponentially. Again, many of these are far fetched, but hey, welcome to life with the electoral college!

And so it begins: Trump v. Romney

Today’s State of the Union with Candy Crowley saw the start of the showdown we’ve been waiting ag….well, weeks for: the GOP’s moderate-cum-conservative businessman with a thin political resume (Romney) versus the the GOP’s more moderate-cum-even more conservative businessman with a even thinner political resume (Trump). Granted, it was Ms. Crowley who started the action, but the Donald took up the challenge with his usual gusto.

Highlights include Trump calling Romney “essentially a small businessman.” I consider myself a small businessman, and I need to check my accounts to be sure, but I’m not sure that its all that close to Romney’s estimated $200 million in net worth. However, when you get to Trump’s heights, perspectives change, so really I suppose I’m arguing over semantics here…..

Also amusing: Trump responding to Crowley’s question if he considers himself a “better” businessman, he replied that he’s a “much bigger businessman.” Of course, as we all know, bigger does not always equal better. Wikipedia has a pretty good overview of Trump’s various legal and business woes throughout the course of his career. I admire business success, but I also admire consistency and good judgment. The fact that Trump decided first to go after Romney on the scale of business activities highlights the tone we’ve seen throughout Trump’s nascent campaign so far: rather than go after Romney’s political positions, Trump went for style. That’s, ultimately, my biggest fear of a Trump candidacy: Style trumping (God save me) Substance.

Of course, I really shouldn’t be troubled by Trump’s views on Romney. In fact, Trump, so far, really hasn’t made his business experience the centerpiece of his campaign–he’s far more focused on the authenticity of Obama’s birth certificate. That’s all well and good, and I suppose one way to unseat the President, but in the event that strategy just doesn’t work, shouldn’t we want a candidate talking about their ability to lead in a more substantive way than just saying they’re “bigger”?

I will say, though, that Trump had some good points near the end of the interview about America’s current “backseat” view of foreign policy, taking orders from other countries on when to take moral action. But then I’m reminded of Trump’s views on China and Iran, vowing pretty drastic unilateral action. I agree we need to be strong, but I also understand that we’re dealing with two sides here, and even if we’re going to make a stand, we have to understand that foreign policy actions have consequences for both sides. Overall, when Glenn Beck and Ann Coulter, not exactly noted moderates, are doubting the man’s tactics, well……I think we may have a problem.

All this said, this should not be read as an endorsement of Romney. I remain skeptical of Romney for the same reasons as I did in 2008 (guns, abortion, health care), and on probably the biggest issue so far in the campaign, health care, Romney just keeps digging himself a bigger and bigger hole. However, I’m still waiting for a candidate that matches my views on the direction the Republican party needs to take and yet shows they have the leadership to turn politics into policy. I’m looking for a candidate of principle, not opportunity.

Romney’s switches on the issues trouble me on that front. He couldn’t escape it in 2008, and it may be even harder to escape in 2012 given that Democrats passed a federal law largely based on one he passed in the state he led (and indeed, trumpeted by some of the very same people that advised on his). Even more troubling, though, is that Trump has already flirted with running once….in a different party, has already said he’d be willing to exploit sore loser laws to run as an independent if he doesn’t get the nod, and has not even donated to a plurality of Republicans in federal elections. In fact, only 23% of the federal candidates he’s backed have been Republicans. I understand the desire for a new face, but….does loyalty have no virtue these days?

But that could be a whole other series of posts, or even a book, on the virtue of parties in American democracy. Perhaps a simpler way to frame Trump’s integrity. The nearly billion dollars in debt he ran up in the 1990s.

UPDATE:

Looks like the Donald may have a healthcare problem of his own. From Political Wire:

Dave Weigel digs up this quote from Trump’s 2000 book, The America We Deserve: “We must have universal healthcare. I’m a conservative on most issues but a liberal on this one. We should not hear so many stories of families ruined by healthcare expenses.”

Trump added that the goal of health care reform should be a system that looks a lot like Canada. “Doctors might be paid less than they are now, as is the case in Canada, but they would be able to treat more patients because of the reduction in their paperwork.”