For the Republicans to win back the White House in 2012, one of the new, or newly noticed, winners will have to be elevated quite quickly. The most likely is the new senator from Florida, Marco Rubio, who drove the cross-benching Charlie Crist down the Specter Road to defection and oblivion, and won by about a million votes. He is an accomplished speaker from a big state, and has a compelling meritocratic c.v., though his Rotarian boosterism about the “privilege of being born in the greatest country in human history” can be tiresome, and doesn’t always resonate even to notoriously susceptible American audiences, as they now contemplate the shambles of their country’s public finances, education and justice systems, and helter-skelter foreign policy. The governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, elected last year, and the two-term governor of Indiana, Mitch Daniels, a former federal budget director, are very fearless and sensible. But superficial matters intrude into national electability: no president has been as stout as Christie since the 350-pound William Howard Taft, and none so diminutive as Daniels since the five-foot-six-inch Martin Van Buren. Glass ceilings exist to be broken.
The most important immediate personnel change will be Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, a thoughtful and innovative fiscal conservative, as head of the House Ways and Means Committee, where all spending bills originate. But this campaign, like that of two years ago, was just another exercise in turning the bums out. The voters were correct, in both years; their incumbent leaders were, so to speak, bums who badly needed to be defeated, but the U.S. will continue to drift and not be strong in the world until someone produces a plan of action to arrest the country’s decline, as Nixon did in 1968 and Reagan did in 1980. No such credible personality or program is now in prospect. The office is seeking the man or woman and the times are seeking the plan, and the American public doesn’t care which party (including Tea), it comes from.