ECONOMY AND JOBS
Texas has the best economy in America, with more jobs and more prosperity than any other state. Other people are more knowledgable about this than I am, but the contrast between Texas and Illinois or Texas and the rest of the country is pretty startling... and if jobs and the economy are a big issue how could you not pick the governor with the absolute best track record of any in the nation...
Rick was one of the only peeps against bailouts back when bailouts were the coolest thing in the world... Rick will be the only candidate who can say he has actually cut spending... and that he has done it more than once... Rick was against ethanol mandates from the beginning which conventional wisdom says makes winning Iowa more difficult but my belief is that Iowa Republicans will respect someone who is principled and doesn't pander on something that has obviously failed. Rick has been strong for a balanced budget amendment, which I think would be a popular campaign plank in a run for president...
BORDER SECURITY AND IMMIGRATION
Rick seems to have found a very good formula on immigration and border security. He appeals to Hispanics because his rhetoric is not caustic, and he doesn't call for drastic measures that seem more like racism or discrimination. On the other hand, he is one of the most hawkish elected officials out there when it comes to securing the border itself and criticizing the federal government for their failure on the issue. While Rick might not win the more jingoistic "they took our jobs" crowd in some place like Iowa, he appeals to the vast majority of reasonable voters with his tough on border security but not angry at Mexicans views.
NATIONAL SECURITY AND FOREIGN POLICY
He is one of the only possible candidates with actual military experience having served in the Air Force for several years in the 1970s... flying missions all over the world. Rick has visited Iraq and Afghanistan many times and seems to be a rock star with the military rank and file, not to mention Israel, China, Europe, and other places in an official capacity. Rick also seems to have found a happy medium between the "neocon rethuglican" pro-war all the time caricature and the crazy pacifist anti-war peacenik caricature of peeps like Ron Paul or Howard Dean... from what I gather Rick supports the idea of the war on terror, supported going into Afghanistan and Iraq, but thinks it's now time to extricate America as best we can from those theaters and rethink the way we fight our battles... in a smarter way that keeps our homeland secure but also doesn't sacrifice our brave young men unnecessarily... It will be hard to call him just another Bush on foreign policy, but he's also not as irresponsible as the Ron Paul isolationist bent...
Bottom line is that Rick probably has more foreign policy experience as a sitting governor than the current president has after more than two years as the actual president... and Rick definitely has more experience and credibility on military issues and national security than almost any other Republican in the race...
There may not be a more pro life governor in the history of this country than Rick. There may only be a handful of more pro second amendment governors ever. Rick has the social issues locked down, but interestingly he has framed his philosophy in a way that says to the socially moderate or socially liberal Republicans that he is for states deciding these issues instead of the federal government... still... nobody will mistake Rick's faith... he has cultivated a rabid following at mega churches around Texas, and when he preaches at these churches, he clearly knows the Bible and is not just pandering or awkwardly giving a prepared speech... he is a social conservative in his heart... despite being accurately described as libertarian leaning as well... his philosophy may be contradictory for some, but it is the sweet spot of the Republican Party...
How many candidates went to tea parties in April 2009? Not many prominent ones. In fact most prominent politicians sneered at the notion. Rick embraced the tea party movement from the earliest days. He is a favorite among conservative activists, online right wing bloggers, and precinct chairman type people, and others. Rick knows how the tea parties work. He wouldn't ever pander to them or try to control them the way some candidates do... but he would be the candidate with the most tea party support the instant he got into the race.
Rick is from Texas. He has been the Republican Governors Association finance chairman and is now the overall chairman... he knows how to raise money. His campaign raised a lot of money online in 2010. He has proven he can raise a lot of money in one day... although federal limits may make it a lot more difficult since he has always raised money in Texas without limits...
Rick is a great campaigner. He embraces social networking and online media. He is made for television with his tan skin and full head of hair... like the Marlboro man image he has held since twenty years ago when he first started getting into politics... many who have seen him in action know that he is disciplined unlike almost any other candidate... he gets up early and doesn't get off message... he trusts his army to fight his battles, and he does what he needs to do without driving his staff about minutiae crazy like many politicians...
Rick has a great personal story. He would be the least privileged president in American history in terms of his upbringing. His house did not have running water for a good part of his childhood, from what I have read in the past. He literally had an outhouse for a long time. His mother sewed his clothes and even underwear until he went into the military. He was not rich... he did not live in Indonesia and attend a Muslim school... he grew up in Paint Creek, Texas and fought for his success the hard way. He knows how to ride a horse. He knows how to fly a plane. He knows how to shoot a gun. He runs. He rides bikes... and rides the other kind of bikes... he shoots coyotes and loves his dog... Rick is the kind of exciting candidate that Republican primary voters can get a tingle up their leg about... and his personal story appeals to middle class Americans in middle America... plus Hispanics and others who also may have grown up without privilege... Rick was an Eagle Scout... he is definitely the picture of the fifties kid who grew up and avoided the hippie dippie drug scene and opted for the straight laced pro America scene throughout the sixties and seventies...
Plus Rick has been extremely well vetted in his personal life... and his personal life despite some salacious rumors that have popped up and been shot down is pretty boring... he married his high school sweetheart... has two young adult kids... he has so many schedulers and handlers and peeps around him that if he had gone off to "hike the Appalachian Trail" I think we would all know about it by now... juicy things like that do not stay secret over the course of tough campaigns year after year after year against candidates with crazy amounts of money for opposition research...
Does Rick have detractors? Has Rick been governor long enough that he has pissed some people off on some little issue? Of course... and unlike say Romneycare or Pawlenty's support for ethanol and other liberal ideas or Herman Cain's support for bailouts, none of Rick's so called mistakes are deal killers for reasonable people.
The biggest downsides to Rick are pretty miniscule. He supported allowing girls to be vaccinated against HPV, which causes cervical cancer. He overturned himself before that ever actually happened, after he saw the public outcry over the issue. The knock is that he wanted to personally inject little girls with a dangerous STD drug, but that is silly. People would have been able to easily opt out under his plan... but again, he saw the public reaction and killed the plan before it ever took effect.
Another one is on the fringe of conspiracy theories... they call him a Bilderberger because he spoke at a conference along with dozens of other major politicians of both parties. When Rick has been asked about it in public, he usually makes it sound like he went in, gave a speech, shook a few hands, and left... and that the whole thing was pretty unremarkable. When I see someone bring up Bilderberg, I automatically dismiss them as a kook, and so should you. Maybe Bilderberg has some secret society aspects to it, but it seems pretty clear Rick is not even in their club.
The other one is the Trans Texas Corridor... which is perhaps the most visionary idea in transportation since the interstate highway system... imagine if I told you that there are private companies willing to build new transportation infrastructure, including roads, trains, and utilities, and do it on their own dime. Obviously they need something in exchange... and that is usually tolls and fares on roads and trains, respectively. Plus, they obviously have to be able to buy the land along the right of way using eminent domain. Meanwhile, the government would still build non toll roads and expand and maintain existing highways so people have "free" options.
There is nothing unconservative about transportation privatization, but people objected to it being a "land grab" (as if government-built roads don't use land) or that it was a foreign company (it was a San Antonio based company with a Spanish partner)... or they just didn't like the idea of roads not being "free" (government-built roads cost more taxpayer dollars and take longer to build). The best part of Rick's plan was that it would take these many many billions of dollars from the private infrastructure companies and give that over to the state to expand and maintain "free" roads like I-35. As it is, Texas can't afford to build new roads or repair and maintain existing roads into the future. We don't get enough of our own highway dollars back from the federal government. We have too many people moving here, yet gas tax revenue is both declining and being eroded by inflation... either you are for privatization of some new construction projects or you are for higher taxes... either you are for private companies playing a role in building roads, or you are for not having new roads. The case for the TTC is solid. The criticisms are almost always misguided. Rick has gone out of his way to push eminent domain reform to prevent abuse of private property rights. I think there will just always be a very vocal sub set of peeps who oppose toll roads and view "freedom" as being able to drive without paying the costs associated with driving on safe, efficient roadways. Like the HPV vaccine, the TTC is dead anyway, so it's not even a real issue.
Other knocks on Rick are that he endorsed Rudy Giuliani in 2008, and Rudy was not conservative enough... Rick's rationale was that he could beat Hillary Clinton, which was true at the time. The press try to knock his job creation funds like the Texas Enterprise Fund and the Emerging Technology Fund as being slush funds for rewarding friends and supporters, but no matter how many articles they write, people still like the idea that Texas can entice businesses and close the deal with tax breaks for moving here. Creating jobs and attracting businesses from other states is hard to knock. Otherwise, being called Governor "Good Hair" is not actually a negative in the way that liberals use it. Being in office too long is another knock, but that's not really a knock when you're an outsider running against Washington... and you are new to most peeps. Other things I have heard are that he worked for Al Gore in the 1980s back when Al Gore was the conservative choice in the Democratic Party... and remember that being a Republican in Texas before about 1990 didn't mean you were conservative, just as being a Democrat in Texas back then didn't mean you were liberal. Texas was basically a one party state with liberal Democrats and conservative Democrats. Rick was always a conservative Democrat. If anything, I think having been a Democrat way back when but having a conversion helps Rick. It helps him in the Ronald Reagan or Phil Gramm comparison... both former Democrats and future Republican heroes. It helps him with the millions of voters out there who understand exactly where Rick is coming from. It's not about party, it's about principles.
Another so called problem that usually ends up being a positive is the "secession" stuff. Rick never actually used the word secede. Nor did he advocate for it... he in fact said we had a good union and that he sees no reason to dissolve it. Still, the Rachel Maddows of the world casually throw out that "Rick is a secessionist" line with such regularity that many may think it is actually true. If asked, the secession comment actually allows Rick to talk about his strongest points... that people are fed up with the federal government's one size fits all mandates on the states...
The other big knock is what people are calling Rick's "Bush Problem." Others might call it Bush Fatigue. Rick is from Texas. Ironically, the Bush team may snipe and undermine his efforts because they don't like Rick, all while the anti Bush peeps will bash Rick for being another George W. Bush. Rick can't win on that, and the Bush and Texas handicap might set him back. That being said, Rick can overcome that by distancing himself from George W. Bush on a few key issues and showing that Texas is the most bustling economy in the country under his tenure.
THE ONLY HOPE
Whether Rick ultimately runs or not, he may very well be the only hope to win in 2012. Obama is strong but vulnerable, especially on the economy. In terms of the primary, who other than Rick unites all the various portions of the Republican electoral coalition? Who brings fiscal conservatives, tea party peeps, traditional conservatives, social conservatives, midwest conservatives, national security conservatives, and the rest all together? Rick excites crowds in Manhattan and California, just as much as he excites crowds in Abilene and Tyler, Texas.
I support the movement to draft Rick into the race. I think... contrary to conventional wisdom... that Rick has the luxury of waiting a few more months to make his move. He has a platform as RGA Chairman... he is traveling around the country for that... he has plenty of exposure in the media but not too much exposure... Rick can play the wait and see game a few more months before making a move, but if he is even just considering getting in, he may want to continue talking like he may get in, in order to scare away the money and committed support from other candidates.
Could one of the declared candidates win? Of course they could. Republicans will rally around our guy to defeat Obama regardless of who it is... but unless Rick thinks Obama is unbeatable in 2012 and instead has his eye on 2016, why not flirt with the "Draft Rick" movement a little bit until you make your final decision?
If Rick runs, I think he may exceed expectations yet again after being underestimated... can he ride that all the way to the White House? It will be tough, but he may be our only hope.