That sounds right to me. Aside from the obvious fact that Democrats are hungrier than Republicans because they’ve been out of office since 2000, the Republican field is remarkably weak this cycle. Compared to Democrats, who have half a dozen genuinely strong contenders, John McCain is really the only high-profile candidate they’ve got, and even he’s hardly setting the world on fire. It’s pretty amazing, really. From being on top of the world a mere two years ago, Republicans are having trouble just treading water these days. ~Kevin Drum
I often disagree with Kevin Drum, but his analysis here on the strength of the field seems right. The field is pretty pathetic any which way you look at it. Certainly from the conservative perspective, it is appalling, but simply as a matter of putting up your A List people as potential nominees this field is simply a joke. Can it be true that the presumptive leaders of the pack are John McCain, a former New York mayor and some guy from Massachusetts?
Then again, come to think of it, 2000 was a pathetically weak field for Republicans, too. Few people from either party wanted to take on Gore, whose advantages many assumed were too formidable to overcome. 1996 wasn’t that much better. It was considered Dole’s “turn,” and few wanted to try to unseat an incumbent President. The resulting GOP coronation and Democratic landslide showed the basic flaws in the GOP method of picking nominees and confirmed the great difficulty of throwing out an incumbent President. The tendency towards coronations of presumptive frontrunners, from which we may be spared this time (perhaps yielding a Carter-like nominee out of the chaos of a tumultuous primary season!), has been a blight on Republicann politics for a long time. Sometimes the presumed favourite stumbles, but normally Republicans are embarrassingly good about pre-selecting their leader and then getting behind him to win the election. This has worked out well, as far as electoral success goes, since Republicans will have held the White House for 36 of the last 56 years at the start of 2009. As a method of picking the best leaders and the most competitive candidates in every election, it is far less successful.
Still, the weakness of Republicans heading into ’08 is striking considering how confident and arrogant they had become after ’04. The weakness of the field is stunning in another way, since there are probably at least three Republican governors running around out there who would be natural candidates for ’08 in a less disastrous cycle who are almost certainly not running. Jeb Bush would obviously be one, Mississippi’s Haley Barbour is another and Alabama’s Bob Riley is the third. As it is, all of the conventional wisdom about ’06 has said that the GOP relied too much on its “Southern” wing and disparaged its “Western” wing, all of which is tied into deeply questionable and (I think) very wrong assessments of what Western Republicans represent in the party. The repudiation of Bush and the GOP in ’06 was supposed to be a rebuke to Southern Republicans, which has never made a lot of sense to me, but there it is. That probably contributed to Barbour and Riley assuming that they had no chance in an ’08 competition. Bush has obvious reasons to not make the attempt this time.
The disaster of ’06, brought on by horrible GOP misrule, helped make sure that Minnesota’s Pawlenty squeaked through rather than romp to a big win, thus potentially setting him for a bid of his own (as Richardson’s effortless re-election did for him in New Mexico). Now he has signed on as McCain’s right-hand man. Very poor decisionmaking and leadership by Mitt Romney at the RGA helped to make sure that Bob Ehrlich would not be back in Annapolis because the RGA wasted valuable and limited resources on ridiculously lopsided, Democratically-favoured races in Michigan, Iowa and New Mexico, and that in turn ensured that Ehrlich would never even have the chance to consider a run. Mitch Daniels’ self-inflicted implosion in Indiana can be separated from the woes of the national GOP, but that also explains why he is suddenly on the political fast-track to nowhere. Republican governors considered capable, effective and smart were once found in abundant numbers. Now the best they have to offer is…Mitt Romney? Good grief.
During the Bush Era, supposedly a time when Mr. Bush was doing such a bang-up job of party-building, the Republican candidate “farm system” of governors in the states dried up or was tapped for the absurd purposes of filling Bush’s first-term Cabinet. We now laugh at Tommy Thompson’s ’08 bid, but he was once considered a likely prospect for the White House before this administration shunted him off into the political Nowheresville of HHS (what hurts Thompson’s bid this time is the fact that he accepted such a position). Tom Ridge would have had legions of problems with the social conservatives in the party, but he was once considered a fairly formidable political talent. Then again, having seen his performance at DHS, perhaps it was a good thing that we were spared a Ridge presidential run. (Separately, when John Engler failed to deliver Michigan for Mr. Bush in 2000, his hopes of his own bid in the future more or less died.) The Bush administration leaves in its wake not just a shattered party, but one in which all of the minor princes of the party have been more or less ruined by the mistakes, extravagance and excesses of the emperor. His idea of party-building was to tie the party to himself so closely that it became dependent on him. Now that he is visibly faltering and failing, the entire structure is suffering massive withdrawal. The field this year is so weak because the GOP allowed all of its sinews (and its brain) to atrophy during the high times of the Bush ascendancy. Apres le Decider, rien.