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Stop The Fixation with Republican Fantasy Candidates

Ross endorses Kristol’s new candidate fantasy:

And do you know what? He’s been right all along. Right that the decisions by various capable Republicans to forgo a presidential run this year have been a collective disgrace; right that Republican primary voters deserve a better choice than the one being presented to them; and right, as well, that even now it isn’t too late for one of the non-candidates to change their mind and run. True, any candidate who jumped in would have a necessarily uncertain path to the nomination (requiring, at the very least, more than one convention ballot), and by casting themselves as a white knight they would risk embarrassment on a significant scale. But with the field having been winnowed and their opening clear, their path would be smoother and their odds higher than many successful presidential candidates in the past — Barack Obama in 2008 very much included.

This was an amusing idea seven or eight months ago. It became a far-fetched dream three or four months ago. Within the last few months, it has reached new and remarkable depths of absurdity. Let’s take each of these claims in order. Has it been a “disgrace” that Daniels, Barbour, Ryan, et al. have chosen not to waste their time run for President? No, it hasn’t. Many of the fantasy candidates that Kristol has touted don’t have the qualifications that Romney has, they all have their own weaknesses with conservatives and/or with the general electorate, and all of them decided for various reasons to save themselves the trouble, toil, and humiliation that a presidential bid would have entailed. The conceit that the primary electorate deserves better is mostly flattery, but it’s a conceit that a majority of Republican voters doesn’t seem to share. Finally, yes, it is too late for someone to jump in the race and have any realistic chance of winning the nomination, and for that reason it is too late for one of the fantasy candidates to change his mind. A new entrant would not only face intensive scrutiny as any normal candidate would, but he would be viewed with suspicion as more of a party elite-driven creation than Romney (which is exactly what he would be).

Ross entitled his post “Calling Mitch Daniels,” and Daniels is receiving attention as a fantasy candidate again because of his response to the State of the Union address. I have no strong objections to Daniels, but here’s some older polling data that should sober up even the most besotted Daniels admirer. As recently as last month, New Hampshire voters were asked by a Rasmussen poll if it would be good or bad for the GOP if Daniels entered the race. 10% said it would be good, and 44% said it would be bad for the GOP (among Republicans, it was 48%), and 23% said it would have no impact. When asked if they were likely to vote for Daniels if he entered the race, 13% said they were very or somewhat likely to vote for him, and a combined 73% said they were somewhat or very unlikely to vote for him. The attitude in Iowa was similar. 16% of likely caucus-goers in Iowa said it was likely they would vote for Daniels, and 67% said it was unlikely. 12% thought Daniels’ entry would be a good thing, and 40% thought it would be bad for the GOP (among Republicans, it was 43%). That is not the profile of a competitive presidential candidate, let alone a winning one. Can we stop pretending otherwise?

P.S. At the end of his post, Ross wrote that “cowardice” was what had kept the fantasy candidates from stepping forward. This isn’t quite as weird as the accusations that they are failing to do their patriotic duty, but the implication is much the same: unless a fantasy candidate launches a presidential campaign, he is guilty of a serious moral and political failing, and as such he has probably already disqualified himself from consideration for important office. The message is that the fantasy candidates are cowards who have failed their party and their country, but we must rally behind one of them as our leader.

Update: Here’s a question. If Ross judged the fantasy candidates according to the standards he listed in his latest column, would any of them stand out in two of the three areas he mentioned? If Ross is right that “[t]he losers of our presidential history…usually have only one gift out of three,” what would make any of the fantasy candidates any better than the underwhelming candidates currently campaigning?

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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