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Topic A: The Ensign Scandal and the GOP's 2012 Prospects


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Sunday, June 21, 2009

In the wake of the revelation of Sen. John Ensign's extramarital affair, The Post asked politicians, former officials and others to take stock of the GOP field for 2012.

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LISA SCHIFFREN

Speechwriter to Vice President Dan Quayle; contributor to National Review Online's "The Corner" blog

Sen. Ensign's adultery may dim his barely risen star. But sex is over. Money is back. The next class of Republican leaders must be entirely free of financial sins. No tax cheating. No spouses on the payroll. No contracts to family members. No phony jobs at hospitals for three times the going rate or unkosher relationships with people who register voters. Clean.

If Obama's economic policies prove as ideologically motivated and profligate as they seem to conservatives, the next successful Republicans will be the substance guys. GOP leaders must offer creative policies to maintain a rising standard of living; they will respect the culture of personal responsibility and understand why economic liberty is critical. And they will present this stuff without a teleprompter, exuding rigor and straightforwardness. (Love you, Newt, but not this time.) Also, Americans will tire of Obama's moral equivalence between America and any/everywhere else. Demonstrable love for the U.S. will be a refreshing alternative.

I'm watching Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina, who has ideas and is a fighter; Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, who is thoughtful but needs zing; and Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, who is principled but needs an issue to be identified with. Love Sarah Palin -- still waiting for the policy seminars to begin. Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana? Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma? Go to You Tube and watch Lynn Cheney with the media -- she is combative, intelligent and reasonable. A few of those will regenerate the party.

LANNY J. DAVIS

Special counsel to President Bill Clinton from 1996 to 1998

Democrats' worst nightmare would be if the Republican Party nominated someone who came closest to the mixture of ideologies represented by Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, which commanded the White House for 12 years from 1980 to 1992, and the "compassionate conservatism" that President George W. Bush ran on. That's the magic combination: a Republican who is a fiscal conservative, a social moderate and a progressive on entitlement programs for the elderly and the poor.

Who fits that portrait? I would say Mitt Romney -- the real Mitt Romney, who served as governor of Massachusetts, not the plastic and pliable Mitt Romney, who flip-flopped to pander to far-right social conservatives during the 2004 campaign. He could highlight the Democrats greatest vulnerability: Democrats have not explained how we will pay for all the social programs that we want to pass, especially health care and Social Security reform, without raising taxes, cutting spending, or just printing more money and borrowing money from foreign countries to meet current needs. If a Republican like Mitt Romney can return the Republican Party as the party of fiscal conservatism while also retaining the "compassionate conservatism" that George Bush I and his son George W. Bush stood for, at least as a slogan in his campaign, Democrats could be in trouble even as soon as 2012 unless the economy bounces back while avoiding the inflation that could be created by the substantial growth in public debt during President Obama's first term.

GROVER NORQUIST

President, Americans for Tax Reform

After the 2008 elections, some doubted the viability of the modern Republican Party. Now, America has trillions in additional spending and debt. The party of Mollohan, Murtha, Jefferson and Dodd is beginning to look like Jim Wright's gang. And Californians voted 2 to 1 against more government with higher taxes.

The GOP still lacks a national leader like Ronald Reagan to tackle Barack Obama. Of course, Obama isn't on the ballot in 2010, and the GOP didn't need a Reagan for congressional victories in 1966 and 1994. But assuming that the presidency will not go the way of property rights or the sanctity of contracts before 2012, Republicans should and will pick a governor who has proved to be serious about limiting spending. Louisiana's Bobby Jindal, Minnesota's Tim Pawlenty, Texas's Rick Perry, Indiana's Mitch Daniels, Alaska's Sarah Palin, South Carolina's Mark Sanford and possible future governors such as Rudy Giuliani of New York, Bob McDonnell of Virginia and Chris Christie of New Jersey recommend themselves.

Between now and 2012 these contestants simply need to demonstrate real backbone on spending restraint and claim the heads of several of the 49 Democratic congressional incumbents who represent districts carried by John McCain in 2008. Three scalps is the minimum ante -- any politician is willing to work to elect himself. (Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich could enter the competition if they collect enough scalps.) Our man or gal in 2012 must demonstrate a willingness to play team ball.

Most important, any of these candidates would govern well with Mississippi's Gov. Haley Barbour as chief of staff.

ED ROGERS

White House staffer to Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush; chairman of BGR Group

As with most presidential reelection races, 2012 will mostly be a referendum on the incumbent. If Obama's stock is down, what characteristics should a GOP alternative have? Our nominee must set a good philosophical contrast with Obama, have low negatives, be likable and be good on live TV. He or she will have to be able to hold his or her own with Chris Matthews, David Letterman and the like. The core of the GOP must find him or her philosophically acceptable and libertarian independents must find the nominee credible. It will be tougher if our nominee has a long history in Washington, was a mostly ineffective legislator or has never successfully led anything. We should also be careful about a nominee who is unacceptable to a large bloc of the Hispanic vote.

Whom does this leave us? I'm going to resist the temptation to name names, but it is unlikely that we will have a nominee who bursts onto the scene the way Obama did. Republicans are hierarchical, and we always nominate the second-place finisher from the last nomination contest. But that's a problem for us in 2012. Who came in second to Sen. McCain? Was it Mitt Romney? Mike Huckabee? Did Sarah Palin, as the vice presidential nominee, receive an honorary second-place finish?

The entire GOP field starts in no better than fourth place. And who will emerge depends more on Obama than it does on our own candidate's circumstances or ability. So it's impossible to know if 2012 will be a real contest or if the GOP field will just be positioning for the race in 2016, when the Obama era will end for certain.

TOM C. KOROLOGOS

Former U.S. ambassador to Belgium, strategic adviser at DLA Piper

I am not of the "woe is me" school regarding Republican prospects in 2012.

Three years before they were nominated, what were the odds on George McGovern in 1972, Jimmy Carter in 1976, Walter Mondale in 1984, Mike Dukakis in 1988, Bill Clinton in 1992, John Kerry in 2004 and Barack Obama in 2008?

There are also two significant elections before 2012:the November governor's races in Virginia and New Jersey and, in 2010, 36 Senate races, 37 gubernatorial races and 435 House races. Any of them could produce viable candidates.

The "who" isn't as important as the "what." In which direction will the party turn? For the most part, the nominee will be a conservative aimed at countering the excesses of the Obama administration. What will the GOP offer? What will be the message?

There are many qualified messengers. To list a few: Mitt Romney, Bobby Jindal, David Petraeus, Condi Rice, Tim Pawlenty, Mark Sanford, Eric Cantor, Sam Brownback, Paul Ryan, Haley Barbour, Rudy Giuliani, Charlie Crist, John Thune, Newt Gingrich, Mitch Daniels and John Cornyn. And I'd give John McCain another chance.

I just hope the Obama administration doesn't break the country so badly that it can't be repaired.

DOUGLAS E. SCHOEN

Democratic pollster and author

In the wake of the Ensign, Craig and Vitter sex scandals, it will most likely take someone unabashedly committed to traditional family values to motivate the shrinking base of a deeply shaken Republican Party. Mike Huckabee, as an evangelical minister, and Mitt Romney, as someone who has brought missionary-like zeal to all his endeavors -- religious, familial and professional -- potentially have the visibility and credibility necessary to fill this void.

But it is just not enough to be pious, passionate about your faith and family, and monogamous. Neither man has developed an optimistic, pro-growth, fiscally prudent set of policies to take advantage of the doubts that voters are beginning to show toward the Obama administration's economic policies. For the Republicans to take advantage of the political opportunity that may well be developing, they need to recognize that moral self-righteousness is only the first step necessary toward reclaiming their stature in American political life.


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