New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.), former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush — all three remain supreme objects of desire with the Republican establishment despite forcefully denying they’ll make a presidential bid.
It was Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s rocky performance in last week’s presidential debate that has set off a fresh new round of angst among conservatives who want the perfect candidate to challenge President Obama.
But the reality is that every potential candidate would enter the race with question marks as significant as those of any other, and there’s no guarantee that any would be a lock to beat Obama.
And that includes the three names mentioned above, each of whom has significantly overlooked vulnerabilities.
He’s blunt, but he’s also blunt. He attacks unions with force, but he also attacks unions with force. Those aren’t typos; those are realities; and the exact quality that makes him appear perfect to some might make him appear untenable to others.
New Jersey’s economic picture isn’t rosy. And while pretty much every state is hurting, Perry’s Texas is still far more hospitable to job creation. In short, Christie would be vulnerable on a governor’s most important report card — his state’s financial health. He’s also less than pure on Obama’s healthcare law — notably refusing to join other states in a lawsuit challenging it.
Then there’d be all those moments of brutal directness. Polls have shown that independents don’t particularly like Tea Party candidates, possibly thanks to their strident rhetoric.
Christie, for better or worse, has a monopoly on that behavior. One can already imagine a destructive meme developing around him: In this moment of historic divisiveness, is it really good for the United States to elect one of the most confrontational political figures of the time as president?
Regardless of the fairness of the question, it’s a narrative that would likely emerge, and soon, one can imagine Republicans pining for someone a bit softer than Christie.
Before definitely closing the door on a run, Ryan was courted by all the influential conservative intellectuals who courted another wonky Midwesterner, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels. Ryan’s bold proposals on entitlement reform make him the favorite of policy wonks, but he would have faced a number of problems as a candidate that were conveniently brushed over during the speculative phase.
First, Ryan is young. He’s only 41, but looks about 35. One of the GOP’s primary arguments against Obama will be that he’s in over his head, and putting forth a youthful alternative scuttles that line of argument for the GOP.
Second, Ryan has a number of vulnerabilities that many don’t know about. For example, he voted for both the Trouble Asset Relief Program and Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) budget compromise — two positions to the left of many Republican primary voters. The conservative Heritage Foundation further knocked him when it gave him just 78 percent on key conservative issues; by contrast, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) scored 94 percent. Ironically, Ryan’s fiscal record might be the thing that would have felled him.
And then there’s the charisma thing. While many wonks find Cirque du Soleil in charts and graphs of economic projections, the same Republicans who yawned at former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty might yawn at another Upper Midwest politician with a penchant for facts over flash.
He’s been called the candidate who could unite all factions of the party, but there’s plenty in Bush for Republicans to grumble about.
He’s been aggressively moderate on immigration, telling Newsmax that the GOP needs to “change the tone of conversation” on the debate, and there’s little indication that the activists who resent his establishment ties have warmed to him.
In fact, Bush proudly opposed Arizona’s controversial immigration law — a stance that’s given Perry some trouble. Further, in a cycle where activists want an aggressive attack against Obama (witness Donald Trump’s strange rise before opting out of a run), Bush’s quiet temperament probably wouldn’t sell.
Soon after the 2008 election, he told The Wall Street Journal that Republican “chest-pounders lost.” Yet a chest-pounder is exactly what voters are looking for right now, and Bush doesn’t appear to want that role.
In truth, no perfect candidate will ever be found. Conservative talk show host Michael Reagan, the son of President Ronald Reagan, told Fox News that his dad probably couldn’t even be nominated in today’s GOP.
Every candidate in every cycle has had a significant weakness, and for all the talk of the Democratic side’s strength in 2008, Obama had no major legislative accomplishments and then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) carried the stigma of being a Clinton, among other things.
The fact is that successful politicians travel, and so naturally, every single one of them carries baggage. Looking for one who doesn’t is futile and counterproductive to the GOP’s goal — defeating Obama.
Heinze, the founder of GOP12.com, is a member of staff at The Hill.