This is strictly nonpartisan advice to Republicans from an independent observer tired of the same-old-same-old during presidential primaries: Pick Rand Paul!
The Kentucky senator came to South Carolina last week, dipping a toe into the GOP primary pool. And why not? Obama proved a Washington novice need not worry about a sparse resumé. And it's not like there is an all-star team lining up for this home-run derby. Gingrich, Pawlenty, and Bachmann? This is the part of the lineup where ticket holders know its safe to go to the bathroom. They'll strike out.
Now, I'm not going to get into the merits of a Paul candidacy. Instead, I'll point to the GOP's doomed journey to the middle. In 2008, Sen. John McCain snagged the nomination, but grassroots conservative anger on the campaign trail broke the maverick. For a few months, McCain was carrying the party's flag, purportedly as a leader that represented what this party stood for. Immediately upon losing, McCain laid that banner down and walked away, because he wasn't really the voice of the Republican Party anyway. A lot of ink was spent on the party's implosion. There were wakes — excuse me, strategy sessions in Washington — and a laughable search for a charismatic (read: electable) leader. Draft Mark Sanford? Ha! Draft John Ensign? Ha! Ha! Three years later, they still haven't found the Frank Sinatra of political discourse who will charm the socks off the electorate.
Earlier this month, columnist George Will had a message for the growing field of primary season benchwarmers. "Let us not mince words," he wrote. "There are at most five plausible Republican presidents on the horizon — Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, former Utah governor and departing ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, former Massachusetts governor (Mitt) Romney, and former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty."
Will is absolutely right. Daniels, Barbour, Huntsman, Romney, and Pawlenty are the "plausible" choices. But that's been the Republican problem all along — this mad dash to find that guy who can win over moderates. Well, let me not mince words: stop picking winners!
Let's say Mary Jo Tea Party decides that she'd like a more conservative candidate, but she picks Pawlenty because she thinks he's the only one who can beat President Obama. Come November, Mary Jo's neighbor asks her who she's voting for. The neighbor has to ask because there's no bumper sticker on Mary Jo's car and no campaign sign in the yard. Mary Jo smiles and says, "Tim Pawlenty. I don't agree with him on such and such, but ..." Not only will that neighbor not be voting for Pawlenty, I don't even think Mary Jo will make it to her polling place.
A lot has been said about Obama's charisma, but the truth is that he wasn't the safest choice. That one was, ironically, the guy facing ethics charges in North Carolina for putting his mistress on his campaign detail. Obama wasn't elected because of his "plausibility." He wasn't just carrying the Democratic banner, he was waving the damn thing. As opposed to Mary Jo, Mallory Progressive didn't just have an "O" bumper sticker, she was knocking on doors and dragging her neighbors to the polls with her.
Now, let's look to 2012. First, you have to abandon the premise that any Republican will win. I'm sorry, but as much as voters may be grumbling about the road to economic recovery, we're economically recovering and that will be the measure by which a majority of voters will be pulling that lever come November 2012. OK, so you're not going to win. Well, then why the hell pick a "plausible" candidate? It'll be 2008 all over again. That plausible candidate will win the primary, fight with Tea Partiers at town halls from one end of the country to the other, and then lose in a resounding defeat. The next day, he'll lay that banner down and walk away, because he wasn't really the voice of the Republican Party anyway.
As someone who follows this circus as one of his professional responsibilities, I'm anxious to see a real fight. Rand Paul isn't a winner, either. But I'll bet you he'll make for a much better race than any of the plausible candidates: a battle between two visions for the country, as opposed to the Democratic vision versus the vision that's as close as a Republican can get to the middle without turning blue.