Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Huckabee (and Bayh)


When people look at the GOP field for 2008, they worry about McCain or Allen or even Romney.

You want to know who the strongest GOP candidate would be, the one that would make me lose sleep at night?

Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

The guy is a scary good politician and the more Republican voters see him around the country, the more support he'll get.

I suggested the same thing last week at Lindsay Beyerstein's place:

Actually Huckabee as a presidential hopeful doesn't surprise me at all. He's a governor, which has historically been a more fruitful breeding ground for presidents than Congress; He's also a religious True Believer. Of the other GOP hopefuls, only Sam Brownback (albeit a new convert to Roman Catholicism and a member of Opus Dei) can lay claim to that. Of course, he's kinda homely looking and being from Arkansas, hasn't been a regular on the talk show circuit (like, say, George Allen). I doubt he'll get his party's nomination. But it wouldn't surprise me if he was a player two years from now.

My original thinking looking ahead to '08 was that Jeb Bush was a shoo-in for the nomination. I had a hard time seeing how it could be anyone else, considering the opposition to McCain and presumably Guliani among the conservative rank and file. Jeb has a conservative rep, and nationally, would have the electoral credentials, being a governor of an important swing state.

But his brother's basement-dwelling poll numbers have probably negated any potential benefit Jeb would have from inheriting his brother's mantel and continuing the Bush dynasty, at least in 2008. Interestingly, Jeb's official "not-running" stance on the nomination has been accompanied lately by a Gore-like revival of interest in his candidacy from the likes of Newt Gingrich, among others who think W's brother would make a fine CiC. For the moment I'm inclined to think Jeb will stay out in '08.

Meanwhile, McCain seems to be enjoying a bit of a rebound among Republicans, making his nomination at least plausible. But this will be interesting to watch play out because despite his appearance at Jerry Fallwell's Liberty University for graduation speech duties, McCain is not, religiously, a True Believer. And given growing discontent among the conservative grass roots with Bush's lack of follow through on their agenda, I'm skeptical about how willing the party's base is going to be to accept somebody like John McCain who probably isn't itching to go to church with them.

Allen hasn't particularly stressed his religiosity, but his state is known as one in which the religious right exercises considerable influence in, if not outright control over, the Republican Party. Romney is Mormon, a religious tradition viewed by most Christian evangelicals as not only heretical but fraudulent, despite its similar stand on social issues.

And while the last six years have demonstrated how far someone of limited intelligence and charisma can go in today's Republican Party, I have a hard time seeing how a virtual doofus like Allen makes the grade.

If McCain and Guliani are out, and if Allen and Romney are suspect, Huckabee might seem like a reasonable alternative.

On the Democratic side, I wrote last week that I didn't think Al Gore would make a very good president. So who would? I don't know that he would be great, but among the prospective contenders, Evan Bayh would probably be most up for the job.

I know to most progressives, Evan Bayh shouldn't be allowed to run for dog-catcher on the Democratic ticket, much less headline the presidential slate. I probably said as much when Bayh voted for cloture on last year's bankruptcy "reform" legislation.

But you go with the Democratic presidential contenders you have, not the ones you wish you had (as we might paraphrase Donald Rumsfield). And when I scan the field, I see inexperience (Edwards, Clark, Feingold, Obama), potential endurance issues (Biden), the charisma challenged (Richardson, Dodd), ideological mushiness (Vilsack, HRC, and Bayh), or been there done that loser reputations (Gore, Kerry, Daschle), not mention geographical deficits (Biden, Dodd, Gore, Kerry). To be fair, most of these candidates have at least some strengths that would be important in either a campaign or presidency. Edwards and Obama would bring the most charisma and energy to a campaign. Biden, Kerry, Gore, and Bayh I would count as being ready for the job starting on day one. Richardson, Bayh and maybe Clark, Edwards and Vilsack could help geographically. Clark, Vilsack, Bayh, Richardson and Gore would bring executive experience. Feingold and Edwards would be the most progressive. Another important attribute would be who among these folks can help build an enduring national party. This is much harder to guage but ideally it would be someone who doesn't regularly denigrate other Democrats (like Vilsack and Bayh).

This is a potpouri of assets and liabilities and I can't say there's some formula that renders any of this reduceable to an index ranking sort of thing. But executive experience, geographical base, and age-endurance are among the factors I consider important in the next Democratic nominee. And when I throw everything together, and in particular when I think about who will best handle the Republicans in Congress and conservatives in the media, Bayh strikes me as a not unreasonable choice, maybe even a pretty good one. As for Bayh's ideological and party building liabilities, ultimately I think that party building will be best accomplished by us, the grassroots, and state and local efforts (such as those being led by David Sirota). Presidents generally help their parties by projecting a positive, winning image, raising money, and influencing public debate. Bayh would probably help a lot on the first two of these, but would have a harder time with the third. But again, looking at our list, I don't see who else would do much better. Beyond that, presidents are too busy with foreign affairs and other responsiblities to hold the party's hand. This means that ultimately, much of the responsibility for the Democratic Party's future success and development will depend on those who take action in their communities and in their party's campaigns. All the rest depends on events and circumstances largely beyond our control.

Anyway, none of this is to say I'm locked into a choice. This is just how I see things shaping up so far. Maybe someone else outside of this group will emerge, or maybe someone within it will step up in the months ahead. Then again, the 2006 elections and developments between now and 2008 will also be of obvious importance for the 2008 campaign.


Rob said...

It's nice to see Bayh getting some... well not necessarily love, but not hate either...

Bayh has all the tools necessary to win a national election... the question is will we let him try.

One thing I did want to know... you said one strike against Bayh (and Vilsack) was that they denigrate other members of the Demcoratic party... How is what they do different from what is done TO Sen Bayh and other moderates in the Democratic party? I'm not saying that they shouldn't criticize Sen Bayh... constructive criticism is extremely useful. But let's be fair about it... if you're going to call one person out for it, call everyone out for it.

Bulworth said...

Bayh has a tendency to say things like "Democrats lack credibility on national security..."

Statements like that tend to (1) reinforce Republican and media spin about Democrats "being weak on national security", which ironically increases the difficulty for Democrats of solving the problem of national security "credibility" and (2) come across as broad-based criticism of the Democratic Party in general, which is different than, say, criticizing a Democrat for voting for the bankruptcy "reform" legislation.

But I agree that broad-based, and personal criticism of Democratic candidates by those of us in the blogosphere can be self-defeating, and serious candidates like Bayh deserve an open hearing.

But Bayh needs to say more about national security than that Democrats suck at it. Most Democrats, if not all, voted to authorize the use of force in Afghanistan, and an unfortunately high number of Democrats voted to authorize force against Iraq. While the former could be described as conducive to the country's national security, the latter was not. And the latter has arguably left us less secure than before.

Military force is a blunt, and rather limited policy instrument. Moreover, the "war on terrorism" is showing a distressing potential for becoming both an internal war by the right against American dissidents and non-conformists, as well as a permanent "war". When does Bayh think the WOT will end and how do we measure it's progress?

I'm glad to hear Bayh is connecting with local bloggers. Hopefully those with access to him can bring these concerns (and perhaps others) to his attention.

Rob said...

Maybe I'm taking it the wrong way, but I've always heard Sen Bayh say that people think Democrats lack credibility on national security and we don't and we need to prove that we don't.

He's not criticizing Democrats for not having credibility on national defense, he's criticizing them for not standing up and saying "Yes we do!" but rather trying to change the subject.

Sen Bayh made a significant and detailed speech on national security in February. You can find it here:

Bulworth said...

Thanks for the link.

There's a lot here I can agree with, although I think his rhetoric on Iran is a little bellicose. One of the reasons the Iraq war is a problem today is the consequences of invasion and occupation (particularly the religious and ethnic differences in the country) weren't well thought out (to put it mildly). What would the consequences be of military action against Iran? Would bombing be enough to change the situation, or would it provoke retaliation somewhere on the globe, if not on the bombers themselves, that would require military escalation?

Drawing lines in the sand--particularly those based on what certain regime elements have Said over the years, as opposed to what they've Done and can do--is pretty risky, even if it plays well politically in some quarters. There was a lot of loose, anecdotal like that that was used to inflame opinion and action against Iraq. Let's not rush into judgment based on isolated speeches and rumors of rumors.

At least Bayh's vote against Haden, apparently meant to express opposition to the NSA spying reports, and perhaps the administration's internal responses to the war on terrorism generally, shows a recognition of the difference between targeting enemies abroad rather than at home.