Can John Thune Run Against Obama?

The latest Republican to float to the top

John Thune. It’s a name you should know, at least for this week, because he may be our next president, or maybe not. But he is the latest contestant on The Politics of the Right! The political game show started in January with the beginning of the 2012 presidential election cycle. Republicans are trying to find someone to appear in the final showcase next to President Obama.

The President’s greatest strength in seeking re-election is that he has no real opponent. He is Ali without Frazier, Connors without McEnroe. With no one to challenge him, no one the media sees as worthy of equal time, Obama gets to run unopposed in the earliest stages of campaign.

Sarah Palin was that person for a time. But she has been damaged — fairly or unfairly and maybe beyond reparation — by the attacks on her use of rifle hash marks on her Tea Party target map for the 2010 midterm elections. One of the Congressional districts she targeted was represented by Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot earlier this month along with 19 others, at a meeting with constituents after winning re-election.

There is no evidence that the target map had anything to do with the shootings. But Sarah Palin’s lack of sensitivity and political sophistication in responding to the attacks severely weakened her chances in 2012.
The other Republican presidential candidates with name recognition and organization, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich, Haley Barbour, Michele Bachman, Tim Pawlenty, and Rick Santorum, all have fatal political flaws. Of course, Republicans are known for giving the nomination to the next guy in line. In this case, that would be former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. Who finished second to John McCain in 2008?

But Romney implemented a healthcare system in Massachusetts that was the prototype for the new federal program that Republicans like to call “Obamacare.” But since “Obamacare” was at one time “Romneycare,” the next guy in line is not seen as the best person to lead the charge in 2012.

And so the Republican establishment has been looking desperately for an alternative to their current choices. Names have been floated to the media to gauge the reaction of the electorate. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal have all had their time as flavor of the week. Some or none of them may run in 2012.

The current favorite alternative candidate is South Dakota Senator John Thune. Forget for a second that the population of his entire state is about half the city of Philadelphia. He has been a Republican favorite since he defeated Democratic Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle. He is a charismatic speaker, a true conservative and politically astute. His two major weaknesses seem to be his lack of legislative initiatives and the fact that he voted for the stimulus billTARP. Neither is considered a fatal flaw, as he still has far more experience than Barack Obama did when he ran in 2008 and has already gone on the record as saying he wouldn’t have voted for the stimulus billTARP if he knew there would be no oversight. Recently Thune got a lot of attention for sitting next to New York Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand during the new mixed seating at the State of the Union address. The couple may be the two most attractive people in the Senate and were dubbed the King and Queen of the prom.

In any case, Thune may be the guy or new names will continue to rise and fall. The only thing that seems to be clear is that Barack Obama has the stage all to himself right now.

Republicans seem to be wasting precious time and may waste an opportunity. No president has ever won re-election with the unemployment rate over 7.6 percent. Even the most optimistic analysts are not predicting enough new jobs to get below that mark in the next two years. So Obama would seem vulnerable. It would be wise for Republicans to try and find a viable alternative. The longer they play “eenie, meenie, miney, mo” with a chorus line of imperfect choices, the longer the President has the spotlight all to himself.

So let’s see how John Thune does in his audition. Put his name in a temporary memory file.

LARRY MENDTE writes for The Philly Post every Monday and Thursday. See his previous columns here. To watch his video commentaries, go to