The GOP primary contest has, thus far, largely served as a foil for the mainstream media, reinforcing the narrative that conservatives are ignorant and unserious. Perhaps the most egregious example occurred Sunday on “This Week,” when Paul Krugman said,
I have a structural hypothesis here. You have a Republican ideology, which Mitt Romney obviously doesn’t believe in. He just oozes insincerity, that’s just so obvious. But all of the others are fools and clowns. And there is a question here, my hypothesis is that maybe this is an ideology that only fools and clowns can believe in. And that’s the Republican problem.
The notion that being committed to a conservative philosophy (or as Krugman calls it, a “Republican ideology“) is tantamount to being a fool or clown is insulting and intellectually dishonest. But while Krugman was clearly taking a cheap shot, there is an underlying point that should not be ignored: The GOP primary field is admittedly weak. Meanwhile, the GOP bench is very strong.
Putting aside big names like Mitch Daniels, Chris Christie, and Jeb Bush (who chose to sit out this election out), would Krugman seriously suggest that up-and-coming Sens. Marco Rubio or Pat Toomey — both solid conservatives — are fools? How about Rep. Paul Ryan or Governor Bobby Jindal — are they clowns?
The fact that a new generation of conservative rising stars loom on the horizon might be cold comfort for Republicans hoping to capitalize on this opportunity to defeat President Obama now. But it certainly does undermine Krugman’s canard. Even more importantly, though, it may provide a clue for how the top of the GOP ticket could leverage the GOP’s old bulls and young turks.
Why is this important — or even needed — you ask? Barack Obama’s economic policies might have failed, but he is still relatively popular. And it’s not hard to imagine that he will once again be a formidable campaigner. If the election were to become a choice, for example, between the personalities of Mitt Romney and Barack Obama — I’m not sure Romney wins that contest.
But one way to lessen the likelihood the election turns into a mano a mano “cult of personality” contest would be to frame the election as a choice — not just between competing individuals — but between competing governments and competing ideas.
One needs only look back a dozen years for an example of how to do this. George W. Bush essentially fielded a multi-candidate “ticket” against Al Gore in 2000 (including not just his running mate Dick Cheney — but other popular leaders — like Colin Powell — who would serve in his administration).
Republicans should consider replicating this idea against Obama in 2012.
One can imagine Newt Gingrich might be most likely embrace such a romantic strategy, but Mitt Romney might benefit the most. That’s because Romney begins with an obvious problem: He simply doesn’t excite conservatives — a fact which might otherwise force him to select a running mate based primarily on the premise that he needs to find someone to appease the base. By rolling out a team, though, “balancing the ticket” consists of more than just picking a running mate.
There would be logistical advantages as well. For example, Romney would have a team of surrogates equipped and empowered to campaign for him around the nation full time. While presidential campaigns always employ surrogates, a surrogate granted the imprimatur of being part of a future governing coalition would obviously carry more weight.
Of course, I am not suggesting a “co-presidency,” but rather casting Romney comfortably as CEO of a team of competent conservatives. His managerial skills and technocratic style would be perfectly suited to such an idea.
So what do you think? Would America get behind a Romney-Rubio-Christie-Jindal ’12 ticket?