A Wall Street Journal/NBC poll reported last week that 45 percent of GOP voters are not satisfied with the candidates running for their party’s presidential nomination.
While the exact same percentage said they are content with the field, the current split is a long way from the same point in 2008 when 72 percent of Republicans said they were pleased with candidates running for the nomination.
The poll comes as the 2012 presidential field is pretty much set.
Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman formally enter the race Tuesday. Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann made her entry official at the beginning of last week’s debate in New Hampshire. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani continue to flirt with running. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels have opted against running and so has New Jersey’s brash Gov. Chris Christie. (Christie remains a favorite with the party grassroots. One poll shows him leading the existing field the minute he gets into the race.) No matter how you mix them up, the stubborn fact is that none of the Republican candidates — in or out of the race — shows the power to beat President Obama in the 2012 general election.
This chaotic scene in the Republican primary is enough to prompt early summer fantasies for the GOP faithful. Who would be on the 2012 Republican presidential ticket if a political genius dreamed up the perfect one-two punch to knock Obama out of the White House?
The answer I’m hearing around Washington is former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Ohio Sen. Rob Portman. Bush has said flatly he is not running. Let’s ignore that for now. He would bring in big money from the Republican establishment loyal to his father and his brother, the last two Republican presidents. He and Portman would be a great bet to carry the 47 electoral votes from Florida and Ohio, so creating a huge problem for Obama’s effort to win the 270 electoral votes it takes to claim the presidency.
Candidate Obama won both states in 2008 after George W. Bush captured them in 2004 and 2000. And any backlash against the idea of a third President Bush is not going to be big enough to turn any red state into a blue state. On the other hand, Bush’s brand name, intellect and stable personality could win back some key states for the GOP such as Virginia, North Carolina and Indiana. Obama won those states in 2008 but they traditionally vote Republican in presidential races.
Bush’s appeal also helps with the growing power of Hispanic voters. He is one of the few people in his party who supports comprehensive immigration reform and a pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers currently in the country. With Bush at the top of the ticket, the Republicans may be able to undo the damage the hardliners have done to their brand by opposing immigration reforms like the DREAM Act and the 2007 McCain-Kennedy package. Bush’s appeal to Latinos could make the GOP competitive in states with large Hispanic populations like Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico.
Obama and the Democrats know how important Florida is to their strategy. This is why they selected Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz to serve as chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee last month. In an April poll conducted by the St. Petersburg Times, Bush trounces Obama 57-38 percent in a head-to-head matchup in the Sunshine State. Ever since Barbour and Daniels announced they would not seek the nomination, the GOP establishment has not coalesced around a candidate. Bush fills that void.
The perfect running partner for Bush is Portman. With unemployment hovering around 9 percent, jobs and the economy will be Obama’s biggest vulnerability. To be successful, the Republican campaign will have to make a plausible case that it could do a better job managing the economy. Portman, the former U.S. Trade Representative and President George W. Bush’s budget director can seriously campaign as Mr. Fix-It for the economy.
Bush and Portman can’t be marginalized as Tea Party extremists but they can spout enough hot rhetoric to stir the base. They are also perfectly acceptable to the social, economic and foreign policy conservatives in the Republican camp. The Bush-Portman ticket would satisfy the William F. Buckley rule for Republican Primary voters — pick the most conservative candidate who can win.
But is the perfect GOP ticket strong enough to beat the incumbent? The money among inside political strategists is still on Obama. Maybe that is why Jeb Bush is not running.
Juan Williams is a writer, author and Fox News political analyst. His next book is "Muzzled: The Assault On Honest Debate" (Crown/Random House) which will be released in July. The column first appeared in The Hill.