Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Forget the Frontrunner

I'm so tired of listening to pundits decry the lack of a credible Republican presidential candidate that I feel moved to proclaim the exact opposite. I think it's a very good thing that we don't have a frontrunner on whom all Republican hopes are pinned, for two reasons.

First, right now the Republican platform is in flux, as shown by how House Speaker John Boehner's position on "revenue increases" changed during the debt ceiling negotiations. At first, he obviously thought he had to give President Obama some kind of concession. Then he discovered that he could get the deal without one.

Obama may think the fall "supercommission" will produce significant tax increases, although I doubt it. But imagine if, as the Republican nominee, you had to offer an opinion - without being at the negotiating table. The perils are extreme: if you say some kind of increase is okay, you look like a wimp if Obama caves. If you refuse to consider any hikes and the package includes tax reform that may involve some increases, you're toast. And if you refuse to say anything, you get painted as a coward -- just ask Mitt Romney, the current leader of the pack.

Second, and conversely, choosing a front-runner for Republican nominee could hurt the evolution of the Republican platform. Just think if criticism of ObamaCare had to be tailored to avoid criticizing RomneyCare. Or if concessions made to Michele Bachmann alienated too many independents.

The truth is that the current configuration has its advantages. Boehner and Senator Minority Leader Mitch McConnell lead the charge for spending cuts, debt reduction -- and bipartisan compromise. They may win fame and glory but, if recent opinion polls are any indication, opprobrium is more likely. However, they can at least do what they see as necessary without worrying about how this will affect their presidential campaign, as neither is running. And the future Republican nominee, whoever s/he is, will profit from any progress they achieve.

Yes, I know: President Obama is out there raising lots of money that no Republican can match. That probably won't change. But if Republican congressional leaders can build consensus among Republicans and independents for real fiscal reform, that may make all the difference.

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