Alex Massie

2012 Tea Leaves

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A pair of interesting developments in the early manoevering for the Republican party's presidential nomination in 2012.

1. Sarah Palin endorses Terry Branstad in the Iowa gubernatorial race rather than his opponent Vander Plaats even though Plaats is the favoured candidate of Tea Partying types and prominent evangelicals such as James Dobson. Odd, no? Actually, no it's not odd at all. Branstad, who is making a comeback a decade after he last served as Governor, is much more likely to win. Palin isn't stupid and she knows enough to know there's no point in needlessly antagonising the man who will probably be the next governor of Iowa.

2. A characteristically excellent Andrew Ferguson piece in the Weekly Standard profiling Mitch Daniels. The governor of Indiana, like the former governor of Alaska, hasn't confirmed that he's running but he's happy to have the door ajar. The whole piece - which details Daniels' parsimony and achievements amongst the Hoosiers in some detail is well worth your time - but this part stands out:

“I really don’t want to run,” he said again. “It’s very important this time around that the party get it right. It’s not going to be enough to be the un-Obama. We need to focus more on the What of the campaign than the Who.” When he describes the What, though, it sounds tailored for a particular Who.

“What we’ve seen in the past year, what I call shock-and-awe statism, has put the American experiment at risk,” he said. “For the first time in my life, the country faces survival-level issues.” 

Those would be, along with “terrorism in a WMD world,” the national debt and the recurring federal deficits.

“There are things that I would advance as a candidate that the playbook says are folly—suicidal,” he said. “We’d have to fundamentally change all the welfare and entitlement programs. What Bush tried to do [in proposing private accounts for Social Security] was mild compared to what needs to be done. You have to have a completely new compact for people under a certain age, for Medicare and Social Security. You’re gonna have to dramatically cut spending across the whole government, including, by the way, national defense. When Bush arrived, we were spending $300 billion on national defense, and he thought that was plenty. Now it’s, what, $800 billion?”

Beyond the debt and the deficit, in Daniels’s telling, all other issues fade to comparative insignificance. He’s an agnostic on the science of global warming but says his views don’t matter. “I don’t know if the CO2 zealots are right,” he said. “But I don’t care, because we can’t afford to do what they want to do. Unless you want to go broke, in which case the world isn’t going to be any greener. Poor nations are never green.”

And then, he says, the next president, whoever he is, “would have to call a truce on the so-called social issues. We’re going to just have to agree to get along for a little while,” until the economic issues are resolved.


So, tea leaves only of course, but within them you can discern two futures for the Republican party and, more generally, American conservatism. Choices, people, choices. And this one is, in some ways, rather bigger and more important than anything that is likely to be produced by the mid-terms later this year.

PS: This bit was also pleasing and vaguely familiar: "Pork tenderloin sandwiches, the size of a platter, are unavoidable in Indiana, no matter how hard you try, and Daniels made it clear he didn’t want to try. Food became a theme of the campaign. The best dessert he’d discovered, he said, was a Snickers Bar dunked in pancake batter and, this being Indiana, deep-fried." [Emphasis added].

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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