Latest update: December 2nd, 2011
The strongest attribute of any of the Republican candidates for president is that he or she is not named Barack Obama.
Obama’s unpopularity is such that reelection is hard to fathom, or stomach, but stranger things have been known to happen (like his election in the first place). His advantage lies in a built-in 40 percent of the vote – consisting of blacks, committed liberals, union members, and recipients of public handouts – though the unionists may have been turned off by the president’s decision to delay the Keystone oil pipeline that would have weaned the U.S. off Arab oil and provided tens of thousands of jobs to Americans. Oil’s well that ends well, he must assume.
The fear among Republicans is that no one candidate has gripped the imagination of the public or galvanized the support of barely a quarter of the electorate, much less half plus one. That foreboding sense – born of several snap conclusions – is misplaced.
No person seems presidential until he or she actually becomes president and some not even then. In November 2007, no one could have looked at Barack Obama and seen a “president.” Such a perception was laughable in the extreme. One can never compare a person who carries the trappings of high office with either civilians or lower level politicians. The entourage is different, the mode of travel, the absence of a presidential seal, the obvious presence of the Secret Service, the capacity to actually do things (or pretend to do things; see Obama’s speeches about student loan waivers), and, mostly, the necessity to talk only of the future, which is always speculative.
People tend to grow into the office, not just in the office, and so almost any of the candidates could easily fit the bill and be perceived as presidential one year into his or her term.
Consequently, the head-to-head polls are not as meaningful at this early stage, when sane voters have not yet coalesced around one candidate and therefore – as a display of partisanship – construe Obama as electable if their personal favorite is not nominated. However, is it credible that a Gingrich supporter would actually vote for Obama over Mitt Romney? Possibly, but highly unlikely, especially since the election will ultimately be a choice between Obama and Anybody Not Obama who is a functional human being. It is true that you cannot beat something with nothing, but as the election draws nearer, candidates begin to appear more plausible, especially as the field narrows.
The other factor that exercises people these days are the flaws that are perceived in each of the Republican candidates. It is a lot like the Jewish dating scene, where people go out with each in order to find the one trait that renders them unmarriageable. Of course each candidate is flawed; no one is perfect (except, apparently, the critics of each of the candidates). Nor is it rational or sensible to expect that a voter should agree with every single position of even a preferred candidate. (The wag said: “If two people agree on everything, then one of them is superfluous.”)
Certainly each candidate comes with weaknesses, vulnerabilities, ideological inconsistencies, questionable personal conduct, unpalatable positions – all because each is a thinking, breathing human being.
Thus, those who look for salvation to the non-candidates – Chris Christie, Mitch Daniels, Paul Ryan, et al – don’t realize that if any or all of them (or others) entered the race, they too would be vilified within a very short time. That unhappy aspect of modern life keeps many fine though imperfect people out of politics. And some of the “perfect” candidates don’t measure up under even mild scrutiny. That is why we were never privileged to elect President Fred Thompson or President John Edwards.
Mindful of the Talmud’s statement (Yoma 22b) that a leader should have some skeletons in his closet in order to keep him humble, we must evaluate a candidate’s strengths and weaknesses, and look for the “best” and not the “perfect.” There is no perfect.
Additionally, the pundits and laymen who obsess daily on this process seem to forget that not a vote has been cast in either a caucus or a primary, and that polls are volatile. They reflect momentary perceptions but not the reality over time. It is, frankly, bizarre that disproportionate weight in the primaries is given to states like Iowa and New Hampshire that are hardly reflective of the rest of the country. But it is what it is, and undoubtedly after the votes are cast – within a few weeks – the field will be whittled down and an apparent nominee will appear, who will even begin to look somewhat presidential.
So, without expressing a personal favorite, here is the current racing form:
The Presumptive Nominee
It is Mitt Romney’s race to lose. He recognizes that, which is why he seldom allows himself to be interviewed, and prefers to control the dissemination of his message unimpeded by annoying media queries. He looks the part (important today – Lincoln in our era could not have won a primary or an election), has command of the issues, and scandals have yet attached to him. Indeed, he is criticized for looking perfect.
About the Author: Rabbi Steven Pruzansky is the spiritual leader of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun of Teaneck, New Jersey, and the author most recently of “Judges for Our Time: Contemporary Lessons from the Book of Shoftim” (Gefen Publishing House, Jerusalem, 2009). His writings and lectures can be found at www.Rabbipruzansky.com.
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