Like all political parties who find themselves out of power, national Republicans officially began the search last night for their 2012 identity. The South Carolina GOP debate generally drew the second tier of candidates, no Mitt Romney for exampl,e and even John Boehner, the current face of the party, had dinner at Morton’s Steakhouse rather than watch on Fox.
That was very likely a very good call, Mr. Speaker. Steak and Cabernet vs. early debate red meat and whine.
While reviewing the coverage of the debate – Tim Pawlenty got most of the ink – I was struck by the juxtaposition of three other political stories involving three men who, in some way, could define the Republicans brand in 2012.
David Koch, that’s him above, is the billionaire financier of many conservative causes. Koch told New Yorker magazine that President Obama doesn’t really deserve credit for tracking down and getting Osama Bin Laden and furthermore, while he tries to hide it, the president is clearly “a hardcore socialist.” Koch is an true believer driven by a fierce dislike of the president. That’s one face of the GOP.
Donald Trump over the last few weeks has been another face. The second news item is out of Indianapolis, where Gov. Mitch Daniels presides, and where the greatest of auto races occurs later this month. Apparently race fans used a Facebook page to protest a plan that had The Donald scheduled to drive the pace car at the celebrated Indianapolis 500.
One fan told the Indianapolis Star, “Driving the pace car should not be used as a sound board for some terrible businessman to spew his political aspirations. Especially with this being the 100th anniversary.”
Trump, never one to shade the truth, claimed a scheduling conflict prevented him from slipping behind the wheel, but Star columnist Bob Kravitz cited the fan backlash as the real reason and joked that Trump probably doesn’t have a valid American drivers license anyway. The Trump brand – brash, clownish, a carnival barker – could be another face of the GOP.
But it’s the soft-spoken, self-deprecating Gov. Daniels who not only presents the best face of the party at the moment, but would be the greatest danger to Obama and Democrats next year,
New Yorker columnist Hendrik Hertzberg, a card-carrying liberal, likes Daniels, which should be the kiss of death among many Republicans for the former Bush Administration official. Daniels is still weighing getting into the GOP primary tussle, but it is looking more likely that he will. If Daniels does get in, he will offer a stark contrast with the rest of the field.
As Hertzberg puts it: “Daniels is unobtrusively friendly. He doesn’t get defensive or suspicious. He is relaxed, and being around him is relaxing. He doesn’t throw off the crackles of craziness—or weirdness or megalomania or suppressed something (rage, fear, insecurity, resentment)—that, to a greater (Palin, Bachmann, Gingrich, Trump, Paul) or lesser (Huckabee, Romney) degree, you get from all the rest. (Huntsman is probably unweird, too, but I haven’t seen enough of him to judge.)”
Daniels in another potential face of the GOP.
Out of power in 1964, Republicans turned to a doctrinaire, flinty conservative named Barry Goldwater. He lost in a landslide. Out of power in 1980, Republicans turned to the sunny, great communicator Ronald Reagan, who defeated an incumbent. The national GOP has just as stark a decision this time around. The pace car has just pulled out.
By the way…
The Idaho Business Review today published my colleague Isaac Squyres’ analysis of the new poll I discussed in yesterday’s post. More on that survey next week.