While Barack Obama undeniably ran an effective and energized campaign, it’s plain by now that the McCain campaign of 2008 was a lot like the Republicans in general during 2008 – sloppy, disorganized, and frustrated. Now that he has lost the election and the most liberal candidate in more than a generation is the President-elect, Republicans and especially Conservatives have decided to tie John to a pole and set up a firing squad. Some republicans have opted for the full inquisition and tried to go after Governor Palin, only to find out Madame Governor is no docile scapegoat, and is inclined to return fire when attacked.
The problem for republicans, and especially for conservatives, is that there is no standout leader for 2010 or 2012 (thinking about the next go for rebalancing Congress, and of course things have reached the point where someone is bound to have already started planning the 2016 campaign). That’s not to say that there are not some good people, and some potential stars waiting to be discovered or for their time to arrive. But in the main, we have known ahead of time about big-league republicans and conservatives:
George W. Bush was a major GOP player as far back as 1994. Some said he was being groomed for the White House when he first won the governorship of Texas.
George H.W. Bush was a major candidate in 1980, and no one doubted that he would be the front-runner in 1988 when Reagan finished his two terms.
Reagan’s speech to the GOP Convention in 1976 laid a strong foundation for his 1980 run, as many republicans discovered what the RNC already knew as early as 1972; that Ronald Reagan was a rock star waiting for his stage.
It’s hard to believe in these post-Watergate days, but Richard Nixon was very well-respected all the years between 1952 (when he became Ike’s veep) and 1968, a man not much liked but understood to be a formidable force in politics and campaigning. It’s not generally recognized that many successful politicians learned from Nixon’s campaign disciplines.
You get the idea. While democrats have sometimes picked up their candidates on the fly, republicans tend to pick their winners pretty far in advance. The ones that get the nod late in the process – Ford, Dole, and now McCain – do not tend to fare well in the actual election. As a result, even though there should be opportunity in 2012 for a solid candidate, it is not clear at this time just how the GOP could hope to find a clear favorite. The primary season of 2007-8 was pretty dismal, in review. Few real conservatives ran at all, and the ones that did showed surprisingly little energy for the fight. Besides McCain, who ran his primary campaign on the strength of independent and crossover-democrat support (which did not show up for him in the general election), the main contenders in the republican primaries were Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani, good men both of them but neither of them a true Reaganite. Thompson carried the hopes and prayers of many a conservative, but while he had the belly, he lacked fire in it.
It would seem that for 2012, the early cast of republican contenders comes in three flavors:
First, there are the 2008 contenders. Not to be mean, but if we ran McCain again, or Romney or Huckabee or Giuliani or even Thompson, we would only assure Obama’s re-election. I just do not see any of these gentlemen developing the requisite qualities which were lacking in this last election.
Second, we can look to the new generation. Certainly there is hope there, in such people as Palin, Jindal, Cantor, Putnam, Pawlenty, or Thune. But if we choose that road, we have to answer better for the onslaught of attacks that we saw leveled against Sarah Palin this time. Any of these contenders will need a lot of preparation and coaching, yet they have to remain the same pure essence of conservatism and energy that makes them attractive in the first place.
Finally, we can always hope that someone will demonstrate outstanding leadership in the House or Senate, someone as yet unknown who will make the case for conservatism in a way that we have not seen in a generation. I cannot say who that would be, and indeed at the moment I cannot imagine any of the present members of the House or Senate in that kind of heroic role, but then again, miracles can and do happen, and if we are granted one we should not overlook the grace of it.