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Two Republicans who could’ve won
the White House in this election year

James Baker III

James Baker III served as White House chief of staff for presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, among many other high government posts.

W ith the exception of Jon Huntsman, this year’s field of Republican presidential contenders was the worst we’ve ever seen – so bad that in the first few weeks it became known as the traveling clowns show.

Could failed political hacks Newt “Ethical Void” Gingrich and Rick “Holier Than Thou” Santorum, vulture capitalist Mitt “Gut and Run” Romney, and ditzy Michelle “Tea Party Girl” Bachmann really be the best candidates today’s Republicans would support?

The answer is yes, and today’s Republicans got the candidates and election-day setback they richly (ahem) deserved. But it never had to be that way.

Had Republicans not gone so far ’round the bend that they ended up with bottom-of-barrel wingnuts and a chameleon, they might have drafted two men who very well could have won the White House handily this year. Additionally, those candidates would probably have been strong enough to sweep to victory many down-ballot candidates for Congress and state offices.

Back in March we spent some time trying to figure out who, if anyone, Republicans could turn to for the strongest chance to unseat President Obama. None of their currently active politicians with national name recognition fit the bill, which is a remarkable indictment of how out of the mainstream the GOP has become.

What we came up with are two eminently qualified, experienced, articulate and very likable men: James Baker III and Robert Gates.

If those names sound familiar, they should. Baker is perhaps best known as Ronald Reagan’s chief of staff from 1980-1985. But in his long career he served in many capacities. Baker is a graduate of Princeton Law and former Marine officer. He served as an undersecretary of commerce, Treasury secretary and secretary of state. He was George H.W. Bush’s chief of staff. Baker also fulfilled several diplomatic assignments.

Baker only ran for public office once, trying to become Texas attorney general, and he lost. He ran Gerald Ford’s unsuccessful campaign against Jimmy Carter, but also was chairman of Reagan’s spectacularly successful 1985 re-election campaign.

Baker at the head of the GOP ticket would’ve engendered the loyal support of many Republicans and independents who look on the Reagan years as the good old days. His easygoing, Southern drawl, quick wit and engaging sense of humor could’ve charmed millions too young to remember those days.

The two downsides of a Baker 2012 candidacy are his age, 82, and the fact he takes governing and public policy seriously, meaning he’d be willing to work with Democrats to get things done. He would have needed all his persuasive skills and charm to keep his party’s dominant hard-right extremists in line.

We saw Baker on C-SPAN last year, and he was still sharp and on top of things. We think most voters would’ve overlooked his age the same way they overlooked Reagan’s. As for keeping the GOP’s tea party whackjobs, religious zealots and bigots in line, we suspect if anyone could do that, Baker could.

Robert Gates

Robert Gates

Gates was President George W. Bush’s one and only excellent Cabinet appointee. He replaced gregarious neocon crackpot Don Rumsfeld, and the difference was like night and day. Quietly, methodically and skillfully, Gates ran the Defense Department as well as anyone could in an especially challenging period. Gates’ work at Defense was so excellent that President Obama asked him to stay on, which Gates did.

Given Baker and Gates’ track record and personal characteristics, we’re sure that if they had been the GOP’s standard bearers, there would’ve been no birther nonsense outside of a few right-wing radio squawk shows. Donald Trump would’ve been told to sit down and shut up. There would’ve been no dog-whistle racist messages for the living anachronisms in the Republican fold.

No, we wouldn’t have preferred Baker to win the White House. He’s a counselor to the Carlyle Group who would’ve carried water for the financial and energy industries, and other big-money interests. Baker would undoubtedly have stood by the GOP’s trickle-down economic policy. Worse, his Supreme Court appointments would surely have tipped the court far right for the next two or three decades.

We mention the possibility only to remind that there are still a few sensible, basically decent and highly accomplished people in Republican ranks. They are people who could attract independent voters, but who are as out of place in today’s GOP as guppies in a piranha tank.

We do, however, wish Baker and a few others of similar good sense and quality would assert themselves in an effort to lead their party back from the fringe.

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10 Comments

  1. Snave says:

    Excellent piece, S.W.! Careful though, we don’t want any of them to notice this… it might give them some ideas about how to improve their chances next time around!

    This shows you are much more intelligent than George Will, who suggested in a recent piece that the GOP should have run Mitch Daniels. 😎

  2. Tom Harper says:

    James Baker and Robert Gates probably didn’t run for the same reason that Mitch Daniels, Chris Christie and Jeb Bush chose not to run; and for the same reason that Jon Huntsman ran and got shown the door ASAP. “Call me crazy, I believe in science” was completely unacceptable to this gang of Bible-thumping Ayn Rand-worshiping chickenhawks.

    With the exception of Mitch Daniels — he’s too bland and too dour to connect with voters — everyone else I mentioned and you mentioned could have given Obama the fight of his life.

    I don’t know whether the GOP will learn from this past election or not. For every moderate Republican who wants the Plutocrats and snake-handlers to dial it down, there’s a rightwing Republican who wants to kick out the RINOs. I hope the Far Right Republicans will split off and form their own party, but I’ve been hoping that since the early ’80s and it keeps not happening.

  3. Jolly Roger says:

    I think Huntsman might have proven impossible to beat if a wider audience had been able to see him. In the present-day Rushpubliscum Party, of course, this isn’t going to occur.

  4. Octopus says:

    1 – Way too old
    2 – Way too tired of public service
    3 – Not as reasonable or moderate as you think

    Not necessarily in this order.

  5. S.W. Anderson says:

    Snave, thanks for the kind words. Daniels would’ve been a more-responsible candidate. As Tom notes, he’s as dry and bland as Zweiback toast. He was urged to get in but declined, apparently because his family didn’t want him to run. As for 2016, I doubt Baker would even consider running at 86. Nor would Republicans heed anything I have to say.

    Tom, Republicans have painted themselves into a corner. To be competitive, at least for the White House, they must rein in and muzzle the bigots and paranoid conspiracy theorists in their ranks, and/or tell religious fundamentalists their extreme positions are political poison and must be toned down. If Republicans do either they risk alienating core constituencies they absolutely need. I don’t think they have the courage to do either.

    J.R., compared to the GOP’s other contenders this year, Huntsman did have the most potential for broad appeal beyond the far-right base. He gets big points for not pandering to the base, not taking positions he doesn’t believe in. That said, I think he stood little chance of unseating a sitting president, unless the public was so down on the incumbent that getting rid of him was their No. 1 priority.

    Octopus, you could be right on Nos. 1 and 2. As for No. 3, it’s a matter of context. By comparison with the GOP’s 2012 field of candidates, Baker is Mr. Nice Guy in spades. A big part of the reason I chose him is because he carries the mantle of Reagan and would command the respect due an older, wiser warrior. That would’ve made it possible for him to keep the party’s extreme elements in line while he was out charming moderate and independent voters, reassuring them about being reasonable and reliable.

    Never underestimate the power of sentimentality and nostalgia in politics. You show me even a tepid Republican and I’ll show you someone who in his or her heart yearns for four more years of Reagan. BTW, a huge number of Democrats went 30 or 40 years pining for what might’ve been if JFK and Bobby hadn’t been killed.

  6. jim marquis says:

    They’re both good men but neither would have survived the GOP primary Who Can Be Crazier Marathon.

  7. Demeur says:

    All good points but at this point the party is broken. If you’ll note that what’s coming out after the election is much of the same as before. They have this delusion that they might have won had they been more conservative. Much like the guy beating his head against the wall. When asked why he does it he replies “because it feels good when I stop.”
    They will continue down this path of self destruction until the demographics of this land overtakes them. It can’t come soon enough for me.

  8. Demeur says:

    One other thing sorry off topic but thought you should know. I just heard that AM 1090 our only progressive radio station in western Washington is going off the air starting Jan 1.

    1. S.W. Anderson says:

      At least you’re getting some advance notice. Our station just switched to country music at noon one day, and that was that. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is in reaction to Obama and Democrats’ doing well in the election. I don’t know for sure, but I think Portland’s liberal-talk station might be going or gone, too.

  9. Jack Jodell says:

    S.W.,
    Your choice of Baker was sound, though he would not have received my vote for the same reasons he wouldn’t have gotten yours. The GOP needs to rid itself of the godawful Tea Party infestation it currently suffers from and also dump all the intolerant fringe candidates it has if it ever hopes to become a real party again.