In 1980, the GOP field included Ronald Reagan, the former governor of California who had previously challenged a sitting president from his own party, earned the grudging respect of party faithful and finally convinced his party to change direction after almost a decade of spadework; George H.W. Bush, a former CIA director, ambassador to the UN, envoy to China, congressman and decorated war hero; Howard Baker, the Senate Minority Leader; Bob Dole, another longtime senator and decorated hero of World War II; and John Connally, the former Democratic governor of Texas who had served as Secretary of the Navy under Kennedy and Secretary of the Treasury under Nixon.
The 1988 field included Bush, who, by that time, had added vice president to his gaudy resume; Dole; Al Haig, whose tours in government included Secretary of State and White House chief of staff, and whose military biography included Supreme Commander of NATO and veteran of the Korean and Vietnam wars; Jack Kemp, the well-known congressman who was arguably the most articulate and ardent exponent of supply-side economics and free markets in Congress; and Pete DuPont, a former congressman and governor.
In 1996, the GOP field featured Dole; Lamar Alexander, popular governor of Tennessee and chair of the National Governors Association; Richard Lugar, longtime senator and seasoned foreign policy sage; Phil Gramm, long-serving congressman and senator; Steve Forbes, the flat-tax advocate and presidentially-appointed chairman of the Board for International Broadcasting; Pat Buchanan, advisor to three presidents; and Alan Keyes, a longtime foreign service officer and ambassador.
Along with Keyes and Forbes, the 2000 field featured George W. Bush, the popular Texas governor; John McCain, longtime senator and Vietnam War hero; and Orrin Hatch, longtime senator and nationally recognized expert on the federal judiciary.
The 2008 field included McCain; Romney; Rudy Giuliani, a former federal prosecutor and the most recognizable mayor in American history; Fred Thompson, former senator, special counsel to numerous congressional committees dating back to Watergate and a well-known actor; and Mike Huckabee, governor of Arkansas.
In a word, it just doesn’t seem the 2012 field in its totality stacks up, which helps explain some of the dissatisfaction among GOP voters on the eve of the primaries.
However, every candidate has flaws, and most have personal or political baggage: the younger Bush had a checkered past and a thin record as governor; the elder Bush was a Beltway insider, a consummate establishment Republican who had “evolved” into conservative principles; even the sainted Reagan raised taxes in California and increased spending in the state by 177 percent.
Yet each of those men won the presidency. In other words, a strong, winning candidate can emerge from this field, but only if GOPers keep in mind that there’s no such thing as the perfect candidate—and never has been.
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