Looking Ahead to 2012

On Wednesday, I was part of a group that heard Minnesota’s Governor Tim Pawlenty talk about his current battles with the Democrat-controlled Minnesota legislature; Pawlenty, like Horatius at the bridge, is all that stands between Minnesotans and a massive tax increase. But that was only the beginning: Pawlenty went on to lay out his vision for Minnesota with respect to some of the big issues of the day–the economy, education and health care. With few exceptions, his observations and prescriptions could easily be adapted to the national stage.

It was a masterful performance. Pawlenty is a conservative with a disarmingly moderate style. He is smart, articulate, youthful, energetic and likable. He is, to boot, one of the funniest storytellers in American politics. When he had finished, the question in my mind was: who in American politics is better? The only name that came to mind was Bill Clinton, but thankfully he’s retired. Among Republicans, only Mitt Romney comes close. But Pawlenty communicates better with a wider range of people.

Around the country, Republicans are looking toward 2012. It is very early, obviously, but potential candidates are already evaluating whether to enter the race. Today’s landscape is reminiscent of 1989-90. At that time, Democrats were reeling from three straight devastating Presidential defeats. The first President Bush was riding high in the polls and many thought he would be unbeatable in 1992. Some prominent Democrats, like the overrated Mario Cuomo, decided to sit out the race, leaving it to a lesser-known filed. But one of that group, Bill Clinton, turned out to be a political genius, and in the event, the Democratic nomination was very much worth having.

Prominent Republicans are guessing that something similar may happen in 2012. President Obama is sowing the seeds of unheard-of budget deficits, unprecedented federal spending, economic stagnation and inflation. The ill consequences of Obama’s policies have not yet struck, but when they do, his political standing is likely to erode rapidly. And in foreign affairs, his weak, submissive posture guarantees that if anything goes wrong many will pin the blame on the administration.

Much will happen between now and 2011, when the Presidential race gets underway in earnest, and events as yet unknown will shape the race in ways we cannot foresee. But here’s a guess: when the dust settles, Governor Pawlenty will be a top contender for the Republican nomination. And another one: the Republican nomination in 2012, like the Democratic nomination in 1992, will turn out to be very much worth having.

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