On Politics On PoliticsOn Politics
Analysis and perspective about what's happening in the political realm.

It’s Nobody’s Turn


Consider yourself clairvoyant if you can correctly predict who is going to win the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. The race is that wide open.

In most years, Republicans tap the person whose "turn" it is to be the party's standard-bearer, and that individual's identity is often known long before the start of the primary and caucus season. This time, the race looks different. One could argue that it is former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's turn because she was the party's vice presidential nominee in 2008. Or former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's turn because he won the Iowa caucus last time around. Or former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's turn because he was eventual nominee John McCain's toughest rival in 2008. But none of those arguments is particularly convincing.

In most years, current and former U.S. senators are grossly overrepresented in presidential fields. But with the announcement by Sen. John Thune of South Dakota that he isn't going to run, it appears no sitting GOP senator will enter the race. Pennsylvania's Rick Santorum may be the only former member of the chamber to make a bid. Current and former House members have a dismal record in winning nominations, but that hasn't stopped them before. This time, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas looks to be the only House member running, and former Speaker Newt Gingrich may be the only former member in the contest.

With Washington so out of favor, this could be a campaign that features lots of current and former governors. Three sitting governors are possible candidates -- Haley Barbour of Mississippi, Mitch Daniels of Indiana, and Rick Perry of Texas -- along with five former governors: Jon Huntsman of Utah, Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, Huckabee, Palin, and Romney.

Each of the possible contenders has strengths and weaknesses; how voters will ultimately weigh these pluses and minuses is unknowable today. Gingrich and Palin have near-total name recognition, certainly an asset, but also unusually high negatives and big questions about electability. Can Huckabee raise money? Do Barbour's former job as a K Street lobbyist and his Deep South roots offset his prodigious fundraising potential and unmatched Republican Rolodex? Will Romney's experience in running for president and his personal fortune and fundraising potential outweigh charges that he is an ideological chameleon and the suggestion that his Massachusetts health plan makes him the "father of 'Obamacare' "? Can Pawlenty become exciting? All these questions have yet to be answered.

Many people seem unable to look at politicians on any axis other than left-center-right. But in terms of presidential nominations, there often don't seem to be many huge ideological differences. Among the potential Republican contenders, all oppose abortion and gun control, are skeptical of Big Government, and favor cutting taxes and spending.

The real differences will turn out to be in style, tone, temperament and, most important, emphasis. Emphasis is key because it defines candidates to a certain degree and what pockets of voters they plan to target. All of the potential candidates are pretty conservative on social and cultural issues. But an aspirant who talks about social issues a lot is looked at differently than one who emphasizes fiscal and economic issues. And a candidate who emphasizes economic issues is looked at differently from one who focuses on foreign policy and national security concerns (really none in this field, though). The term "moderate" often is less a reference to ideology (no Ripon Society members in this group) than to style and the temperature of rhetoric. Some candidates run hot and others at room temperature, even if their fundamental positions aren't much different.

Republican pollster Bill McInturff once articulated a construct for looking at presidential nominations that I have often found useful. Compare the field to a set of NCAA basketball brackets, starting at the quarterfinals. The theory goes that each bracket features candidates with similar appeal. This approach, when applied to the 2012 campaign, might yield a tea party bracket, sporting competitors who are first and foremost antigovernment and in favor of slashing both taxes and spending.

A second bracket might contain candidates whose appeal very much centers on social and cultural issues. They're targeting voters who are religious, most of them evangelical, although some are Catholic, with abortion a dominant issue. This year, the other two brackets might actually be one very large group with a straight shot to the finals: secular, establishment, business-oriented Republicans.

Thinking back to 2008, Huckabee was going after one group of GOP voters, Romney another faction, and McCain yet a third. Each was drawing his support from different pools, at least initially. Eventually, the top two this time around will face off in the finals for the nomination. At this point, though, who the nominee will be is anybody's guess.

Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.