by Joe Shea
April 19, 2015
THE GREAT GOP BBQ
BRADENTON, Fla., April 19, 2015 -- My greatest success in political prediction-making came at the run-up to the 1988 Democratic National Convention at Denver. I turned to Ron Fournier, then the chief AP political writer, and told him that Gov. Howard Dean was hysterical: I heard it in his voice. Days later, Gov. Dean's loss in a primary drove him right over the edge, as predicted, in a hysterical rant widely recalled.
As I look at the 2016 cast of GOP presidential aspirants, only two distinguish themselves to me: former Fla. Gov. Jeb Bush, and current N.J. Gov. Chris Christie. They are the class of the class of 2016, I think. Bush and Christie are not hysterical and both can make the slog to the GOP convention in 2016.
Among the lesser souls competing with them are Sen. Ted Cruz, who strikes me as a bit mad, and perhaps crazy (Cruz is, I think, much too tightly wound); I don't think the Texas twang of Gov. Rick Perry will find much resonance with voters this time around, largely because of a forgivable but unforgiving slip of the memory during a debate in 2011, when he couldn't remember all three Cabinet agencies he planned to close. Sen. Marco Rubio, a true dreamer and an errant idealist, will be the 2016 campaign's mascot, the guy they love to love and laugh at. Less formidable than any of these is Carly Fiorina, the Hewlett-Packard executive whose printers alone will bring her down; they should give away ink for those things! Mike Huckabee is a goner, too, a faded voice from Fox and the past who connects to very few real Americans these days; all of them toegether don't have the cachet and the gravitas of either Bush or Christie - and probably not as much baggage, either!
I feel badly for former Pa. U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, who strikes me as a decent man with real values but limited appeal - maybe he's too sad. Donald Trump lacks even the luster of his toupee. Gov. Scott Walker is everyone's afterthought; La.Gov. Bobby Jindal, even with his compelling back story, remains a foreigner to most Americans. To my mind, the one worthy candidate not mentioned much yet is South Carolina U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham; he's not in the race yet, but should be, and he should also be up there with Bush and Christie in terms of stature, intelligence and resonance. Unfortunately, Sen. Graham has never tried very hard to define himself for voters, as Bush and Christie already have, for better or worse. Former Gov. George Pataki of New York, once a rising star, has settled back to earth, forgotten. Gov. John Kasich of Ohio has the stuff to distinguish himself in this crowd, but as yet has not trotted it out; he is a good bet for Veep on a Bush or Christie ticket, and carries with him the considerable weight of Ohio's race-making electoral votes.
Why Bush? Why Christie? I was living here in Florida during the horrific two seasons of hurricanes that devastated parts of this state in 2004 and 2005, and of all the things I remember most, Jeb Bush's steady, optimistic, encouraging and rational voice was a balm to our fear and hurt. There was nothing treacly or oily about him, either; his words came from a good heart, however misguided his conservative mentality might have been on other issues. He proved he was a man to lead, particularly in a storm. He is the solid guy his brother was not and his father was. You're not worried he's going off the deep end. He is the end product of the Bush family genes, the best of all of them and probably the most capable of being a President of all the people.
Gov. Chris Christie is something else altogether. He is the very prototype of the aggressive Easterner, the man from the depths of Wall Street and Park Avenue, the voice of places like Brooklyn and New York and New Jersey. He is clear-spoken, a very rare quality in this day and age, one almost extinct among politicians; Vladimir Putin will not get over on him, and the Ayatollahs will lose their aura in the glow of his red-hot burns. You can trust Christie to do what he says he's going to do, and to respond to insults with moral force and intelligence. He doesn't have the inner calm of Jeb Bush, nor is it a lack in him; his center, too, is solid, and always on view. I think that's a great thing.
There's one candidate I've saved for last: Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who probably has little better chance of winning than did his dad, Rep. Ron Paul. Mr. Paul is a serious man with serious goals; that's probably the first strike against him. He wants to abolish the IRS, for instance, for a "flat tax" system that well may not sustain a giant government like ours. He once wanted to do away with many drug laws, but in retrospect has withdrawn from all of them but medical marijuana, an easy row to hoe. He once believed Iran was no threat to the U.S., but seems to have backed off that, too. That's the problem with the long-professed values of the Libertarian Party, which shepherded him and his father into public view; they look great in the microcosm of the party's members, but a little crazy to a wider public.
Rand Paul's problem is that he is not crazy, and isn't comfortable in the Libertarian skin he made for himself. I like and appreciate Rand Paul, though, because he is the one man among all the candidates most capable and most determined to bring the real change that can reduce income inequality, gender inequality, rebuild the crumbling justice system and stop the imminent collapse of the deeply divided American education regime. No current protocol can be taken for granted any longer in a Paul Administration; our nation, and other nations, will feel the sting of his deeply held love of plain old freedom.
A cautionary note about Rand Paul's "facts," however: a reviewer of his Politi-Fact scores in the Tampa Bay Times found that the great majority of them were True, Mostly False or "Pants On Fire." Imagine what he could do with more of the truth!
And what of Hillary? That's another story, thank you.