There is a temptation by some at this early point in the presidential campaign to dismiss ex cathedra certain major candidates for the Republican nomination. In fact, there are those who have already done this about each of the three major announced contenders.
History demonstrates time and again that premature dismissals are not a rewarding undertaking before a single vote has been cast in a primary or a caucus, before any large-scale debate between all the candidates has taken place, before the Iowa Straw Poll, and yes, before all the candidates have announced.
We have already heard that, despite his leading in most polls, having virtually unlimited funds, and already well-organized nationally from his run in 2008, that former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney can’t win. Why can’t he win, we are told? Because of his religion, because of state-mandated healthcare enacted when he was governor, and because he does not fit predetermined stances on some issues. Somehow, however, Mr. Romney’s campaign is thriving. Despite being so rich he could finance his own campaign without a single donation from anyone, he raised $11 million in one day recently (a record). His poll numbers either have stayed the same or are growing.
Anyone who dismisses Mitt Romney at this point is likely to be already committed to another candidate and indulging in wishful thinking.
We are now told that former Speaker Newt Gingrich absolutely can’t win. Why can’t he win, we are told? Because he is too old, because of two past divorces, because he’s “had his day” and most recently because he criticized Representative Paul Ryan’s Medicare reform plan. These contentions are made despite Mr. Gingrich’s cutting edge technological prowess (he was the first to announce by Twitter), his remarkable decade-long recovery from his 1998 resignation as speaker, and in spite of his current happy marriage. His choice of words in regard to Mr. Ryan were indefensible, but he has apologized. The latter incident was the most serious because he was violating The GOP eleventh commandment about not criticizing leaders in his own party. Nevertheless, the national media, including the conservative media, have piled on and proclaimed Mr. Gingrich’s campaign dead in the water. Yet even as they were doing this, and many blog commentators were echoing his political demise, Mr Gingrich was drawing large and positive crowds in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, sites of the first primaries and caucus. Perhaps sensing a premature dismissal, even The Washington Post is now calling the former speaker “The Comeback Kid.” The contretemps with Mr. Ryan has furthermore seemed to chasten Mr Gingrich about his tendency to speak carelessly in public, and his fundraising has temporarily slowed, but he has more than a million persons (and funders) on his regular mailing list, draws large friendly crowds wherever he goes, and has no intention of going away quietly.
We are told that former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty can’t win, because he has no experience outside of Minnesota, because he can’t raise sufficient campaign money, has a history of poor political organization, and because he is boring, Yet he continues to draw praise for his bold style of campaigning, including telling Iowa voters he now opposes funding for ethanol, and Florida voters it’s time to reform Social Security and Medicare. For a man who is supposed to be boring, he is being quoted in the media a great deal, continues to attract endorsements from major political figures, and continues to draw top political operatives to his campaign. Mr. Pawlenty, a virtual unknown only months ago, is now frequently touted as the major challenger to Mr. Romney. Mr. Pawlenty does not seem like a good choice for early dismissal.
I am not suggesting that any of these three men are going to win the Republican nomination for president, but I am suggesting we have not yet seen what any of them, nor any other GOP candidates, can do on the actual campaign trail when voters actually go to the polls.
I also want to point out that each of the three seem quite determined to be president. They do not hesitate to say so, nor to wilt under pressure and the ruthless glare of the presidential campaign season. Mr, Gingrich in particular has undergone a withering series of dismissive criticisms by editorial writers, political cartoonists, and political “experts,” and yet he seems to have found a second wind for the campaign ahead. I seem to remember so many telling me in the winter of 1992 that then Governor Bill Clinton, mired in scandals about his girl friends, was “finished,” and had no chance to win his party’s nomination only a few months ahead.
A second wave of announcements by Republican hopefuls now seems imminent. Perhaps the eventual nominee will be one of them. Or perhaps the nominee will be one of the three candidates who announced early in the race, and are somehow still standing after the media and political elites (on all sides) said they could not possibly make it to Tampa in triumph.
Isn’t it interesting that a biography of Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens), famously declared dead more than a hundred years ago (and long before he did pass away), was recently the number one bestseller in America?