Given the gravity of that situation, for America and the world, and the growing weakness of the Democratic incumbent, is it really surprising that Republicans would look around for possible alternatives? And given that any alternative would need to enter the race with a splash and swiftly raise enough money to be competitive in the early primaries, is it really a “marvel” that the two Republican politicians who have raised their profiles dramatically during the last two years — Christie and Paul Ryan, that is — are the names that people keep coming up with?
No, it’s not surprising at all, but at this point it is unrealistic. Yes, I still marvel that a newly-elected governor and a
fiveseven-term member of the House are the politicians that many Republicans name as would-be political deliverers. There’s no question that they have raised their profiles in recent years, but they have done so because they are in the midst of important policy fights in Trenton and Washington respectively. Christie is enjoying whatever success he is having because he presumably knows state issues and has crafted policies to address them. Ryan has gained national attention because of his work as a budget policy wonk. That experience is relevant, but it isn’t going to make it any easier for them to fill in all the gaps on policies that haven’t occupied their attention before now. Neither of them would run a campaign that is as aimless as the one Fred Thompson ran, but Christie and Ryan candidacies would suffer from the same basic flaw: they have no particular reason to run except that there is a vague feeling that all of the other competitors are unsatisfactory.
Jon Huntsman hasn’t gained any traction for many reasons, but it didn’t help that he had to throw together a campaign at the last minute after he returned from China. It would be even more difficult for Christie or Ryan to pull together an organization on such short notice. The organizational challenges for any candidate are considerable. Urging Christie or Ryan to get into the race at this point is to invite them to humiliate themselves. Of course, if Republicans want someone with Romney’s reputation for executive competence without quite so many egregious deviations from the party line, and if they find that they can’t abide Rick Perry’s brashness and policy blunders, Huntsman would seem to be an obvious alternative, but he was ruled unacceptable even before he entered the race.
As Ross and I understand, however, Huntsman’s candidacy is not going to gain much support, because he is too sensible on foreign policy for the hawks, and because he worked for the administration he would be trying to replace. It has not helped Huntsman that his candidacy was promoted so heavily by mainstream media outlets. The enthusiasm for Huntsman among some journalists is really just the mirror image of the conservative media’s longing for Ryan and Christie. While there is some constituency for a Ryan or a Christie candidacy, I suspect that conservative pundits and journalists are their main base of support.
Ross challenges critics of Christie and Ryan boosters to offer an alternative, but what I am saying is that there is no more time for an alternative to emerge. More to the point, both Christie and Ryan would disappoint their former boosters almost as soon as they entered, and in another few weeks we would be treated to a new round of columns calling for Jim DeMint or Sam Brownback (or whoever) to ride to the rescue. This brings us back to Bernstein’s observation that Republicans are stuck with the field they have, and the field they have is a reflection of the party. Whether or not it is the absolute best that the GOP can do, the field is now as good (or bad) as it going to get.