The time has come for many in the Republican Party to begin seriously considering the 2012 presidential election. By this time last year, President Barack Obama had just announced his candidacy. Soon the shadow campaign will begin in earnest, and then the real campaign several months after that, just before the Iowa primary.
Here are three of the strongest Republicans who could challenge Mr. Obama:
1) Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts
Mr. Brown may be the single most politically skilled individual in the entire Republican Party. He pulled a shocking upset over Democrat Martha Coakley, continues to retain extremely strong favorables, and looks likely to run a very competitive Senate race in 2012. All this while being many times more conservative than the average person in one of America’s most liberal states.
That takes skill.
Indeed, if this Republican ran for president, he’d probably have a decent chance of winning Massachusetts. Mr. Brown is a hero to Tea Partiers; at the same time there has been nothing so far that cuts against him negatively. And, in an era where looking good matters more than ever, Mr. Brown – as his Cosmopolitan photo shoot implies – certainly has the looks nailed down (he’s certainly going to need them, going against a man who can do this).
2) Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey
Mr. Christie is the popular governor of New Jersey, applauded by many Republicans for cutting spending and taking the fight full-hilt to the teacher’s unions. Media coverage of his agenda has been extremely positive so far, and his aggressive, blunt answers at town halls have draw much support on Youtube.
Compared to individuals such as Mr. Romney or Ms. Palin (or Mr. Brown, for that matter), the governor’s established record is far superior.
Mr. Christie’s weakness might lie in the realm of political skills. He was expected to win beat Democratic incumbent Jon Corzine in the gubernatorial race by double-digits; in the end Mr. Corzine made it quite close. While popular in New Jersey, the governor is hated by liberals and Democrats. And he doesn’t look presidential – or, to put it less nicely, he’s too fat.
3) Senator Marco Rubio of Florida
Mr. Rubio made an explosive rise in 2010. Starting out as a literal nobody, he succeeded in forcing out heavy favorite Charlie Crist in the Republican primary – and then winning a three-person senatorial race with ease.
The senator’s Hispanic origins help in the diversity realm, and he tells a great story about his immigrant parents. Moreover, Mr. Rubio has the rare ability to make people on opposite sides of an issue believe that he is with them and against the other side. He would be a formidable candidate.
Now, all these candidates do have one weakness in common: their relative lack of experience. Mr. Christie will have had three years as governor by 2012 – which would make him the most experienced of all three candidates.
This could be a devastating attack under Mr. Obama. After all, a major theme of Mr. Obama’s 2008 campaign was his extensive foreign policy experience, gained working under previous Democratic–
Oh wait, never mind. That was Hillary Clinton.
Indeed, there is one similarity between each of these candidates: they bear a strong resemblance to Mr. Obama, whatever their political differences.
Many in the Republican Party look at their current field and do not see much. Each candidate – Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Haley Barbour – has serious weaknesses. None excites as Mr. Obama does.
But these Republicans are thinking too narrowly. The Republican Party has plenty of young, attractive, and politically savvy politicians. It’s just that most pundits haven’t imagined them running for president.
Perhaps Republicans ought to do a non-conservative thing: start looking outside the box.