Where are the Republican Presidential Candidates?

In the last presidential campaign, then Senator Barack Obama declared his candidacy in early February, 2007, a full year and three quarters before the polls opened on Election Day.

This season, the Republicans seem to be timid – dancing around the arena but not throwing their hats in the ring. Only Mitt Romney has been bold enough to ‘test the waters’ with an ‘exploratory committee’.

Pundits opine that Mitt Romney’s leadership in signing into law a universal health care bill for Massachusetts residents will be his albatross. I think quite the contrary. The mandated health care system in Massachusetts has now been in place for nearly five years and while it is probably far from perfect, it has achieved its multiple objectives. I would argue that Massachusetts has all but proven that the thorny issue of health care should be the responsibility of the State Governments, where it can be managed on a reasonable scale, as opposed to being one more giant bureaucracy of the Federal Government. If Mitt Romney were willing to have an open debate on the issues of State vs. Federal management of health care, I think he could help his candidacy immensely. He has so much going for him as a Presidential candidate – he has been a successful CEO, both in the private sector, at Bain & Company, and in the public sector, as governor of Massachusetts. In the last forty years, five of the seven elected U.S. Presidents had prior experience as State Governors. Romney most assuredly does not lack credentials. The question is: Does he lack inspiration?

But why are the myriad other potential candidates so timid? Could it be “The Donald” factor? You have to give Donald Trump credit for chutzpah, but I wonder if that chutzpah might not come to be his albatross? No one can doubt for a moment that Donald Trump would love nothing more than to be President of the United States, the ne plus ultra CEO role. He likes being Mr. Big. And for the last thirty years, he has mouthed off as Mr. Big on a torrent of issues, all of which are part of recorded history. If his popularity continues to rise and he starts to seem like the inevitable Republican candidate, that’s when the trouble will start. Trump reminds me of Howard Dean – articulate, different, interesting, but a loose cannon that eventually back-fired, ruining his political career.

It will soon be deposition time, so to speak, as the media home in on Trump’s record. So many questions to answer: Why do Trump companies go into bankruptcy, but the Donald remains unscathed? Is that good business leadership? Do good CEO’s let their companies fail? What about the equity owners in those businesses who have lost their investment? Trump boasts of great wealth – since when was that a sign of leadership, or inspiration or wisdom?

Trump’s most recent foray into the ‘birther’ issue will do him no good – the vast majority of Republicans think it’s a diversion for the ‘lunatic fringe’. I expect that Trump will drop it soon, if he is truly serious about being a presidential candidate. Trump has been on both sides of so many issues – or so it seems when one is presented with his countless statements, remarks, asides and expostulations. Of course he can claim to have changed his mind – but at what point is ‘changing your mind’ simply flip flopping for expediency’s sake? Leaders don’t flip flop. Leaders have vision; they are able to cut through the debris and forge ahead. The media will have a field day – there will be no kid gloves – let’s see how the Donald handles it.

In the meantime, the rest of the field of Republican potential candidates reminds me of the Kentucky Derby – all that milling around behind the starting gate, with horses being led, and horses rearing up, and horses wearing blind-folds to calm them down – masses of churning, kinetic energy that seems a necessary precursor to the start of the race. Well, this year there are enough Republican candidates to field a full derby. The unanswered question: who will be the winner? I will hazard a guess, but without a name: it will be a present or past Governor. Somehow I can’t be any bolder than that.