Jacob Heilbrunn

Does the GOP Need More Presidential Candidates?

OMG. That seems to be the dominant feeling in the GOP as party pooh-bahs survey the current field. The rap on the candidates goes something like this. Mitt Romney? Boring, a liberal underneath all the shiny new conservative rhetoric. Rick Perry? Not another Texan. Michele Bachmann? A firebrand who can't get elected.

So, as the Wall Street Journal delicately puts it today, calls are rising to "broaden" the GOP field. In other words, throw a life preserver, man the lifeboats, find someone, anyone, who can supplant Obama who is clinging to a piece of electoral driftwood as he tries to prevent his presidency from being submerged in a sea of troubles, some of his making, others not. Hope is springing eternally in the GOP that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Rep. Paul Ryan, or Sarah Palin, or all of the above, might view themselves as presidential timber and join the race.

Christie is the most interesting character of the bunch, the most authentic, a no-nonsense fellow who relishes going toe to toe with his adversaries. My guess is he would make mincemeat of Sarah Palin, who would be nuts to get in the race. So would Ryan, who could be tapped for the vice presidency. Christie is the only one of the three that could hold his own in a debate with Obama, but he lacks any foreign-policy experience (but come to think of it, so did Obama, which didn't hurt him at all in running against the perfervid John McCain, who is now calling for an attack on Syria—maybe Obama can appoint him viceroy of Damascus).

The most interesting candidate among the Republicans, however, is Jon Huntsman, who is grabbing the mantle of the moderate by implying that Perry has gone off the deep end and by endorsing global warming. Huntsman is campaigning for the title of Mr. Thoughtful. At a minimum, this is ensuring lots of press coverage—positive coverage, as it will endear him to the press which likes to anoint a mainstream candidate. It would be interesting to see Huntsman debate Obama, as he was his pick for ambassador to China. Would they argue about exchange rates and the reminbi? At any rate, Huntsman seems to be running for the George H.W. Bush chair. All that his resume lacks is a stint at the CIA and the comparison would be perfect.

Meanwhile, Obama has been caught totally flat-footed by events in Syria, a regime that he tried to coddle. Republicans should be calling him out on this even more vociferously. In the new issue of the National Interest Dimitri Simes points to a number of failings in administration policy when it comes to countries such as China and Pakistan. Simes is firm but restrained in his critique. I feel one could go even further: Syria has become perhaps the most flagrant failure of an Obama administration that has profoundly misjudged events in the Middle East, beginning with its hamfisted attempts to muscle over Israel that have backfired and turned the president himself into an object of contempt in Jerusalem. Meanwhile, relations between Egypt, a key American ally, and Israel are deteriorating. What does Obama have to say about that? How much responsiblity will the U.S. assume for Libya, now that its madman is at large and the motley crew of rebels controls the capital—or will it simply dissolve into chaos? The president may see himself as a realist, but his policies have been most unrealistic.

Throw in a dismal economy and the stage might be seen as set for a GOP restoration. The case has been made for ousting Obama, but the GOP itself is wracked by internal feuding. Until it settles on a plausible candidate, Obama will be able to point to his opponents rather than his own record as the case for his reelection.