Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Mike Pence won the straw poll at the Values Voter Summit and is experiencing a presidential boomlet.  I think he has a better chance to win than does Larry Sabato.  He is a smooth talker and is obviously conversant on national issues.  After 2008, six terms in Congress will hardly seem like too little experience.  He seems to be a principled conservative and projects a kind of calm reasonableness that is very helpful in an ideological politician - as Obama would be the first to tell you.  I'm not sure that being in the House of Representatives rather than holding statewide office is as big a drawback as it seems.  The trick to getting credibility in the 2012 Republican presidential race will involve some combination of getting media attention and using it to make an impression, winning support from activist networks and building a fundraising base for paid media.  Pence is an ex-talk radio host and probably understands the right-leaning media environment at least as well as any other 2012 Republican contender.  His victory at the Values Voters Summit shows real appeal to conservative activists.  If Pence manages to use the media well, and makes inroads among activists, the money should come (assuming Pence runs a competent and industrious campaign - which is never a sure thing for a first time presidential candidate.)

Pence has real issue advantages over his best known potential Republican rivals.  Unlike Romney, Pence never supported TARP and National Review pointed out the similarities between Romneycare and Obamacare.  Romney could respond that TARP wan an okay idea messed up by Obama and that Romney's version of individual insurance mandate/coverage mandates/middle-class insurance subsidies/guaranteed issue/community rating is different and better than Obama's version of individual insurance mandate/coverage mandates/middle-class insurance subsidies/guaranteed issue/community rating (and Romney would have a point though it is complicated and Romneycare is probably fatally flawed anyway.)  It just wouldn't be that easy to sell and Pence could easily tag a potential Romney administration as an Obama administration without Obama.  Pence seems to have a solid social conservative record, which doesn't make him much different from Huckabee, but unlike Huckabee, I've never heard of Pence advocating a huge sales tax that seems like it might hurt middle-income voters. 

Pence also has stylistic assets.  His speeches don't set the room on fire but he speaks the language of the populist conservative narrative as a native tongue.  It isn't that easy.  Look at the pitiable effort of Tim Pawlenty when he tried to get all populist at CPAC.  As a talk radio host, Pence had a lot of practice selling his limited government and socially conservative ideas to a broad audience rather than intellectuals or other politicians.  That is pretty good practice for winning over the right-leaning voters that dominate Republican primaries.  Finally, Pence has that combination of looks and bearing that comes across as presidential.  It isn't fair or healthy but having that (superficial) quality helped Obama and not having it hurt Tommy Thompson and Duncan Hunter.

I have my worries about Pence.  The most substantive worry is that he never seems to have held an executive position.  My less substantive concern is that he never seems to have had to win over a nonconservative electorate.  Pence made his name as a conservative talk radio host.  He has represented a right-leaning district (McCain by 6% in 2008 and Bush by 29% in 2004.)  I'm not sure his rhetoric works as well for voters (which is most voters) who have not already committed to the conservative narrative.  His run in with Obama at the 2009 Republican retreat does not inspire confidence.   


Categories > Politics

Discussions - 3 Comments

Good post. I had forgotten about the retreat. But you are right, alas, about that. He did not play well then. Thanks for reminding me . . . er, not. The only thing I can say is that this may be a different time and a differently inspired electorate come 2012. I'm hoping, anyway, for that change.

Yes, Pete, well stated. I believe executive experience will be essential for any presidential nominee for decades to come.

Obama's lack of it has vexed his administration nearly as much as his outlandish ideology. Had McCain won, I believe he would have faced some similar management challenges.

This is not a matter of political philosophy so much as one of skills and experience.

Career legislators don't really have to *do* anything. They can propose laws that may or may not pass. And even if their agenda becomes law, they're not accountable for any of its consequences, intended or unintended.

On the other hand, executives -- whether they're governors, big-city mayors, CEOs, or military commanders -- have to manage people and situations, make decisions, and yes, make compromises.

There's a reason no one had gone directly from Congress to the White House since JFK. And it may be another 50 years before that happens again.

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