An Inside Look at the Republican Candidates Running For President

(This column authored by Chris Ingram originally appeared in December 2007 on FrontPageFlorida.com)

Welcome to the Irreverent View, my new column appearing on FrontPageFlorida.com. The column will focus on political topics of interest to Floridians.

According to Dictionary.com “irreverent” means:

  1. Lacking or exhibiting a lack of reverence; disrespectful.
  2. Critical of what is generally accepted or respected; satirical: irreverent humor.

This column will be more of the latter than the former. I’ll only be disrespectful when an elected official or candidate disrespects the voters. That’s fair game.

Just who am I and what makes me qualified to spout my opinion about politics? I worked in Washington, D.C. on and off the Hill for nearly ten years. I’ve been a campaign strategist, chief of staff to a member of Congress, and a political pollster, and pundit on Fox and CNN and have contributed columns published in the Washington Times, National Review Online, and United Press International. Today, I am the president of my own Tampa-based company 411 Communications , a public opinion research and communications firm for corporate and political clients.

So there is the short version of my background. You can read my full bio here. (URL to bio is: http://www.411communications.net/chrisingrambio.html) My background doesn’t make my opinion any better, or any more right (or wrong) than yours. It’s just my opinion. But my opinion is here on FrontPageFlorida.com and yours is not because I know the publisher and he thinks I’m a swell guy.

So here it is, my inaugural column for FrontPageFlorida.com. What I think of the 2008 Republican Presidential Candidates:

As the Republican presidential candidates pander to the right-wing of the party and try to “out Reagan” one another, it is important to cut through all the consultant created, poll-tested messages and recognize the candidates all have certain strengths and weaknesses. For voters, the toughest thing to do is to see through all of the campaign rhetoric and accept each candidate for what he is – bunions, blemishes, bad hair, bad ideas, and all.

Since I don’t buy into the notion of “top tier” candidates – there are only top tier media darlings – here is an equal look at each candidate, (in alphabetical order for fairness) with my view of his strengths and weaknesses and a short analysis.

Rudy Giuliani, former Mayor of New York City

Greatest claims to fame: did the impossible by cleaning up New York City; 9-11 leadership following Twin Towers attack; used to have really bad comb-over; keeps divorce lawyers busy; once photographed dressed in drag.

Greatest strength: he’s anti-gun, pro-gay, and pro-choice; Hillary’s “November Nightmare.”
Greatest weakness: he’s anti-gun, pro-gay, and pro-choice; Republican Primary voters will never elect this guy who has more baggage than an airline terminal.

Analysis: if the American public still perceives the economy is in the tank on Election Day, Rudy will have a hard time capitalizing on his 9-11 leadership as his signature issue because economic issues trump terrorism as a voter motivator. In addition to his liberal social positions, what GOP voter is going to trust a liberal New York Republican to be tough on taxes and spending? He couldn’t overcome all his personal obstacles and face Hillary in the 2000 N.Y. Senate race. What has changed Rudy?

Mike Huckabee, former Governor of Arkansas

Greatest claim to fame: got really fat and then lost a lot of weight.

Greatest strength: for Republicans looking for a “true conservative,” Huckabee is the only real deal in the bunch.

Greatest weakness: fundraising is not what would qualify as “top tier;” may be too conservative for General Election voters; hails from Arkansas (this could be a fun asset against Hillary as he reminds voters of her opportunistic tendencies in debates when he reminds her she used to be an Arkansan but is now a New Yorker).

Analysis: Huckabee has earned the title of the religious conservatives’ candidate having forced ultra-fringe Sen. Sam Brownback out of the field last week. And Huckabee is starting to appear as a media favorite earning accolades from the New York Times’ David Brooks who says he’s earned the right to be a top tier media darling. The challenge for the other man from Hope will be to balance gaining support from religious conservatives while simultaneously appealing to mainstream voters While all the GOP candidates invoke the name of Ronald Reagan at every Iowa BBQ or New Hampshire town hall meeting they attend, Huckabee may be the only one in the field who could actually be the next Ronald Reagan.

Duncan Hunter, member of Congress from California

Greatest claim to fame: never got really fat and had to lose a lot of weight.

Greatest strength: he’s strong! Listening to this guy you would think he single-handedly built a 730 mile section of border fence on the U.S./Mexican border. Don’t take Duncan’s slender frame for granted, he could be the next Jesse Ventura; as president, would have a take no prisoners approach to China trade and illegal immigration; if elected, buy stock in companies that manufacture bricks.

Greatest weakness: no one knows who he is; close ties to disgraced former Congressman Duke Cunningham (now in prison) and Defense Contractor Mitchell Wade (also in prison and the same Mitchell Wade who took former Rep. Katherine Harris out to a $2,800 dinner).

Analysis: if one of the media’s top tier candidates had Hunter’s baggage (Cunningham/Wade scandal) that is all you would hear about. It’s not an issue with Hunter because as far as the media is concerned, he’s not a serious candidate.

John McCain, United States Senator from Arizona

Greatest claims to fame: spent five years in P.OW. camp in Vietnam; involved in Keating Five congressional bribery scandal; put a whooping on W. in New Hampshire Primary in 2000 then got horse-whipped by Karl Rove in S.C.; authored worst piece of federal legislation (campaign finance “reform”) ever enacted; disdains pork-barrel spending.

Greatest strength: this guy is a fighter. Don’t underestimate John McCain and his anemic fundraising, low poll numbers, and staff defections.

Greatest weakness: beltway insiders loathe him, right-wing conservatives don’t believe he is a true conservative, soccer moms, NASCAR dads, and other “mainstream/moderate” voters no longer see McCain as a their Maverick hero.

Analysis: to say the “Straight Talk Express” broke down is an understatement. The bus has been headed down a dead end street ever since George W. Bush rear-ended it on some dirt road in South Carolina in 2000. McCain hasn’t been able to realign the front-end ever since. His appeal in that campaign was he was a Washington Maverick and didn’t mind being well, irreverent. That had appeal. Now he’s Bush’s Number One cheerleader on Iraq and (along with the president) dead wrong on immigration reform. McCain’s problem this year is he has no political strategy or identity. But don’t count him out just yet. For all of his flaws, out of this bunch, McCain is probably the candidate most-qualified to be president.

Ron Paul, member of Congress from Texas

Greatest claims to fame: one of only six Republican members of the House of Representatives who voted against the Iraq War Resolution; 1988 Libertarian candidate for president; medical doctor who continued to delivered babies while in Congress; once accused Bill Clinton of fathering illegitimate children and using drugs.

Greatest strength: this section left intentionally blank.

Greatest weakness: looks like the character Montgomery Burns on the television show “The Simpson’s.”

Analysis: for every great idea Ron Paul ever has, he has three really stupid ones. That’s why he isn’t a serious candidate and is not a media darling. But like Democrat gadfly Mike Gravell, he’s fun to have on the debate stage. So whoever is sending this guy money, please keep it up!

Fred Thompson, former United States Senator from Tennessee

Greatest claim to fame: Hollywood actor turned politician, once married to Jane Wyman – no wait! That was Ronald Reagan. This guy is no Ronald Reagan.

Greatest strength: occasionally appears in a good movie – plays roll of president/leader well; once wrongly believed by political pundits and prognosticators to be the next Ronald Reagan; took what felt like twelve years to decide and prepare for presidential run; fell flat on his face and still looks like it hurts.

Greatest weakness: looks like a whipped mule headed for a glue factory.

Analysis: I struggled with what to say about Thompson. Earlier this year I thought he was going to be the next Ronald Reagan (I thought the same about George “macaca”Allen about two years ago – maybe I’m not so good at this…). But boy, has Thompson been a disappointment. Substantively, he talks a good game about seriously addressing issues like saving Social Security and doing something about our national debt and immigration. In the senate though, he didn’t accomplish much – unless you consider opposing the fight to end lawsuit abuse and passage of McCain/Feingold campaign finance “reform” an accomplishment. Thompson’s problem now is he never looks like he actually wants to be doing what he’s doing (running for president). Instead he looks like an actor who took a job in a B-rate movie because he needed the money. Fred, next time, read the script first. Watching this campaign hurts. Word is his wife (who is an accomplished political consultant in her own right) is a big meddler in the campaign. Spouses can be an asset, or a liability, and in this case she appears to be the latter. There is still time for Thompson to turn it around, but he is no longer the 800 pound gorilla everyone thought he was going to be before he got in. The bar of expectations has been Thompson’s unraveling. Too bad Fred. Hope to see you back on Law and Order next season.

Mitt Romney, former Governor of Massachusetts

Greatest claims to fame: elected Republican governor in 2.5:1 Democrat leaning Massachusetts; took credit for turning around scandal-plagued Salt Lake City Olympics; once strapped dog crate and dog to roof of the old family truckster en-route to summer vacation with the kids.

Greatest strength: great smile; handsome; will gladly change position on any important issue for a vote.

Greatest weakness: when forty percent of the American people say they would not vote for a candidate for president who is a Mormon and you are a Mormon, that is your greatest weakness. You don’t have to be a highly paid political consultant to figure this one out…

Analysis: at first look, Mitt Romney is a dream candidate. He’s good looking, extremely smart, and for conservative Republicans, he’s right on the issues. Today. Where he was yesterday is a different story. Simply put, this guy is the Republicans’ version of one William Jefferson Clinton. Personally, I don’t want a Republican Bill Clinton. I don’t want to win so badly that we have to nominate a candidate who clearly believes in nothing other than the sheen on his perfectly pasted smile. Who are all of these people supporting him? Do they not have any convictions on any issues? Whether you’re pro-choice or pro-life, a second amendment supporter or a gun control advocate, how will you ever know what this guy actually believes? The answer: not until the damage is done.

No matter who gets the G.O.P. (or Democrat) nomination, the November election promises to be a battle like American voters haven’t seen in decades. And the election has a number of firsts or potential firsts. This is the first election since 1928 in which there is neither an incumbent president nor vice-president running. It has the potential to be the first election with a black, Latino, or woman as the nominee of a major party. It will be the first time since 1952 (with the exception of 1964) in which a Nixon, Dole, or Bush was not on the G.O.P. ticket. And if (God forbid) Hillary Clinton got elected, it would be the first time two families were elected to the presidency for six consecutive terms. Oh the thought of President Hillary… Pass the Rolaids.

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