In the Arena

New Print Column: The Republicans

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In my new print column, now available online to subscribers, I lament Chris Christie’s decision not to run for President on the grounds that I was hoping to have a Leader of the Free World fatter than me. Actually, the New Jersey governor is to be congratulated for understanding that he didn’t have nearly enough experience to hold the highest office–and the rest of us ought to be castigated for continually insisting that…

a form of “outsider” virginity is a requisite for the presidency. I’d actually like to see a Presidential candidate who said, “I’m definitely not an outsider. I know Washington cold. I know how to fix the joint.” Given that qualification, Mitch Daniels–who once ran the Office of Management and Budget–certainly would have had a sense of how to get things done. And, given his painful experiences of the past 3+ years, President Obama might have an inkling now as well–but we’ll have to see how he performs over the next year.

In fact, I would like to dispute my columnar brother Tom Friedman’s claim today that Obama somehow screwed up by taking a strong Democratic stand in the current budget negotiations, rather than favoring a Simpson-Bowles sort  of moderation. Obama tried that righteous Establishment sauce last year and, you know what, it didn’t work. The Republicans didn’t yield and simply asked him to compromise some more. The debt ceiling game was played, embarrassingly, on the far right end of the field. It is classic negotiating tactics for the left to start left and the right to start right, and then we reach a compromise in the middle. If the Republicans continue to refuse to behave the way people do in a democracy, at least Obama has established himself in favor of the following things:

1. no social security and medicare cuts (supported by 80% of the American people)

2. higher taxes on the wealthy (supported by more than 60%)

3. a willingness to compromise if the Republicans come to their senses.

This is not a bad place to be, given all the other problems Obama faces.

Meanwhile, with Christie and Palin gone, Mitt Romney may, or may not, be looking stronger. His opponents are third-rate, but Republicans may just hate Romney for imposing a health care mandate on his state (certainly, more than a few conservative Christians think that Mormonism is some sort of satanic cult). As for the others, I’d say that Rick Perry is probably stronger than he seems right now–those who’ve watched him work a crowd think he has excellent retail political skills, which are very important in a place like Iowa. I’d also guess that Herman Cain is an overvalued commodity at the moment–he’s a nice protest parking place for Tea Partisans disappointed by the Bachmann and Perry adventures.

Two Republican stocks may be slightly undervalued: Rick Santorum, who has sufficient Washington experience to sound as if he knows what he’s talking about, even though many of his positions are Flintstonian. And Newt Gingrich, whose brains and sound bites are pleasing to many Republicans, although his tendency to go fissile, in an extremely ugly messianic way, will probably derail any surgelet he may surf in the coming months. But who knows? My humility when it comes to predicting these things knows no bounds.