GOP hungry for candidates

A large, solid, immovable object just fought free of a powerful vacuum pull. That object is, of course, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. And the vacuum is what surrounds the Republican field now competing for the presidential nomination.

All the GOP candidates are fine in their own way, but they seem somehow mismatched with the presidency. This fairly large field casts a small shadow. Which is where the problem comes in.

This vacuum evolved from the elections of 2006 and 2008, which wiped out a stratum of GOP stars moving up through the pipeline, leaving the group coming up for the presidential election notably dwindled and thin.

Then the crash of 2008 and its ensuing financial crises created a whole new political landscape where new sets of issues emerged. In 2009 and 2010, Republicans elected a huge crop of new leaders — young, eloquent, diverse and electable — appealing to the tea party and the establishment, the base and swing voters alike.

Republicans expected the top of their 2012 ticket to be unexciting, and believed the vice presidential nominee, chosen from one of the newbies, would supply much, if not all, of the juice.

The good were untried, and the tried were not good, but at the moment that did not seem too crucial: It was assumed that President Barack Obama would cruise (and serve out his time under blockade by the House and perhaps the Senate).

And at the same time, Christie, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina, et al., would mature like fine wine and emerge in 2016 as the next great Republican presidential aspirants. This course of events was assumed to be normal.

Then everything changed. Prospects for the world and Obama’s re-election suddenly got very much worse. The election became at once more consequential and winnable.

But the Republican field, composed of eccentrics and retreads, seemed less and less up to the task, including a former governor who spent seven years running for president, a Texan serving his fourth term as governor, a libertarian crank and a congresswoman whose place really is in the House.

There was also an entrepreneur who never came near public office, a former House speaker who peaked in 1995, a hard-edged social conservative who lost his last race by 18 points five years earlier, and a former governor whose last job was as an Obama appointee and last triumph was a puff piece in Vogue magazine.

None had held office recently, none were involved in current policy struggles, none could unite the tea party and the establishment as some newcomers could.

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels passed. House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin passed. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush decided more than four years ought to pass before one Bush
succeeded another as president.

When Texas Gov. Rick Perry joined former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty in failing to make the cut as a national candidate, the establishment panicked, reacting to both the stature gap between the job and the candidates, and between this crop of Republicans and the stellar class just ahead.

The reaction was to reach for the most senior member of the junior contingent, and push him prematurely into the vacuum of power. They tried and they failed, and one cannot blame Christie. But the vacuum of power remains.

Examiner columnist Noemie Emery is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and author of “Great Expectations; The Troubled Lives of Political Families.”

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