Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour’s announcement that he won’t seek the presidency was no real surprise. Barbour’s candidacy from the start was the longest of long shots. He consistently polled low single digit figures among those that GOP voters said they’d back.
His shoot-from-the-lip defense of the White Citizens Councils, and then tepid back track on that defense, and his feigned cluelessness about the brutality of Southern racism, and the accomplishments of the civil rights struggle, typed him in the minds of millions as a borderline unreconstructed apologist for the Southern way of life, in other words, white bigotry.
Barbour’s tenure as George W, Bush’s go to money guy as head of the Republican National Committee didn’t help matters. This typed him as the very antithesis of what many voters say they’re against in a presidential candidate, namely a Beltway, corporate tuned, political wheeler-dealer insider. But even if Barbour did not tote a storage locker of personal and political baggage, his candidacy would still have been just as stillborn. That’s because GOP voters have turned ice cold toward most of the crop of would be presidential candidates that have been bandied about.
WATCH MSNBC COVERAGE OF BARBOUR’S DECISION:
A Pew Research Center survey in mid-April amply reflected the sheer lack of enthusiasm for the presumed contenders. In fact, Pew found that many voters, including a significant percent of GOP voters, were hard pressed to even name some of the contenders, let alone what they stood for. Worse still, the names that voters and much of the public do know, most notably Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann and Donald Trump, they either dismiss as sideshow distractions or express intensive dislike for.
Barbour fit somewhere in between candidates that were either disliked because of his racial gaffes, if not sentiments, or simply his X factor views on the issues. The GOP candidate that has any chance of toppling a sitting president can’t be seen as a partisan ideologue, regional mouthpiece, and an entrenched party functionary. Barbour had all three of those strikes against him. He’ll have to have strong appeal to moderate and conservative independents. In recent elections, they are the voters that make or break presidents or presidential candidates. Barbour could never hope to have strong enough appeal to them.
A competitive GOP presidential candidate also cannot be seen as a religious fundamentalist zealot — so doggedly anti-abortion, gay rights, and pro school prayer to be seen as a hopeless captive of the radical right. This also will cause millions of independents to cringe and back peddle fast from that candidate. Those limitations are fast narrowing the field for the Republicans. Then there’s the question of time. It’s working hard against the GOP’s would be contenders.
Barbour, for instance, would have had to raise millions quickly, build a national organization, spend weeks on the circuit schmoozing with state and local party officials and voters, and get as much face and microphone time as he could before the national media to get the requisite name identification and stir the enthusiasm that a GOP presidential contender will need against the incumbent president. Barbour by his own admission simply didn’t “have the fire in the belly” for that kind of Herculean task with the all-important Iowa Caucus only eight months away.
But Barbour is by no means alone in trying to accomplish the task of building up a fervent national name and following in the scant months left to the start of the primary season. The others are in the same boat. The only two GOP contenders that have solid political credentials, and have built up a modicum of a following nationally, and are well-known are Mitt Romney and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee. The Pew Poll and the Public Policy Polling pretty much confirmed that they’d at least be competitive in a head to head match-up with Obama. But Huckabee and Romney both pack more than a little baggage too. Huckabee’s flaw is his hard tie to the religious right. Romney’s is the health care law that he pushed through as Massachusetts governor which the majority of GOP voters think looks too much like the one President Obama pushed through, and they don’t like.
Romney also is seen by Tea Party leaders and legions of Tea Party activists as too moderate, too establishment, and too conciliatory with the Democrats on issues of debt reduction, the budget, and spending. He would almost certainly take much heat and lots of barbs from the Palin, Bachman, and Limbaugh rightwing hard liners.
Barbour did the smart thing. He stuck his political pinky to the wind saw which way it was blowing and quickly decided that he could not stir even a faint breeze in the rough and tumble coming presidential derby. Barbour is the first to go but he won’t be the last. GOP voters will see to that in the days to come.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He hosts a national Capitol Hill broadcast radio talk show on KTYM Radio Los Angeles and WFAX Radio Washington D.C. streamed on The Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour on blogtalkradio.com and wfax.com and internet TV broadcast on thehutchinsonreportnews.com Follow Earl Ofari Hutchinson on Twitter: http://twitter.com/earlhutchinson