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Saturday, April 20, 2024

Column: Republican candidates aren’t that bad

Conventional wisdom has it that the Republican candidates are a sorry lot. After months of intense campaigning and the scrutiny that accompanies it, the four remaining contestants are known more for their vices than their virtues. Romney is uninspired and vacillating. Gingrich is a loose cannon. Santorum is sanctimonious and whiny. Paul is Jane Fondaesque on foreign policy and almost as old as the Constitution itself.

For Obama, of course, the whole process has been delightful. With all eyes on the Republicans, he has managed to temporarily escape from the fruits of his own incompetence. Which is convenient, since in his first three years, Obama has managed to be uninspired, vacillating, sanctimonious, whiny, Jane Fondaesque and a loose cannon all at once. At least he isn’t old, although the presidency has a way of taking care of that.

As for the Republicans, I can’t help but think that they’ve been unfairly written off. In politics, the perfect should never be the enemy of the good. And while they aren’t perfect, each hopeful has a lot to offer. So in the interest of positive thinking, here’s a non-exhaustive look at the good side of each Republican candidate.

Newt Gingrich is an undeniable intellect with big plans for a big country. Expansive to the point of grandiosity, he knows how to transcend petty political correctness and isn’t afraid to violate the sensitivities of mainstream pundits. It’s nice to see a candidate say things that just aren’t supposed to be said. And man, can Newt say it. That’s important –– a president has to be a communicator.

Gingrich may be an egomaniac, but in an age of false humility, at least he doesn’t fake it. His personal failings are troubling, but there has to be some room for forgiveness in politics. (Or maybe not –– I can’t help but think that if Newt wins the nomination, Democrats will relentlessly attack him because of his infidelities, forgetting their lockstep support of the equally troubled Bill Clinton.) With an anemic economy and a spiraling debt crisis, I’d prefer a flawed man with good ideas to a good man with flawed ideas. Or something like that.

Ron Paul is perhaps the closest thing to a principled politician that we’ve seen since, well, George Washington? Maybe that’s a bit of a stretch, but Paul really doesn’t seem care about public opinion or the possibilities of power. Regardless of the audience, he’s always ready to tear into the Federal Reserve, American imperialism or our broken monetary system. When Paul first ran for president, auditing the Fed or abolishing the TSA seemed kooky. But Paul stuck to his guns, and his conviction has made converts. He has single-handedly mainstreamed libertarianism in the Republican party. There’s a lot to be said for a man that actually believes in something.

Rick Santorum isn’t my favorite candidate. He has an off-putting speaking style and tends to brag a little too much (even for a pol) on stage. But here’s something I admire about the man; he’s steady. You won’t see rhetorical fireworks from this most-unpresidential of candidates, but his overall consistency (both ideological and personal) is impressive.

Mitt Romney isn’t consistent. In fact, his flip-flops on issues from abortion to health care are the biggest part of his baggage, in this election at least. On top of that, Mitt isn’t flashy. But his muted personality can actually be a positive if he’s elected.

Struggling with a seemingly endless economic slump, Americans don’t need a celebrity in chief. They don’t need someone to channel their frustration. They don’t even need someone to feel their pain. They need someone to do something about it. And that’s what Mitt Romney is good at.

In his cool, calculating way, Romney is a turnaround rockstar. From his days at Bain Capital where he specialized in making broken companies profitable again, to his miracle stint with the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, Romney has gotten the job done again and again, with little fanfare and less drama. Obama meanwhile, has had his chance to do a turnaround on the US economy, and has utterly failed to solve or even comprehend the problem. I’d trade all the adoring magazine covers that Obama has gotten for an economic future in a heartbeat. I suspect most Americans would too. If it takes a colorless northeastern Mormon to do the job, so be it.

I haven’t decided who I’ll vote for in the primary yet. And I realize the headline isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement. But given the choice between a flawed candidate and a failed presidency, I’ll take my chances with the former.

SAM HOEL can be reached at swhoel@ucdavis.edu.


  1. Sam, thanks for your objective comments on the current conditions in the Republican nomination race. Your perspective is refreshing and free from the kind of rabid partisanship that is more than tiresome. This is a political race after all.


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