Why the 2012 Hopefuls Don’t Inspire

The title above is taken from Jeff Jacoby’s column in the Boston Globe today. In it, he writes:

“Underwhelmed by the way the 2012 presidential contest is shaping up? With more than 18 months remaining before Election Day, sensible Americans have better things to dwell on than the next race for the White House. But if you are contemplating the upcoming electoral marathon, “underwhelmed” probably overstates your level of enthusiasm

When asked whom they were most enthusiastic about, 9 percent of Republicans named Romney and 8 percent cited Huckabee. But nearly 60 percent of Republicans couldn’t identify any candidate who sends a thrill up their leg. “I’ll tell you right now,” the new Republican governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley, said the other day, “No one in the field excites me right now.”

Of course these numbers and reactions will shift as the presidential contest takes shape. But between now and Election Day 2012, Americans will once again find themselves winnowing a field of wannabes whose most distinctive characteristic is the intensity of their political ambition — not the brilliance of their intellect, the perfection of their character, or the excellence of their judgment.”

Jacoby also mentions nineteenth century historian James Bryce who wrote that one of the reasons we rarely elect a “great and striking” candidate is because, as Jacoby writes, “it is more common for gifted individuals to go into business than into politics.”

The longer I’m in politics the more I find Bryce’s comment to be true. It would seem that the best and the brightest would rise to the top – the presidential race. Hardly.

Though George H.W. Bush won the nomination in 1988, there were at least some thinkers in the field like Jack Kemp and Pete DuPont. My frustration with the Republican Party’s inability to put forward higher caliber presidential candidates really dates back to 1996. That was the cycle when Bob Dole won the nomination in a field of mostly un-electric candidates. In 2000 the strength of the field was so weak even George W. Bush could win it.

In 2008 – the GOP’s habit of fielding less than stellar candidates culminated in the nomination of John McCain. While I supported McCain once he won the nomination, my hope was that a new McCain would be a “maverick” against the old McCain.

It’s too early to be negative about 2012, however. It’s only April – there’s a long road ahead – and a tremendous desire on the part of the GOP to nominate the best person so Obama can be sent packing.

Intramural competition can be rough – but it’s a good and necessary process. We might even see the rise of a strong field through it all, and just the ticket to help the country get back on the right track.