The Republican Obama?

Matt Lewis has an interesting piece at The Week, discussing the styles of presidential contenders, and whether those styles do or don’t match the shifting moods of the electorate. You might want to read the whole thing, but start at least with this:

Cruz and Obama do indeed have some things in common, including an ambition to seize the brass ring after 15 minutes in the Senate, a keen intellect, and an Ivy league pedigree. But Cruz’s Texas style and penchant for hurling red meat to the base make him awfully dissimilar to the professorial Obama.

A much better model might be Marco Rubio. As both Politico and Hot Air point out, Rubio could best be seen as the Republicans’ Obama. This comparison has zero to do with political philosophy. And no, it’s not because Rubio’s is also a first-term senator (he made a pretty compelling case to Kasie Hunt about why he has more experience than then-Sen. Obama did in 2008). It’s really about style and temperament. Obama and Rubio both seem calm, reasonable, intellectual, professorial. They seem like they’d be more comfortable in a big cosmopolitan city than clearing brush on a Texas ranch. They’re telegenic thinkers, not brash doers.

Now, do Republicans really need their own Obama in 2016? Maybe.

What if 2008 marked a somewhat permanent political shift in presidential elections — away from the rural, rustic machismo of the Bush era and toward a more sophisticated, cosmopolitan ideal for a leader? Could it be that Republicans can only win again by playing this game — by casting aside the tough Southern thing, the Bush “swagger” — and nominating a young-ish, cosmopolitan conservative?

If the country has changed this way, and the GOP needs its own Obama — a conservative who can appeal to minorities, urbanites, and millennials — they might well turn to a Marco Rubio, a Bobby Jindal, or possibly a Jeb Bush.

I’m going to have to disagree strongly with Lewis’ take on Bush’s appeal, which doesn’t seem to exist outside of the GOP money machine and temporarily in the minds of lower-information voters who recognize the name and not much else. Scott Walker might fit that mold better, even if he lacks the Ivy League credentials. But that’s just an aside, a small detail — it’s Lewis’ premise about “style and temperament” which needs further exploring.

At this point in the pre-primary cycle, I’m like my young boys let loose in the toy section at Walmart. There’s so much to choose from, so much to take off the shelves and check out — the GOP bench is an embarrassment of riches like the party hasn’t seen since… since maybe not in my lifetime.

My attention span is about the same as my kids’ too, and that’s OK. I rode the Walker Mini Boom a few weeks ago, Rubio’s announcement has me ready to forgive his brief fling with Chuck Schumer, and I’m dying to see if Cruz can up his Likability Factor enough to be a real contender. There are others, too, and I plan to spend time turning each one around and over like a new Star Wars Lego box in the hands of my nine-year-old.

Here’s the thing: These are all good candidates, each and every one. They each have their own strengths and weaknesses, but I’ll be damned if at this early moment there’s any one thing which says “THIS man MUST be the nominee and those OTHERS must rot and die! And if you don’t agree, then you’re not a REAL Republican!”

Yes, I have differences with each of them. I expect you do, too. But each in their own way also has solid conservative credentials, and each has their own unique appeal and weaknesses.

I suspect Lewis may be right then, and that the strongest potential nominee will come down to style and temperament — and the fickle mood of the electorate.

What I’m trying to say is, let this not be another 2008 or 2012. In those years, the GOP fielded a selection of weak and/or weird candidates quite unlike this cycle. Maybe because the field was so weak and weird, many political geeks like us seemed compelled to choose our weak & weird candidate early on, and stick to that weak & weird candidate feverishly, almost irrationally.

It was poisonous. It helped to form deep rifts in a GOP coalition which had already been fissured by eight years of George Bush. That coalition has been frayed even further by nearly a decade of constant attacks by the Obama Machine, which excels at just that kind of thing.

Let’s not poison ourselves this time around. I don’t have a favorite candidate, and I might not even bother to choose one. What I have promised myself to do is to keep an open mind, enjoy the process, and support the eventual nominee.

(ASIDE: I have two exceptions, which isn’t many given how broad the selection is. Carly Fiorina is a great fighter, but her corporate past is too full of demons to make it through the nomination process. And I won’t vote for another Bush, not in the primary nor in the general election. I’m also leaving out Chris Christie, who doesn’t seem likely to make a serious bid, and is even less likely to be the nominee.)

Instead of poisonous, let us try to make the 2016 process magnanimous. Any of us should be able to turn on the news on January 20, 2017, and watch the swearing in of President Cruz, Jindal, Rubio, Walker, Whomever, and feel a satisfaction and recognize a political opportunity none of use have seen since perhaps as far back as 1980. Let’s remember, as those around us get caught up in the bitterness of the primary fight, that this really is an embarrassment of riches. Let us recognize that all these contenders are solid choices, and that the strongest choice might come down to nothing more than style and temperament. Surely, if the decision boils down to those two things, we can afford to be magnanimous to all of the candidates during the primary fight — and to each other.

“My guy is better than your guy, but either one would make a damn good President.”

That’s my motto for 2016 — what’s yours?

(Thumbnail on PJM homepage based on Time’s infamous 2011 imaginary meeting of Mr. Obama and President Reagan.)