A few election cycles ago Republicans ended up nominating a real, honest-to-goodness old warhorse for their presidential candidate, putting him up against a scandal-plagued incumbent Democrat. With the off-year elections two years before bringing a resounding GOP victory, Republican regulars shrugged off the 23-year age gap between the two nominees and presumed that the contrast between the incumbent’s lacking character and their nominee’s homespun charm could still score them an upset victory.
But thanks to a lackluster campaign and just enough of a third-party effort to deny the incumbent a majority of the vote, Republican stalwart Bob Dole lost the 1996 election to Bill Clinton. It was an era which placed the term “triangulation” into the political lexicon and Clinton executed that strategy masterfully in winning a second term.
In fact, recent history suggests Washington insiders don’t do well as Republican candidates. George W. Bush won because he cut his political teeth in Texas, far from the nation’s capital. Similarly, Ronald Reagan governed California before winning the White House on his second try and America expected more of the same when they elected a Beltway insider to succeed him in Vice-President George H.W. Bush. Conversely, Dole and John McCain were longtime Republican fixtures in Washington, perhaps alienating them from the party grassroots.
To that end, a number of names being bandied about for the GOP nod in 2012 come from the ranks of state governors. While Bobby Jindal of Louisiana declared last week he was not in the running, there’s still several current or former state chief executives in the mix – Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, Texas’s Rick Perry, 2008 candidates Mike Huckabee of Arkansas and Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, and of course former second banana Sarah Palin of Alaska.
Yet there is a Beltway insider who has enough appeal among the conservatives who attend events like CPAC or last week’s Southern Republican Leadership Conference to beat most of the above-mentioned names in their straw polls – he won the CPAC vote handily and just missed winning the SRLC balloting by one vote. If nominated, he would be 26 years older than the current incumbent Democratic president.
Somehow Ron Paul has escaped the wrath of being perceived as a Washington insider despite serving three stints in Congress totaling 20 years. Obviously he didn’t do particularly well in a crowded primary field in 2008 as far as gathering votes goes, but he proved a potent fundraiser and has become a darling among the portion of the Republican Party which preaches fiscal conservatism and limited government through his Campaign for Liberty organization. More importantly, he has an appeal among young conservatives which belies his age.
And with economic issues in the forefront this time around, one Achilles heel of Paul’s 2008 bid – his strident opposition to the war in Iraq – is off the table. His domestic policies generally follow a line which straddles conservatism and libertarianism, making him a definite friend of the TEA Party set.
It’s doubtful that many of the Presidential players for the 2012 cycle are going to make their intentions known before the 2010 election because of November’s potential for upending the Democrats’ stranglehold on our legislative branch. This wait-and-see approach serves to gauge the strength of TEA Party politics and the general anti-incumbent mood.
But don’t be surprised if the gentleman from Texas doesn’t toss his hat back into the presidential ring next year and is more successful this time around. Unlike Bob Dole, it’s not likely this elderly Washington insider will be uninspiring on the campaign trail.
Michael Swartz, an architect and writer who lives in rural Maryland, is a Liberty Features Syndicated writer. This happened to be posted on April 12.