Every time you turn around, there’s another Republican announcing he’s not running for president.
Early on, George Pataki, Rudy Giuliani, Bobby Jindal, Chris Christie, Rick Perry and Jeb Bush all declined to throw their hat in the ring. Then Haley Barbour folded his tent. Followed by Donald Trump and Mike Huckabee. And now Mitch Daniels has decided to sit it out.
Each of the latest no-shows gave his own reason for dropping out or not jumping in. Haley has too much on his plate in Mississippi. The Donald has all those casinos to run. Mike’s making too much money on Fox. And Mitch wanted to run, but his wife wouldn’t let him.
Each of those excuses may be true as far as it goes. But, let’s be honest. There’s another more important reality at play here. While professional or family duties were certainly one factor in their decision, all four candidates decided not to run for the same reason: They took a good look at Barack Obama. They did a careful assessment of his record. They concluded there was no way they could beat him in 2012. And they didn’t want to waste the next 18 months pretending.
You can’t blame ‘em. Sure, any knee-jerk liberal could tell you lots of things about Obama’s first two and a half years they’re not happy with. Any conservative could double that list. But Obama’s never going to convince the far left or far right. For the big block of voters in the middle, however, he’s built an impressive record.
Consider the latest. This week, six years ahead of schedule, Chrysler paid back the $5.8 billion it owed American taxpayers – plus $1.8 billion in interest. GM did the same thing a year ago. Today, auto manufacturers are back on their feet: reopening plants, rehiring workers, producing and selling better cars. All thanks to the auto bailout, started by President Bush and expanded by President Obama – a move Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty and Newt Gingrich all opposed at the time. They predicted it would destroy the American auto industry. Instead, just the opposite occurred. Score one for Obama.
It’s the same with TARP, another Bush-Obama program decried by Republicans and tea partiers as a massive government giveaway. Yet most banks have already paid back their loans, with interest. And corporate profits are higher than ever before. It’s a capitalist success story. Obama gets the credit.
There are other signs the economy’s steadily improving. The Dow’s settled in north of 12,000. After zooming toward $5 a gallon, gas prices are now going down. And, while 9 percent unemployment is still too high, the country’s experienced 14 straight months of positive job growth and four straight months of more than 200,000 new private-sector jobs.
To which, you can add: The last combat troops come home from Iraq in July; that same month, the first troops leave Afghanistan; universal health care’s now the law of the land; 95 percent of Americans received a tax cut as part of the stimulus package; and, by the way, lest we forget: Obama also tracked down and killed Osama bin Laden.
That in itself is a hard record for anybody to beat. But, in addition, Obama is getting a lot of help from Republicans. Even though they control the House and, by reason of the filibuster, also control the Senate, they can claim only one legislative accomplishment over the last 36 months: Paul Ryan’s budget plan. And what a disaster that is.
There’s no way to sugarcoat it. Paul Ryan’s plan to balance the budget by killing Medicare “as we know it,” while providing additional tax breaks to the wealthiest of Americans, is the worst public policy proposal since George W. Bush’s plan to privatize Social Security – and the most politically poisonous.
It’s one thing to talk about reforming Medicare. It’s another to vote to kill it. Yet that’s what all but four Republicans in the House and all but five in the Senate did. The Ryan plan is now the official Republican Party plan. They’re stuck with it. Yet they can’t defend it. Not even, as they learned this week in upstate New York, in a traditionally safe Republican district.
Given the dual challenge of defending the Ryan Plan and challenging Obama’s strong record, it’s no wonder so many smart candidates are dropping out. Only the dumb ones are left.