Tuesday, February 22, 2011


So John Thune isn't running for president, after all.

Thune's slot, as David Frum argued last week, was "generic Republican." A position undermined to some extent by some of the votes he's had to cast as a US Senator, as Dave Weigel points out. Still, I'm always a bit suspicious of claims like Weigel's that a single vote -- in this case, TARP -- makes it impossible for a candidate to win the nomination.

The thing is that someone has to win, and most candidates wind up with at least one difficult vote or speech or proposal in their past. No one is truly generic. Senators have all had to cast votes, and governors have all had to sign bills -- plus they can be held accountable for anything that's happened in their state. And it's impossible to navigate these things perfectly, even for a pol who has the White House in mind very early in their career, because it's impossible to know which positions that seem safe today will wind up being dangers tomorrow. That's true for TARP (supported by a Republican president and the Republican nominee for president; it's true for Mitt Romney's Massachusetts health care plan (supported by conservative policy wonks at the time).

Of course, some positions -- some current positions -- draw the vetoes of key party groups and are therefore absolute disqualifications. No pro-choice Republicans or pro-life Democrats are going to win a presidential nomination. But the record on even that most sensitive issue is that conversion experiences can make up for old records, whether it's George H.W. Bush or Al Gore. The bottom line, in my view, is that if the people and groups who choose the GOP presidential nominee had decided they liked John Thune, odds are that TARP and other past votes wouldn't have stopped him.

Meanwhile, the role of generic Republican remains available, although I think that Tim Pawlenty has been the leader for that spot for some time now -- although Rick Perry still seems to me like the most logical candidate for that spot. Under a year to Iowa...


  1. John Thune is tall and not just good-looking but of a certain striking appearance that makes his interesting to look at. He would have given Obama a serious challenge.

    Everyone talks about Mitch Daniels and then I look at his picture and start laughing. He looks like a waxy skeleton! He's bald! And super short.

    Chris Christie is fat and sweaty looking. Huckabee is creepy looking. Romney has stupid hair.

    Doesn't the Republican Party know how to win elections anymore?

  2. As I've argued before, the amount of apparent litmus tests for GOP candidates has greatly increased since the last presidential election. It now pretty much includes any of Obama's main domestic policy initiatives. Even middling support for the stimulus, the health-care bill, cap-and-trade, DREAM, financial reform, or DADT repeal is probably disqualifying. Some of those weren't even issues in the last cycle, and others weren't litmus tests. Hence you have Huck now claiming, contrary to the public record of his own words, that he never supported cap-and-trade.

    That's one of the reasons I believe the field looks so uniquely weak right now. There are just so many obstacles to the nomination that it presents a problem for just about any candidate put forth. This is what leads to insane flip-flopping or pandering (as in Pawlenty's vow to reinstate DADT) that not only makes the candidates look like cynical fops, but decreases their appeal to median general-election voters, most of whom don't care about these issues that so transfix Republicans. I don't know the extent to which these issues are truly disqualifying (I'm still putting my money on Romney for the nomination, despite his health-care heresy), but they're already leaving their mark on the race by turning the major candidates into hollow shells of their former selves.

  3. @Brendan

    So it's all about looks now? Then I guess the nominee will have to be Mama Grizzly or Crazy Michelle.

  4. I think you're forgetting the second half of the phrase "Washington is Hollywood for ugly people". Sure, you can't be fat or bald or short, but other than that you can be plenty silly or plain looking. Being creepy looking or having bad hair never disqualified anyone.


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