Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Goodwrench for President?!

On Wednesday the bipartisan Iraq Study Group will issue its long-awaited report on the situation in Iraq. It’s a document whose impact is widely anticipated to call for a change, however predictable to our adversaries and to us, in the United States’ military policy of engagement in Iraq. It’s a sign of the report’s anticipated impact that TV news anchors announced plans to broadcast live from Washington – not New York, where they’re all headquartered.

“Live, from the Congressional Printing Office -- ” We’ll find out if that pans out.

But whatever the report says, whatever its recommendations, it will be quietly seen as another thoughtfully momentous expression of the skills and smarts of one of the Group’s prime movers, a leader in the panel that is also known as the Baker Commission, named for James Baker III, the one man who should impart a deep and abiding fear in the Democratic leadership contemplating 2008.

We’ve been treated to a laundry list of likelies for the 2008 Republican nomination. There’s Rudy Giuliani, the abrasive but passionate America’s Mayor still riding a wave of favorable sentiment “in the wake of” Sept. 11. There’s John McCain, a longtime favorite of moderates in both parties and a party man who may be due to cash in on enduring mainstream popularity. Sam Brownback is weighing his options; so is Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, and Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, whose bona fides don’t strike party loyalists as being too conservative. There are others too, names dropped as much for good cocktail conversation as anything else.

We propose a possible name to add to the ones above, a list of what at this point can only be called the Usual Suspects. You want to drop a name at a cocktail party? Right or wrong, you read it here first: Go with James Baker for President in 2008.

Serious as a heart attack, Republican strategists might well be saying: In a time when the Party is under siege as much from within as from without; when scandals from carnal to financial have undercut the confidence of the party faithful; when the enemy runs Congress; when minorities are deserting the party, lowering percentages that were weak to start with, there’s no danger at all in riding the right dark horse to victory.

Whether he'd be willing to subject himself to the rigors of a campaign is another matter entirely. But on paper, at least, James Baker is precisely the kind of tough, smart, experienced, pragmatic, multi-hyphenate operator the GOP needs in order to win.

If nothing else, consider the man's resume: Baker led the legal team that beat back the Al Gore challenge in the Hanging Chad Incident of 2000. He was White House Chief of Staff for two administrations, and also served treasury secretary and secretary of state. A fixer par excellence, he helped broker the deal that assembled the first Gulf War coalition under Bush #41.

Then there’s the other factors: Baker’s perceived as a practical centrist, a mechanic at a high level, someone able to wield old connections and a formidable organizational mind to take on challenges critical to the nation’s future.

In a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette cartoon in the latest issue of Newsweek, two elves sit building toys in the runup to Christmas. Another elf, James Baker, stands elsewhere, working on disjointed contraptions in a box marked “IRAQ WAR.”

“Who’s the new elf?” one elf asks his co-worker.

“Santa calls him in when something’s really broken,” the second elf says.

There’s already a quiet undertone of mystery about the 2008 contest, a sense that a dark horse could come on strong from out of nowhere and win the nomination, and the presidency. Right now, the 2008 election is characterized more by what we don’t know than what we do know.

Because of that, Baker 2008 isn’t out of left field at all. A candidate with, uh, unimpeachable White House bona fides and gravitas in the private sector could be the nightmare that wakes Democrats up in the dead of night, drives them into party offices, stumbling over the furniture in the scramble to the white boards and phone banks.

Why? Because Baker’s electable – maybe more then Republicans can realize or Democrats will admit.
Image credits: U.S. State Department and the White House (public domain)

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