Thursday, June 24, 2010


At the Daily Beast, Tunku Varadarajan describes the selection of David Petraeus to replace Stanley McChrystal as "Obama's 2012 power play":

... Obama has, at a stroke, taken Petraeus out of the 2012 presidential race.

Keep your friends close -- and the competition closer. There has been a buzz about Petraeus and the presidency since about the fall of last year, and to many in the Republican Party -- a party bereft of ideas and credible leaders -- the general has increasingly taken on the aspect of a possible messiah. His impeccable military credentials, his undoubted intelligence, his mastery of personal and professional politics (you wouldn’t catch him talking to Rolling Stone in a million years), plus his undoubted (if carefully tailored) conservatism have led many to see in him a man who can take on Obama in 2012, and beat him. He is even the sort of guy who'd allow the GOP to broaden its tent, drawing in "undecideds" and independents.

I don't buy it.

I don't see any evidence that Petraeus could have possibly cobbled together a campaign -- in modern politics, you have to start doing this ridiculously early, and you have to clear as many impediments out of your life as possible to do so. That's why the likely GOP field consists largely of the long-term unemployed (Gingrich, Romney, Santorum), the recently jobless (Palin), and the soon-to-be-jobless (Pawlenty). Those burdened by gainful employment (Mitch Daniels, Haley Barbour) are already working hard to be mentioned as contenders by the Great Mentioners in the press. I don't see much of this from Petraeus. If he'd wanted to run, he'd be Gen. David Petraeus (Ret.) by now.

And what about that "undoubted" conservatism? Petraeus has said repeatedly over the years that he opposes torture -- and he supports the notion of closing Guantanamo and rethinking Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Do we even know if he's willing to hew to any of the GOP's other litmus tests? Do we know if he's anti-abortion? Does he unswervingly oppose "amnesty" (defined as any policy on immigration to the left of "ship 'em all back and seal the borders")? Will he take the Grover Norquist pledge to never, ever, ever raise taxes under any circumstances whatsoever, even in a national emergency?

If not, I think -- sainted though he is -- he'd have had a fight on his hands if he chose to run in 2012. The right has persuaded itself since 2006 that Republicans lose when they're not right-wing enough. Plus, wingnuts desperately crave, on an emotional level, candidates who'll be standard-bearers, wavers of their resentment flag.

Maybe they'd give all that up for a messiah in uniform. But if he deviated from conservative Correct Thinking on other issues as much as he's deviated on torture, Gitmo, and DADT, I think he'd suddenly become fair game.


Oh, and did I mention the Fox News poll from this past April in which respondents were asked whether Petraeus would be doing a better or worse job than Obama if he were president -- and only 33% of Republicans said yes? (A plurality, 43%, said they didn't know.) Overall, only 18% of respondents said he'd be doing better -- and among independents the number was also 18%. Petraeus may be more of a saint in the Beltway media than he is in the public at large, even the right-wing public.

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