I specifically want to reply to a reader who asked, fairly, why I didn’t mention Mike Huckabee or Sarah Palin as 2012 Republican contenders. The answer is that on this question, Charles and I agree: Neither of us thinks that Huckabee or Palin will run. Charles made this point directly; I did so by omission. (Charles and I usually disagree on matters of policy but have points of concord on analytical matters.)
Over the years, I have found Huckabee an agreeable soul, despite many disagreements with his views. In January 2007, a year before Huckabee won the Iowa caucuses, I wrote that he was “the brightest star among Republican presidential dark horses” and declared him “the Republican to watch.” (Warning: Pundits are likely to remind you of their successful predictions and hope you forget their misfires.) He is doing relatively well in the polls for 2012. But I agree entirely with Charles: Huckabee seems thoroughly happy in his current life, and it’s hard to see his ruining what he has with a second presidential candidacy.
As for Palin, I have never believed she would run, and I still don’t. From the moment John McCain picked her as his running mate, I just could not see her as president and did not think a majority of Americans would ever see her as presidential. Nothing that’s happened since has changed my mind on this. So even before my colleague Dana Milbank went on his Palin fast, I had not included her in my list of 2012 hopefuls. (It would be more fun if she ran, of course, but I betcha she doesn’t.)
There is one point on which I very much disagree with Charles — and notice that this is where analysis fades into policy. He asserts that Republicans would do well to make the 2012 election as much like the 2010 election as possible and focus the campaign on “the size and reach of government, spending and debt, and, most fundamentally, the nature of the American social contract.”
I very much hope Republicans take Charles up on this because we do need a fundamental debate on the future of government as a precondition to settling our deficit problem once and for all. But if Republicans take his advice, I think they will be much worse off for doing so. Americans simply do not agree with the approach that Rep. Paul Ryan has laid out (and that Charles so admires). It’s clear from the polling that Americans would rather raise taxes on the wealthy than slash away at the federal government’s programs to offer health coverage to the elderly and the less well-off. On the merits, I think this majority is right.
And the more conservatives make 2012 like 2010, the more they will rally progressive voters to the polls. 2010 was a classic midterm protest election — conservative turnout was way up relative to progressive and moderate turnout. The Ryan budget is creating more energy among its opponents than among conservatives; or, to put it another way, to the extent that Ryan is rallying positive energy on the right, it is among people who were already going to come out and vote Republican anyway. But by reminding progressives of the stakes in 2012, Ryan will bring many of them back to the voting booths. That is one reason why President Obama is talking about the Ryan budget so much. Another is that middle-of-the-road voters will like it less the more they know about it.
So yes, let’s rerun 2010. I am persuaded it will come out quite differently the next time around. And I look forward to the commentary we’ll be hearing from Huckabee and Palin.