Republicans pining for a 2012 savior might need to reexamine the list of candidates mentioned as possible latecomers to the presidential dance: Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.
It’s not just that the four men have repeatedly denied they are interested in seeking the GOP nomination—although they have, ad nauseam. Each of the sought-after candidates also has blemishes on his own political resume, drawbacks that could hurt in a general election.
“It's always a temptation to want to look for the next great thing, but soon enough the dreamers will realize it's already arrived,” said Fred Malek, a longtime Republican adviser who served as John McCain’s finance chairman in 2008. He pointed to the three men considered the race’s front-runners: Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, whom he said posses executive experience and a record of creating jobs.
“I believe we have superb candidates in the race,” he said.
Bush, Perry, Ryan, and Christie would each be formidable in the Republican primary. But their stature in the GOP outpaces their appeal to the general public.
- Ryan would be irrevocably tethered to the House Republican budget he wrote, particularly his plan to convert Medicare to a voucher program for those younger than 55. That plan might be potent in a GOP primary, as Newt Gingrich can attest, but most polls show it’s heavily unpopular among the public, a point underscored by Tuesday's results in the special New York congressional election that saw a Democrat win a historically safe GOP seat after making an issue of the Ryan plan.
- Jeb Bush and Perry would both suffer for their connections to former President George W. Bush, whose unpopularity helped get Obama elected in the first place. Jeb is the brother of the former Republican president and Perry is his former lieutenant governor—who succeeded him as Texas governor. Either one at the top of the ticket would give Democrats an opportunity to frame the election as a choice between moving toward the future or returning to the failed policies of the Bush White House.
- Of the four named to the GOP “wish list,” Christie has the most compelling case for taking on Obama, after ousting a Democratic incumbent in a blue state two years ago and effectively enacting much of his budget-cutting agenda. But for all his bravado and for all the attention from Washington pundits, he’s struggled of late in his own state. As many New Jersey residents disapprove of his performance as approve, 44 percent to 44 percent, reports a Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind poll released Tuesday. That’s a 10-point drop from April, and the latest in a string of polls that show Christie’s poll numbers softening in the Garden State. The trend could damage his national stature. “If it persists, it will make him look less attractive as a presidential candidate than he has in past months,” said Peter Woolley, a political professor at Fairleigh Dickinson.
One other candidate who could enter the race, even if most Republicans aren't exactly begging him to: Rudy Giuliani. Jake Menges, an adviser to the former New York City mayor, said Giuliani is still considering a bid and will make a decision sometime in mid-July, when he thinks the field will finally be set. Giuliani, who flamed out early in the 2008 presidential race, is focused on defeating Obama next year, and his decision will be based on whether he thinks anyone running can do that, Menges said.
"If no one else gets into race, and no current candidate can do that, then the mayor will get in," he added.
Republicans are dissatisfied with the current field because it’s difficult to imagine any of them competing with President Obama, said Vin Weber, a former congressman from Minnesota and adviser to Pawlenty. Taking on an incumbent president is always difficult for challengers early in the campaign because of the stature and prestige of presidency, Weber said, but he predicted that the campaign, convention, and debates will raise the eventual nominee's stature.
Even if the prospective last-minute candidates look good now, he argued, they'd soon discover many Republicans still think the grass is greener on the other side of the fence.
“If any of these candidates got in, they would have a momentary boom, and then people would go back to saying we need someone else,” said Weber.