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Robert Gates

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.