Carville on the Candidates

To be sure, this Carville guy is hardly unbiased, but he’s got some points worth discussing:

Is this the worst class of Republican candidates? Are they pandering? Or is Carville just biased?

(CNN) — As usual, Professor Paul Krugman’s piece in the Monday morning New York Times is causing a great deal of chatter among the political types. Krugman points out just how inept the Republican field is. In some cases he takes a scalpel (and in others a machete) to surely the weakest field of presidential aspirants any party has offered in modern American history (see my earlier CNN column comparing this field to 1980). I believe I can explain why this field is so inept. In order to proffer this explanation I am going to utilize Professor Krugman’s field of economics….

Even the most partisan Democrat — me for example — would concede that three months ago the Republicans had an excellent chance to win the presidency. So ask yourself: Why does this thing that appears to have so much value have so many low bidders? Why did people like Govs. Chris Christie, Mitch Daniels, Haley Barbour, Jeb Bush and Sen. John Thune, all look at this and decide not to raise their paddles?

So here we wind up with the political equivalent of the Hope Diamond going for $99.99.

I think that these guys were smart enough to see a big flaw in the process and it is this: The majority of the people in the Republican Party who were going to pick their nominee had been so overwhelmed by misinformation, unworkable simplistic solutions — e.g., electrifying border fences — and anti-science, right-wing pandering, that the potential candidates decided they just could not go through with it.

We have watched GOP debates where audience members booed gay soldiers and cheered the prospect of someone dying without health insurance. We’ve seen a candidate who wasn’t penalized in the least for not knowing that China has had nuclear weapons since 1964 but had to drop out because of a consensual sexual relationship. We have seen a member of the House Intelligence Committee who apparently didn’t realize that we haven’t had an embassy in Iran for the last 30 years, candidates who don’t believe in evolution, and a candidate that didn’t even know the voting age in the United States. Maybe Bush, Daniels, Christie, Barbour and Thune figured out ahead of time what Fairleigh Dickinson University uncovered just recently: that people who watch Fox News are actually more ignorant than people who watch no news at all. Could you imagine what they would have found had they studied people listening to talk radio?

Perhaps the Republicans are getting exactly the kind of candidates that best match the intellectual composition of the majority of the people in their party — just a thought, but it’s my only explanation of our low bidders. Looks like their chance at the presidency is going, going, gone.

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  • DLS

    In related news, a bunch of former Bush Administration officials and conservative media pundits think that Obama is a terrible president 🙂

  • Interesting to note the candidate that he specifically did NOT mention… the one who’s convincing many Democrats to become “Blue Republicans” by the scores…

  • DRT

    DLS#1, don’t you agree with the post?

  • I am deeply embarrassed to even be a former Republican. I worked as a legislative aide for a conservative congressman on Capital Hill from 1995-1997 (I.e., the Gingrich years). I happily thought the GOP had ditched Newt in 1998. I can’t believe the “choice” we have in 2012. Time for a 3rd party candidate?

    BTW, I think the true historical parallel is 1972. A good Democrat could’ve beaten Nixon but the left would only accept an extremist, which lead to a Nixon landslide (but didn’t translate into gains for the GOP in congress). I think we are in for another ’72!

  • DLS

    “DLS#1, don’t you agree with the post?

    – No, much in the same way you don’t agree with the last George Will piece or WSJ editorial. That’s my point.

  • T

    This has not been an especially wonderful primary for the GOP, either in the quality of candidates, or the priorities of the party, though I’m not at all convinced who will win either the nomination or the presidency at this stage.

    I have to agree with him though about the kinds of “solutions” that are popular in the party are troubling. The 9-9-9 tax plan would be the most dramatic tax hike on the poor that I can remember anywhere in our history, yet the grassroots of the party didn’t really care about that. The hardline-only undocumented immigration “solutions” that are popular (and the unpopularity of anything less than zero tolerance for all) is another example. The cheers for waterboarding during the debates (despite the US’s prosecution of Japanese soldiers for doing it in WWII) is yet another example.

    I don’t know if Fox News is a contributing factor to this or not. I just know that it has been harder for me, as a Republican, to stomach the primaries than it has been in a while, but that’s been as much about what the party seems to want from these candidates and why as about the candidates themselves.

  • DRT

    DLS said “- No, much in the same way you don’t agree with the last George Will piece or WSJ editorial. That’s my point.”

    I don’t think so, or at least I would like to understand.

    I am believing that you are taking that stand because your team is being critiqued. I am asking at an issue level, not a team level.

  • Robin

    I think the main reason we have the field that we have is the emergence of the tea party. The Republican establishment has, for years, been able to crown whatever golden boy they preferred. Flimsy moderate kept their incumbency, outright crooks were given honored chairmanships, etc. In that kind of world, Jeb Bush or Mitt Romney would have won in a landslide this election. Haley Barbour and John Thune would also have fared well (Haley’s racist history probably still would have been a problem).

    But we don’t live in that world today, we live in a world where conservatives are much more passionate about their issues and they want leaders who area also passionate. They want fighters, and that is why the current crop of candidates (sans Romney) has gained traction, they all at least pretend to vigorously oppose the liberals/media on the issues that rile the base.

    Each has their flaws, most of them fatal, but the one thing they have going for them is emotion…it is kind of like how liberals love it when the President tells the media to “ask Osama Bin laden if he is an appeaser.”

    We want candidates (1) with fire in their belly (2) who are also conservative and (3) who preferably aren’t idiots.

    Mitt fails on point 1 and on point 2 depending on the day
    Huntsman fails on point 1, he is usually only mad at conservatives and gets along fabulously with all liberals.
    Newt fails on all three points, but he can fake it better than most.
    Most of the other candidate fail on at least point 3.

    The candidates Carville mentions mostly fail on point 1 and point 2.

  • Robin

    To be clear, I think almost all Republican establishment candidates fail on point 2. Growing the government, increasing debt, creating massive new entitlements, launching expensive wars, etc…these are not the actions of conservatives, these are the actions of statists who are interested in (1) growing the budget continually and (2) growing governmental power continually. Also, pork is not conservative, even if you have an (R) by your name.

  • DLS

    In 2008, the Democratic field consisted of a serial gaffe machine and plagiarizer with an unremarkable public career (Biden), a house member who claimed to have seen a UFO and perhaps aliens (Kucinich), a Senator who had a love child with a staffer, was making payments to her and is now under federal indictment (Edwards), a man who most Democrats believe is probably clinically insane (Gravel), a man who by any standard is not particularly bright (Richardson) and others.

    Under Carville’s standard, I guess that field reflected the “intellectual composition of a majority of” the left.

    People need to stop relying on The Daily Show so heavily. Anyone (right or left) who thinks that this field is more of a freak-show than the 2008 Democratic field does not pay close attention to politics and/or is not even remotely objective. The field has flaws for sure, but

  • Fish

    I think what we are seeing is the triumph of money and special interest groups over rationality. It is too easy to buy enough media to discredit any candidate who does not toe the party line, as out-of-touch as that line may be.

    We ought to have government financing of elections with no corporate or organizational contributions allowed at all. Everyone gets the same amount of money and TV coverage. Far better but less-well-known candidates would emerge from that process. And can you imagine elected officials who don’t owe favors to their big campaign contributors? Wow.

    And it would be SO refreshing not to have months of TV saturated with two candidates distorting each other’s record.

  • DRT

    DLS, you keep engaging in the game of throwing barbs at the opposition instead of addressing the actual issue on the table. That is not the point.

    I believe Robin gave a fair assessment.

  • DLS

    I disagree, DRT @12. I think my post @10 addresses the issue squarely, just perhaps not in the way you’d like.

  • RJS


    Sure, but the conversations my colleagues (heavily liberal) were having here were centered on Obama and Clinton in late 2007. None of the people you list figured very highly in the conversations. You may deride these candidates too I suppose …

    But who are the republican candidates today – the ones you think most likely to win the nomination?

  • DLS


    No, the author’s point is that the Republican field is crazy. The theme that runs throughout the piece is “the Republican field is nuts, so the Republican base must be nuts too”. So if you’re going to judge the Republican party by the field, you have to do that with the 2008 Democratic field too to be consistent, right?

    In the end, you’re right, the two who emerged in 2008 were a Senator from New York with an ivy league law degree and an Senator from Illinois with an ivy league law degree (though Edwards was a player until just near the end). In the Republican primary, the only two with a legitimate shot at the nomination is a governor from Massachusetts with an ivy league law degree and an former Speaker with a PhD in European History. So I fail to see the difference. Do those two not meet the exacting intellectual standards of James Carville and Jon Stewart?

  • Joe Canner

    DLS #10: To add to RJS’s comment #14: as early as April 2007, the Democratic field was Obama, Clinton, and Edwards, with the rest running well behind. These three were the only ones who ever picked up any primary delegates. Note, as well, that Edwards’ infidelity was not made public until 2010. Contrast that with Gingrich, who is the current front-runner, despite well-known infidelity.

    To me, the issue is not the quality of the candidates, per se. As you noted, every primary has its nut-jobs. The problem this time around is that the electorate is taking the nut-jobs seriously (at least for a time). Conversely, there are several reasonable, mainstream, intelligent, squeaky-clean candidates (Romney, Huntsman, Santorum) who are being written off.

  • A former speaker of the house, with numerous ethical shortcomings — his marital infidelity (including leaving a wife bedridden with a cancer), another for a staffer. He carried on an affair all the while lambasting and leading charges against President Clinton for his affair. Then, his ethics sanctions where he dissembled, deceived in response to charges of his running “tax exempt status” college course for political purposes. He violated federal tax law and lied to the ethics panel.

    Romney, OK, doesn’t fit the “crazy” moniker — but OTOH, most of the base is not excited about his candidacy.

    And the rest, maybe sans Ron Paul (who really does not fit in with the Republican party circa 2011) are all nuts — anti-science, anti-smartypants, promoting 19th century regressive economic policy, anti-intellectual, etc.… …and this is plainly evident in the fact that ~5% of scientists now tally themselves as Republican (and less than 10% call themselves “conservative”) and professionals continue to flee the ranks of the Republican party, that’s perceived to be champion of fundamentalism. In my own field (software development), I remember a time when it leaned Republican; now it is overwhelmingly liberal and/or independent. And most did not all transform into flaming lefties, they just see one of the parties now almost totally in the sway of neo-fundamentalists and neo-confederates (take a look at the electoral map the last few presidential elections — it looks just like 1860 over again, with the parties, flip-flopping). In fact, that is the big handicap of Romney — he’s a NE Republican, a dying breed, at least on the national stage.

  • Kenny Johnson

    It seems to me that Romney is the only sensible candidate of the bunch, but he’s not well likely by the more conservative/tea party Republicans. I do think he’s the only one who could actually pick up enough independents to beat Obama though.

    As others have mentioned… Most of the “problem” Democratic candidates in 2007 were never serious contenders with much support. It seems that though, that candidates like Cain, Perry, Gingrich are all “in the running” and people like Bachmann (inexplicably) seem to have large support.

  • Ah ain’t a-gonna tip my hand this early in the game, no sirree, no way, Ho-zay. Ah b’lieve in the secret ballot and the sanctity of the voting booth. All y’all can shout at one another till you’re blue (or red or maybe purple in some states) in the face, but ah ain’t a-gonna join in the fun.

    That said, if old One-T don’t tell me to hush up, could DLS and DRT take it outside? Maybe RJS would like to go with them.

    Too much snark? I repent in sackcloth and ashes.

  • DLS

    “It seems to me that…”

    – that’s my point.

  • P.

    I’m a Republican, and I agree that this is a pretty weak group of candidates. All they seem to be able to do is make outrageous statements like they’re reality TV stars and note that they’re conservatives. Being conservative does not automatically make someone a good leader. We need common sense, reasonable, knowledgable people, not ones who act like used car salesmen (no offense to used car salesmen) and who play up to the extremists.

  • Fred

    Easy, easy. We don’t want a church breaking out here.

  • JohnM

    Robin #9 – “Growing the government, increasing debt, creating massive new entitlements, launching expensive wars, etc…these are not the actions of conservatives, these are the actions of statists…”. Not only right, but an important point I hope is not lost on liberals or self-identified conservatives. But Robin, wouldn’t Ron Paul be an exception to failing on point 2? Surely at least distinct from the rest of the pack, whatever one thinks of him.

    For my part, I’m torn between wanting a reformer and wanting simply a competent executive – stability being the goal, visionaries need not apply 😉

  • Sundown

    The problem isn’t strictly that the Republican candidate field is the worst ever, because there are some of the candidates that are definitely qualified(Roemer, Johnson, and Huntsman). The problem is that the frontrunners(that is, those who have had the frontrunner status at one time or another) are all, despite being ideologically close to what the GOP base believes, still incredibly flawed. The Republican voters still technically have a chance to nominate one of the people who would be strong in a general election. How likely that is, we will see in about a month.

  • Timothy Dalrymple

    This is just absurd. We have one Republican Governor from an exceedingly liberal state, with an extraordinary business and organizational background; the most (electorally) successful Governor in the history of Texas; the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, who led the Republican revolution in 1994; a near-miraculously successful businessman with great gifts of intellect and magnetism; one of the most influential female members of the House; and a long-time movement candidate (I’m speaking here of Paul) in the mold of Ralph Nader; and a former Senator who did a lot for social conservatives and entered a think tank after he was voted from office.

    It’s actually a pretty distinguished group of people. With a large group in particular, it’s easy to list the faults and foibles of the strangest among them, and make them sound like a bunch of clowns. But that’s just Carville. Don’t let him manipulate you. I could pull the gaffes and missteps just from Obama and Biden in 2008 and make them sound like rampaging morons; it’s not hard to do.

  • Timothy Dalrymple

    By the way, I’m obviously intentionally passing over their faults. I’m not fans of most of them. But my point is that they do, objectively, have pretty impressive records, and it’s easy to pull either the positives together, or the negatives, and make them sound like heroes or make them sound like idiots.

    There are intelligent things to be said about the conservative lockstep orthodoxy that’s being foisted on too many candidates — but that’s not unusual for primaries. I think the carnival atmosphere of the primary thus far has a lot more to do with the press than it does with the candidates.

  • Fish

    I actually saw Carville speak two weeks ago. His take was that if you look at the predictive measures like Consumer Optimism or Unemployment, Obama has no chance. But he has been given a gift of a weak Republican field and a radical base that destroys the non-pure.

    Quite a guy. Southern Democrat mix of liberal and conservative. Liberal socially — he said he would never have dreamed that in his lifetime he’d see mixed race couples walking on the streets of the South — but very pro-defense and also pro-natural gas drilling, which shocked some of the people since the town where he was briefly entertained the notion of fracking directly underneath the town’s water supply.

  • I’m reading Alan Greenspan’s book called The Age of Turbulence. In it, he recounts working for and with many candidates and presidents from both parties over the course of his lifetime. He pretty much says that most of them have *issues* of one kind or another; that it almost seems that a “normal” person either wouldn’t run or couldn’t get elected. What is required to run and win the presidency almost takes a personality disorder (or at the very least, vast arrogance.) He says that out of all the people he ever worked with, Gerald Ford was the most normal, down-to-earth, intelligent, least psychotic person to ever hold the office of presidency. Who knew? 🙂

    I miss Mitch. Well, I don’t miss him, because he’s still running our great state of Indiana and doing a wonderful job. (How many of you can say that about your governor?) I wish upon wish upon wish that he would have run.

  • Amos Paul

    @2 JM,

    They really don’t like talking about he-who-shall-not-be-named (Ron Paul) around here very much, either… sorry. I’ll smile if you say more nice things about him :/.

  • A quick comment in response to the bit that none of the current GOP candidates are sufficiently “conservative.”

    This just goes to show how slippery terms like “conservative” and “liberal” can be. When viewed in the context of Europe, a common joke about the US is that we have two political parties: a conservative party and an extreme right-wing conservative party.

    It’s all about what issues/comparisons are being talked about.

  • TJJ

    My crystal ball suggests that Romney will be our next president, and Republicans will control the House and Senate in 2013. Obama care will be literally or constructively repealed, there will finaqlly be a budget passed by the senate for the first time in three years, and the budget will be cut, and the national debt reduced.

    And all this fixation on what candidate believe about evolution or gays will pretty much be irrelevant.

    I will check back on this post in a year.

  • Joe Canner

    @Amos #29: The problem with Ron Paul (any relation?) is that he doesn’t fit into the normal boxes. Most Republicans don’t like his foreign policy and most Democrats don’t like his domestic policy. He also comes across as a curmudgeon, which might worry anyone concerned about America’s image on the world stage. I’d almost consider voting for him for his foreign policy, but I just can’t see getting rid of five federal government departments (not likely anyway).

  • Job

    #30 nails it. What we call liberal would be called conservative in most of the world and what we call conservative would be called far-right-wing.

    Things like denying health care based on income, passionate support of the death penalty and reflexive occupations of other countries are extremist positions; they just feel moderate because of the hard shift our nation has taken to the right.

  • JohnM

    Joe Canner #32 – “I just can’t see getting rid of five federal government departments”. Why not? You may be right about the not likely part but are you saying you really think every bit of the bureaucracy we have in place is needed? Does something useful? Represents money well spent? Couldn’t at the very least be streamlined? Really?

  • Joe Canner

    JohnM #34: I didn’t say that we need every bit of the bureaucracy included in those five departments, nor that what is there can’t be streamlined. I haven’t yet seen a detailed proposal of how he (or Perry) plans to replace the useful functions of these departments, such as the Patent Office, Census Bureau, NOAA, NIST, nuclear weapon protection, energy R&D projects, education grants to local school systems, college financial aid (e.g., Pell Grants), and student loan guarantees. Is there such a proposal? Or do we just have to take his word for it that he can achieve the promised savings without crippling the government?

  • JohnM

    Joe Canner #35 – Well, whenever I can get anyone to agree we don’t need all the federal bureaucracy we have it can’t be an entirely bad day, no matter what else happens 🙂

    Now, if you’re waiting for the candidate who can front-load all the details of how they will implement the fundamental policy they envision you’re bound to be disappointed. Not a one of them quite know themselves. Yet I assume that’s not going to stop you from voting for someone. Why dismiss Ron Paul out of hand for that reason? And who else, besides Perry jumping on the bandwagon, when he can even remember, is talking about any real reduction in the size and scope of government? I wouldn’t expect a President Paul to accomplish all his libertarian heart might desire, and the fact is I wouldn’t want him to, but I’d love to see someone pull the country in that general direction.

    As for crippling government, remember we had a functional government for a long time before all the agencies we now have existed. Government even managed to conduct the census and grant patents without a Department of Commerce and I wouldn’t expect it to stop if Commerce were eliminated. I’m really not worried about the truly critical and inherently governmental not getting done.

    Finally, my mind is not made up in favor of Ron Paul over any other candidate, and I have my points of disagreement with him, but I’ve grown past dismissing him as a nut. You noted “he doesn’t fit into the normal boxes”. Haven’t we had our fill of the “normal” boxes?

  • Joe Canner

    JohnM #36: Glad to help brighten your day. 🙂

    I concede that it’s probably not fair to expect all of the details, but it’s also hard to know how judge such a radical plan without them. Talking about cutting five whole departments makes for a good sound bite, but after all the dust settles I suspect the savings will be much less than advertised and/or there will be a lot of people hopping mad that they didn’t realize what they were voting for.

    I don’t have a problem with out-of-the-box thinking (my ideal candidate certainly doesn’t fit any of the available boxes), but I think at the end of the day the electorate (GOP or Dem) is going to have a hard time wrapping its brain around his platform.

  • Joe @#32 – Ron Paul comes across as more than curmudgeonly. Conspiracy theorist….that’s how he comes across to me.

  • I’ll tell you how Ron Paul comes across to me (and, for the record, I’m 70 and — surprise — pretty conservative).

    Here’s how Ron Paul comes across to me:

    Old. Very old. Too old to be president. (Really? At 75? And I suppose you would seek a second term as well? So you’d be there until you’re 83?)

    Thanks, but no thanks.