The important questions in the 2012 presidential race
In 2012, the Republican challenger has a golden opportunity to defeat the incumbent president, unless unemployment drops dramatically and Obama finds the gumption to tackle the fiscal mess rather than "investing" our money in things we don't want or need and certainly can't afford. The 2012 challenger is going to need to run as the tough guy, unafraid to take on the problems that Obama refuses to face. He, or she, has to be the one who believes not in government, but in people and private entrepreneurship. So, as I go through the parade of getting-to-know-you interviews (which have begun, both on and off the record) with candidates and wanna-be candidates, I ask myself: Who is going to seem the most serious and determined to take on the difficult issues that Obama won't?
Who is going to look senators and congressmen in the eye and force a showdown -- by use of serial vetoes, if need be? Which contender is going to explain why Obama's vision is unsustainable and harmful, not simply to our wallets, but to our ability to control America's destiny? Who is going to take out the PowerPoint and tell voters what it is going to take to get from a sea of red ink to sound economic footing?
Voters may go for the jocular toughness of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. They may go for the youthful, wonkish exuberance of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.). Conservatives may go for the disarming resolve in someone like Tim Pawlenty. They may go for the quiet, technocratic precision of Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels. But a candidate who has blinked on spending or taxes, or who doesn't exude total determination to rip up ObamaCare and redesign our entitlement programs, is not going to be able to win the nomination or defeat Obama. It doesn't matter how much money they have or how much name recognition.
As exemplified by the State of the Union address, Obama turned out to be a political adolescent, full of himself, but, ultimately, irresponsible and lightweight. He is unable or unwilling to face up to our greatest domestic challenge: our fiscal mess.
Republicans need to find the grown-up who is both tough and appealing (the two often don't go hand in hand). The unserious and the irresolute need not apply. And oh, by the way, the same seriousness of purpose candidates display on fiscal matters, coupled with their ability to delineate the bad and good guys in the world (and be candid about the fact that there are good and bad actors), may give us some indication how they are going to conduct foreign policy. It's no coincidence that Obama finds it difficult to confront Congress on entitlements and to confront despots abroad.
The dig on Obama from many conservatives has been that he doesn't grasp the essence of America or embrace the role America must play in the world. There's plenty of evidence for both of those critiques. But in 2012, the most effective Republican is going to be the one who makes the case that he, not Obama, is willing to do the hard and big and important things to restore American prosperity at home and influence abroad.
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