A subset of the wild and woolly field of potential Republican presidential candidates will meet for the first time this evening in a debate sponsored by Fox News and the South Carolina Republican Party.
None stands a chance of beating President Barack Obama in 2012, according to public opinion polls. The only one who comes close is someone who’s not running: Generic Republican.
The GOP field offers everything but, from far right-wingers to party-identity-challenged wild cards to family-values conservatives whose values would offend most families.
If Obama is as vulnerable as the polls suggest, a result of soaring gas prices, high unemployment and a growing sense the country is on the wrong track, you’d think the Republican Party could find someone generic to fit the bill.
What exactly would Generic Republican look like? Here are some qualities he or she would need:
No. 1. Value Judgment
Republicans claim to be the party of family values. That doesn’t mean a candidate can tell everyone else how to live their lives while he carries on with the neighbor’s spouse.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, thrice married, cheated on wives one and two. He reportedly pressured wife one for divorce when she was in the hospital recovering from cancer surgery.
Gingrich was disciplined by the House for ethics violations and resigned his seat in 1998. And now he wants his campaign to focus on social issues?
Live-and-let-live libertarians would be happy if the Republican Party never talked about social values or tried to impose them on everyone else. But if social conservatives are key to a victory in 2012, at minimum Generic Republican has to practice what he preaches.
No. 2. A Skeleton-Free Closet
Five years ago Mitt Romney, former governor of true-blue Massachusetts, signed into law a bill that the president claims was the model for the federal health-care bill passed last year. If the Republican Party plans to make repeal of Obamacare part of its platform in 2012, Romney has some explaining to do.
His absence from tonight’s debate should give him added time to figure out how to differentiate his health-care plan from Obama’s.
Nuances tend to get lost in the mud-slinging that passes for presidential campaigns. Under the circumstances, it’s probably best that Generic Republican have no policy skeletons in the closet.
No. 3. Foreign Policy Credentials
With Obama’s approval rating getting a bounce after the special forces’ deft assassination of Osama bin Laden Sunday, Generic Republican is going to need to establish his foreign policy credentials. Proximity to Russia didn’t qualify former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin for the No. 2 job. And Texas Congressman Ron Paul’s foreign policy of “non-intervention” seems more suited to today’s Democrats.
Generic Republican should at least be able to identify all the “-stans” on a map of Central Asia and pronounce their leaders’ names correctly. Most important, he must look comfortable in those group photos of heads of state gathered to solve the world’s problems.
No. 4. Business Acumen
The fiscal can that’s been kicked down the road for so long is going to land in the next president’s lap. Generic Republican’s curriculum vitae should include running a business or, better yet, running one into and successfully out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Mitt Romney may have some of the business acumen this country needs, but only Donald Trump has four chapter 11 bankruptcy filings to his name.
No. 5. Good Grasp of American History
One bedrock Republican principle is the need to return the country to its Constitutional roots. The federal government has exceeded its “enumerated powers” as outlined in Article 1, Section 8, to such a degree it’s become an unrecognizable, unmanageable behemoth, with tentacles reaching into all facets of our lives.
It’s essential for Generic Republican to have a good grasp of American history, the Founding Fathers and the Constitution they crafted. The founders did not abolish slavery, as Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann claims. And the Revolutionary War began in Massachusetts, not New Hampshire, even though both states have a town called Concord.
Tonight’s debate will be as notable for who won’t attend as who will. Only declared candidates who have formally registered an exploratory committee with the Federal Election Commission can participate, according to the rules laid out by Fox. That limits the list to former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, Ron Paul, businessman Herman Cain and former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson.
Missing from the stage will be Bachmann, Trump and Gingrich as well as four former governors: Romney, Palin, Mike Huckabee (Arkansas) and Jon Huntsman (Utah); and one sitting governor, Mitch Daniels (Indiana).
And, of course, Generic Republican.
(Caroline Baum, author of “Just What I Said,” is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.)
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