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Posted at 11:45 AM ET, 01/31/2011

Imperfect candidates win elections

By Jennifer Rubin

Chris Cillizza goes through the well-known flaws in a number of Republican presidential candidates. Mitt Romney has RomneyCare, Gov. Haley Barbour has Southern problem, and so on. But I think there are a few important things to keep in mind.

First, there are flaws and then there are flaws. Romney has fundamental and, I think, virtually fatal problem with ObamaCare. He will get pummeled by opponents, and the electorate, especially, in the Tea Party era, is in no mood to hear him defend ObamaCare-lite. Jon Huntsman? Puleez -- his tenure in the Obama administration and association with our feckless China policy make him a nonstarter. Tim Pawlenty, however, needs a little more "pizazz," Chris says. Well, for starters, his public speaking has improved considerably, as evidenced by his outing at the National Press Club. Is it better to be telegenic and have a solid conservative record? Sure, but Pawlenty's flaw is fixable or can be minimized; I don't see how Romney's can be.

More important, it is highly likely that many people on Chris's list won't be running and some not on it will be. Mike Huckabee's flaky record as governor doesn't much matter if he decides against throwing away his lucrative media career. And, yes, sitting on the side lines, are other potential contenders -- Texas Gov. Rick Perry, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) Do they all have flaws? Of course, but then they will be running against a president who has a very flawed record.

And, finally, if Sen. John Thune (R.-S.D.) has a problem, it is not his vote on TARP, I would suggest. (Ryan voted for TARP and it has not dulled conservatives' ardor for his candidacy.) Rather, his challenge is finding a defining issue. But look at the field. If Ryan doesn't run, Thune will be the only contender with foreign policy experience. Indeed, he played a critical role on START in pushing the administration to make commitments on missile defense and weapons modernization. The GOP needs an attractive figure who can explain the connection between America's strength abroad and our prosperity at home. As world events seem to be spinning out of control and Obama appears to be a prisoner of those events, Thune can, with a level of expertise, chart a course internationally that will enable America to remain the world's indispensable and only superpower. Just a thought.

By Jennifer Rubin  | January 31, 2011; 11:45 AM ET
Categories:  2012 campaign  
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We know for sure that it won't be Huckabee, Palin, Guiliani, Gingrich, Bachmann, or Perry.

We can presume that Ryan, Rubio, and Pence aren't runnning, subject to change of course.

Pawlenty, Thune, Daniels, Romney, Barbour and Christie?

My guess is that Thune, Barbour and Christie are really running, if at all, for the number two slot.

That leaves Pawlenty, Romney and Daniels.

It's got to be Pawlenty in that group, with either Barbour or Christie for pizzaz and geographic diversity at 2.

Posted by: johnmarshall5446 | January 31, 2011 12:27 PM | Report abuse

It is just soooo early for this nonsense.

It seems to me that Mr Cilizza is just attempting to deliver a pre emptive strike. He's just another inside the beltway liberal hack, so why should any conservative, anywhere, give a rat's patoot what he thinks of the Republican presidential contenders?

After the Obama victory the pages of this website were heavy with advice to Republicans and conservatives about how to become more like the liberals so they could get back to winning elections. All of that advice was wrong.

I'll pass on Mr Cillizza's special insight. I'll pass on Ms Rubin's too. To use a, gasp, sports analogy all of this banter from the pundits is like arena football. It isn't exactly football, but there has to be something to talk about after the super bowl is played and before spring training starts.

Same thing here: the talking heads, the nattering nabobs, need something to natter about. What could be better than a race that won't be run untill 2012?

Posted by: skipsailing28 | January 31, 2011 12:36 PM | Report abuse

Jen can't help herself but thats OK. Its inconceivable that Barbour would be interested in the VP spot. At his age and with his background he will only run if he believes he can win. If the R's need "balance" to sweep the South they may as well not bother running anyone - although on this point one can be quite confident that they don't.

Christie would probably do better staying in NJ but one can't rule him out for #2. Thune quite clearly would jump at the #2 slot given the general weaknesses of the field he may very well have a chance to emerge as the nominee. He's got a lot to prove with respect to his dynamism, coherence and persuasiveness but the opportunity is there for him if he chooses to do so.

Romney is almost certainly out for the reasons Jennifer suggests.

Ryan is very problematic as his only path to the nomination is through substantive debate of policy. If he emerges as a desirable - and perhaps drafted nominee - than we can be truly ecstatic about the future of this country. I remain skeptical.

It is way to early for Rubio and would be a tremendous waste to deploy him before his ready. Still, he is very hot at the moment and early as it is his various qualities might very well make him a real asset at #2.

Posted by: cavalier4 | January 31, 2011 12:57 PM | Report abuse

Jen didn't like TARP, but she has no problem with Thune for voting for it. Hmmm...Tell me , Jen, who do you really think would be a realistic choice? Bashing Chris is easy, now offer a plan. Oh, that's right, conservatives just whine, but never offer an alternative.

Posted by: jckdoors | January 31, 2011 1:30 PM | Report abuse

I'm starting to think Thune might be the best bet -- a solid conservative with the political chops and lack of baggage to take down Obama. His defeat of Daschle is better resume stuff than anything the other leading Republicans can offer. Plus he has earned a leadership position in the Senate, indicating he's not just a telegenic empty suit. He's also very well-spoken and charismatic, like the leftist he would be running against.

This is an election the Republicans must win for the sake of the country. Thune-Rubio might be the ticket.

Posted by: eoniii | January 31, 2011 1:50 PM | Report abuse

I'll vote for any of the potential candidates over Obama. Why? Becayse any one of them would be a far superior chief executive than our current community organizer, who votes "present" on tough issues.

Thune and Rubio or Thune and Christie look like good choices as of now. I was a Pawlenty fan until I saw his cheesy video and forced smiles this a.m. on Fox and Friends.

Sorry, governor: that video is trying too hard; it had a 1960s sensibility that won't play in 2012.

Posted by: Jack43 | January 31, 2011 2:12 PM | Report abuse

Right now I see 4 serious candidates; Romney, Pawlenty, Thune and Daniels. With the exception of Romney that has no place to go but down, the other three need to keep from making a big mistake and do little things to build their brand and get more name recognition.

I can see Barbour playing the Dick Cheney role but not the lead role.

If only Christie would run.
My meaningless prediction today, Pawlenty - Thune

Posted by: jay22 | January 31, 2011 2:19 PM | Report abuse

JR: Two thoughts on your incisive post.

I'm a Utah Mormon who supported Mitt Romney last go round (including financially). I still think he would make a very good, perhaps even great, president. But I must agree that the Massachusetts experience with health care is an ENORMOUS obstacle to his getting nominated (I just can't see a narrative that gets him through that thicket).

As to Jon Huntsman, no way, not a chance, nada. He was OK as a Utah governor, but anyone who thinks he's a conservative is simply wrong. His acceptance of the ambassadorship to China in the Obama administration is Exhibit A. Yes, he won reelection in Utah, but a Republican governor in this state must do something incredibly stupid to be rejected, and Huntsman didn't. If he runs, he'll be eaten alive in the debates by Romney, Daniels, Pawlenty, Barbour etc. etc.

There is a misperception that Mormons reflexively support Mitt. I think that is mistaken. Mormons are conservatives for the most part and, given a choice between a Mormon who loses or a conservative who will win and finish off Obamacare, you'll see large support for a winner.

Right now, I'm becoming more of a fan of Pawlenty and Daniels. I absolutely love John Bolton, but he's probably a non-starter (how about him for VP? Or is he too controversial?) Thoughts anyone.

Posted by: TabulaRasa | January 31, 2011 2:50 PM | Report abuse

It is really too early to speculate beyond the broad generalization that almost any candidate nominated, can defeat the deficit-unemployment-foreign policy inept- sluggish economy-ridden Obama.

Pawlenty has the least baggage and biggest upside, IF Paul Ryan does not run. The criticism toward the Republican field is plain silly at this stage.

Twice Joe Biden ran and got about 1% of the Democrat primary voters. Never got serious mojo from the primaries. He got, however, whatever meager gravitas due to Obama picking him as VP.

Place first or second in the Iowa caucuses? Instant gravitas. Likewise in New Hampshire and South Carolina? Instant gravitas.

Anyone who beats Sarah Palin head to head will attain rock star status. Gravitas will turn to gold, and that candidate will be able to write his/her ticket. In short, the field is stronger than it looks from the Beltway's perspective.

Posted by: TheStatistQuo | January 31, 2011 2:53 PM | Report abuse

I actually think Romneycare is a flaw Romney might have overcome if he had gotten out in front of the Obamacare debate. I was hoping to hear him say, "Look, we tried state managed healthcare on a small scale in Massachusetts: here's what we learned, and why it won't work at the national level." He could even have put the initiative it in a conservative contex: one of the most compelling reasons for vesting more power in the states rather than the feds, is to give them the freedom & the opportunity to test run different approaches to complex issues, instead of adopting unproven, one-size fits all solutions wholesale. He offered tepid defenses instead, and disqualified himself completely, as far as I'm concerned.

I have absolutely no idea why Republicans start touting men like Chris Christie and Paul Ryan for Prez, the minute they make a splash! We have zero idea whether Ryan has any executive skills. It took a tea party movement for him to get any traction on slashing budgets, but most of all, we've never needed him more at the helm of the House Budget Committee than we do right now -- and we need him there for the long haul.

Christie is terrific, but we don't know whether he can actually succeed at making lasting reforms in New Jersey yet. Not only does he need to prove that he, himself, can do it, we as a party need to be able to point to New Jersey, which is one of the toughest nuts to crack, as proof that it can be done anywhere.

Does either Ryan or Christie have any foreign policy bona fides at all?

In a post-Obama world, how on earth can Republicans ignore the critical importance of experience? It boggles the mind.

Posted by: Fithian | January 31, 2011 3:15 PM | Report abuse

Based on my extensive knowledge of Presidential Elections since 1952,the only Republican with the name,connections,and resume to win is Jeb Bush. JR can do the Republican flavor of the day for the next 18 months,and the elephant in the room is still Jeb Bush.

Posted by: rcaruth | January 31, 2011 3:23 PM | Report abuse

I thnk this sums it up well.
Ronmney: Decent general election candidate, but due to Mass Health, won't make it out of orimary

Palin: terrible general election candidate, but could win 30% of primary in each state,which could win primary.

Bachman: see palin

Daniels: Good general election candidate. Inadvertently started a war with social conservatives.

Thune: Too green. May not be able to raise enough money to run...needs to make his decision soon. Probably a better primary candidate than general election.

Barbour: Too closey tied to lobbyists. Maybe VP candidate

Pawlenty: Best chance in general election. Is he conservative enough for primary...will be pretend to be too conservative

Huckabee: Better primary candidate. Issue with allowing felon on parole (next Willie Horton). Would have to give up very lucritive Fox show.

Christie/Rubio: Probably won't run, not enough experience. Both are better primary candidates than general election

Guiliani/R Perry-opposite ends, but fringe candidates

Huntsman-Served in Obama administration. notsure how that will play out.

I think Pawlenty is the best general election candidate, but nowhere near Obama. Closer to Kerry in 2004, but it won't be as close. Not even sure if he could win Minnesota.

Posted by: jjj141 | January 31, 2011 3:42 PM | Report abuse


If you believe in history, then Thune has no shot at number 1. We've never elected a president from such a small state directly to the presidency before.

Posted by: johnmarshall5446 | January 31, 2011 3:59 PM | Report abuse

Republican intellectuals are for Sarah Palin.

Posted by: danw1 | January 31, 2011 4:02 PM | Report abuse

Banalities.. silly, pointless, yackity writing with no backup. Even for the WaPo.

Thune? A major international policy player?
Maybe Bachmann league, if that.

Huntsman's 'feckless China policy'?
What KIND of policy, exactly? Rubin wouldn't know
China policy from sandbox. Maybe as it relates to Israel, probably. (China doesn't like Israel, zilch trades with and protects Iran)

And speaking of FLAWS. Dos the Washington Post have any respect for it's readers? Obvious. No it doesn't"

Posted by: whistling | January 31, 2011 4:09 PM | Report abuse


If you believe in history, then Thune has no shot at number 1. We've never elected a president from such a small state directly to the presidency before.

Posted by: johnmarshall5446
Being from a small state is a disadvantage, but perhaps not fatal. Clinton came from Arkansas, which is akin to a small third world country in some respects -- like the corruption of its politics. I think Thune knocking off Daschle and being backed by many of his Senate colleagues will at least get him a serious look.

All things being equal, I would prefer someone who could run strong in the industrial heartland, especially Ohio. Maybe Ohio Gov. Kasich would be a good VP pick, if not Rubio.

Posted by: eoniii | January 31, 2011 5:25 PM | Report abuse


We disagree on this one. Even Arkansas has 3.5 times the population of SD. The only president since the Civil War from a state that far down on the list was Coolidge, but of course he was VP first. Even if you throw in North Dakota, you only get up to Hawaii in population. It just isn't going to happen for him on the top spot.

Posted by: johnmarshall5446 | January 31, 2011 6:32 PM | Report abuse

Ask the Chinese generals if it's way too early to talk about this stuff. Their window of opportunity on Taiwan closes in under two year and they have presidents in both the White House and in Taipei willing to sell Taiwan down the river. They don't call it Oba-Ma for nothing.

Posted by: johnnyramone | January 31, 2011 9:39 PM | Report abuse

John Thune "will be the only contender with foreign policy experience" ??????

That speaks volumes on the rest of the field. Plus, Thune is Mr. Ethanol and Gung-ho into Iraq. puleez...

Do not dismiss Jon Huntsman until he announces and speaks. I think serving as US Ambassador to China is a great example of "country first". Exactly what the vast center yearns for. Huntsman would probably have more problem with being the scion of a chemical company, but, at least they MAKE a product, instead of romney's vaunted business experience in private equity.

Too soon to be spending so much time on this, but truly a shame if the GOP lets the social conservatives choose their candidate. Just what America needs - more divisive debate over the issues that have divided the U.S. more than any other since slavery.

writing as a registered Democrat who is very independent.

BTW whistling - China likes Israel just fine. It is the U.S. and the oil states that interfere with Israel's relationship with China.

Susan Eisenhower should run, although she has the burden of having been conned by Obama on nuclear non-proliferation in 2008.

Posted by: K2K2 | January 31, 2011 11:14 PM | Report abuse

whistling asked:

"And speaking of FLAWS. Dos the Washington Post have any respect for it's readers? Obvious. No it doesn't"

Not as long as Fred Hiatt is at the helm. Just total, unmitigated contempt for its readership. His editorial pages are routinely littered with indicted and convicted war criminals. If Slobodan Milošević were still alive he would most likely be a regular contributor. Hiatt simply has zero respect for human values.

Posted by: B2O2 | February 1, 2011 1:23 AM | Report abuse

"If only Christie would run." Exactly -- he really needs to start hitting that treadmill a little; not that much, americans' obesity, tailoring, etc. are mitigating factors but the aesthetics are underestimated. Then again, it might be a nice psychological change from (presumably, in the future) unpopular, lissome Obama, a salt 'n' pepper contrast. But he really should shed some pounds; not like Huckabee did but some. He'll look ridiculous next to the others; it'll remind everyone of Farley and Swayze, RIP, and it won't be funny at all. Remember Kennedy and Nixon?

Posted by: aardunza | February 1, 2011 6:40 AM | Report abuse

No, I'm not Republican consultant Mike Murphy, I just play him on T.V. :)

Posted by: aardunza | February 1, 2011 6:56 AM | Report abuse

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