Opinion

GOP Can't Take Anything for Granted In 2012 Presidential Race

Say this for President Obama, he was born lucky.

Napoleon said that was the first and most important quality for any general.

The president was lucky that Hillary Clinton, who had proved herself a popular, respected and successful senator from New York, and who has held her own as secretary of state, ran the most spectacularly inept major presidential campaign since incumbent President William Howard Taft came last in a field of three in 1912. (And that was after he delivered four years of peace and prosperity).

Obama was then amazingly lucky that John McCain proved to be an ignorant, complacent economic illiterate who couldn’t even fake competence or interest when the Wall Street financial crisis exploded in September 2008.

And now Obama has four more huge strikes of luck as well.

First, the belated teamwork between the CIA and the Pentagon’s many intelligence agencies began when his predecessor, President George W. Bush, appointed Robert Gates as secretary of defense in December 2006. But the hunting down of Usama Bin Laden came on the current president’s watch.

Second, the colossal U.S. annual trade deficits with the rest of the world started to shrink when Bush was still in the White House. But that trend strengthened under Obama and now the annual deficit is only two-thirds what it was five years ago: It has shrunk by a quarter of a trillion dollars a year.

Third, the great revolution in developing the new fracking technology to access and mine the natural gas deposits in shale formations across America began under Bush. But it only reached fruition after Obama entered office. Last year this revolution allowed the United States to surpass Russia as the greatest producer of natural gas in the world.

This means the United States can be free of dependence of foreign oil -- at least for electrical generating purposes (we still need petroleum for so much else) for probably at least a century.

Fourth, the meltdown of the economies of Portugal, Ireland and Greece in Europe (the three PIGs) has plunged the euro currency into crisis, and that has left the dollar looking relatively stable, despite Obama’s ruinous spend-as-if-there’s-no-tomorrow apology for an economic policy.

The president didn’t initiate any of these developments. But he stands to benefit from all of them. Napoleon would have recognized all that luck.

These developments, far more than the special election in upstate New York last month contain a sobering message for Republican leaders: You’d better pick a winner if you want to evict Barack Obama from the White House next year.

Rick Santorum take note.

It isn’t enough to anoint yet another tired old, burned-out senator like Bob Dole or John McCain just because he’s waited so long. And even substantive challengers like Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty can’t imagine they can coast home on Power Point presentations or TelePrompter talking points either.

As Nicholas Murray Butler, the longtime president of Columbia University, told timid Republicans trying to find some faceless party hack to deny Theodore Roosevelt the vice presidential nomination in 1900, “You can’t beat somebody with nobody.”

Santorum is an admirable man and refreshingly true to his principles. But the cold, clear political fact is that he has as much political clout nationally now as John Edwards did in 2008 during his fiasco run for the presidency. Both of them were former senators whom everyone knew could no longer even get elected in their own home states.

Santorum has never tackled the underlying economic woes of the United States. The Democratic Attack Machine would find it as easy to gut him like a fish on economic issues as it did the hapless Sen. McCain in '08.

This isn’t a prediction for automatic disaster or defeat in 2012: Republicans should certainly be able to win next year because the president’s big-spending economic policies remain so inept and potentially disastrous.

But that outcome isn’t fore-ordained: If GOP leaders approach the business of picking the candidate the “safe and sound” way they chose Dole in 1996 and McCain in 2008, they’ll lose. 

And if Santorum wins the nomination and complacently relies on 1980s rhetoric without substance as McCain did in '08, he'll lose bigger than McCain did.

Ronald Reagan didn’t come from nowhere to win the nomination in 1980. He was already a highly successful and nationally renowned governor of California who could and should have been the GOP nominee instead of Richard Nixon in 1968 and instead of Gerald Ford in 1976.

None of this is to say that Mitt Romney or Tim Pawlenty should never be chosen as the Republican Party candidate next year: They both did excellently as governors. And unlike Santorum, they both have serious credibility on economic issues. So does former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman.

Romney, Pawlenty and Huntsman know that former governors usually make the best and most successful presidents. Four out of Obama's five predecessors got to the White House that way and three of them -- Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, were successfully re-elected to second terms.

But like the other hopefuls, Romney, Pawlenty and Huntsman will need to show the party rank-and-file, especially the new Tea Party activists, that they have fire in their bellies, wisdom in their hearts and wit on their tongues.

Whatever else he isn’t, the president certainly is lucky. And he certainly has charisma.

Charisma and luck will take anyone a long way – all the way into the White House – whatever else they lack. Anyone who goes up against a candidate armed with those two smoking barrels had better pack the same firepower.

As Nicholas Murray Butler said, “You can’t beat somebody with nobody.”

Martin Sieff is former Managing Editor, International Affairs of United Press International. He is the author of “The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Middle East.”

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