Open presidential field not bad thing

By Dan Streib

Just imagine if there was a Republican candidate out there who didn’t have the supposed Romneyesque authenticity problems, the oft-mentioned McCainian rebelliousness and the Huckabeean inclination to raise taxes. Just imagine. I can see the headlines now: “The Republicans find their man,” and “The conservative coalition is saved.” Wouldn’t you expect the Right to go crazy for a character like that? Well, what if I told you that there was such a man, and he was running for president? Well, if I told you that, I would be fibbing, because last Tuesday, Fred Thompson decided to drop out of the race for president.

Now that the candidate who was “The Clear Conservative Choice,” is gone, his failure causes one to stop and take the time to ponder this: Why did the much hyped Fred Thompson fall so far so quickly?

The easy, and I believe correct, answer is that Thompson was overly hyped earlier this year, and the need for a “pure” conservative candidate was similarly overstated by the press.

Yes, a search for a more “clear” conservative choice did fuel the Thompson candidacy – but that search was the only thing that ever really did. The supposedly unlikeable Romney charmed Iowans just fine before Huckabee came along, and Romney was socially conservative enough for most Michiganders. Meanwhile, independents in New Hampshire had no problems with McCain’s hawkishness, and conservative South Carolinans found the Vietnam POW plenty conservative for their tastes.

What placed these “flawed” candidates above Thompson was that the former Tennessee senator was just your typical politician. His only distinguishing feature was an acting career. And although this reminded the GOP faithful of Ronald Reagan, Thompson’s personality did not.

Many people have complained about the lack of “special” candidates this election, but we would truly have no special candidates if they were all like Thompson. People have also complained about the various candidates’ quirks, and the media coverage has pointed out each and every last one of them. But in reality, our country has always had quirky candidates and presidents – these are real people for crying out loud!

It is the irony of all ironies that during the first presidential contest since 1952 where no president or vice president is running, everybody is complaining. Could it be that people are frustrated because no candidate was perfectly pre-set and packaged for voters to glorify?

Even in ’52, it was determined that Ike would be the Republican nominee. And this year is far removed from 1952 since, contrary to popular belief, it was never set in stone that a seven year senator from New York was destined to become president this year. The typical tale of Hillary’s early Iowa loss was that voters don’t like to be told who to vote for.

Could it be that the people still prefer more concrete choices as always and just didn’t feel Hillary fit the bill? Maybe now they are stepping away from Obama because they feel that Clinton is closer in stature than our Illinois senator.

In truth, there are three front-runners from each party that are spectacular individuals – and yes, I said spectacular. Yes, many of them are unpolished. Yes, many may lack substance. Yes, some are considered to be too scheming (Clinton, Romney, and Giuliani). And yes, they are all imperfect human beings with perhaps too little experience.

But in the end Giuliani (a hero of 9/11 and impressive mayor), McCain (a war hero and experienced senator), Romney (a skilled businessman), Clinton (a competent and tough former White House resident), Obama (an inspirational figure), and Edwards (a classic rags-to-riches fighter) all have something that distinguishes them from the norm. Every last one of them has a theme that is more than a theme, but a truth. They are all beyond the Fred Thompsons and Chris Dodds of the world.

When candidates have something that makes them special like that, they are more than a candidate – they are presidential. And I, for one, couldn’t be much happier with getting to vote for one of these potential presidents later this year.

Dan is a sophomore in political science who is hoping for, and would quickly endorse, a McCain-Giuliani ticket.