- - Tuesday, March 24, 2015


The major leaguers are packing up in Florida and Arizona, getting ready to head north for “the Show” after weeks of sharpening a batting eye or perfecting a curve ball in the sunshine of the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues. So, too, are the presidential wannabes. They’ve been toying with each other (and us) for weeks, saying they’re “thinking about running,” or talking about “exploratory committees,” and now they’re going to have to get real, too.

First into the batter’s box was Ben Carson, who just a few weeks ago announced the formation of his “exploratory committee,” and is now saying goodbye to punditry and hello to life upon the wicked stage. Ted Cruz has done the doctor one better, skipping the exploratory phase and simply saying he for one is ready for Teddy. Rand Paul of Kentucky is expected to be next.

What these worthies have in common, in addition to not having any experience dealing with cranky legislatures and bloated bureaucracies, is that they’re from the so-called “non-establishment” wing of the Grand Old Party — meaning John Ellis Bush, who prefers, like Jeb Stuart, to make a name of his initials. Mr. Bush collected a lot of experience with governing headaches, like two other governors, Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Chris Christie of New Jersey. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas (who actually lives in Florida) and Rick Perry of Texas are entertaining the requisite big thoughts and exploratory committees, and Rick Santorum, another senator with no past but for a failed presidential primary campaign in 2012, is making noise again, and so is Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard. The bug is said to have bitten others.

Each of these candidates is polishing a different message, looking first to find an unoccupied niche, and then on to larger success. Several of them would make credible nominees. It’s a much stronger group than the Republicans fielded four and eight years ago, in sharp contrast to the likely Democratic contenders of this cycle. Once past Hillary Clinton, who is looking more and more like the inevitable Democratic nominee of 2008, the party’s bench looks like the weakest in half a century.

The early line that Mrs. Clinton would be easily nominated and sweep the Republican nominee, whoever he (or she) might be, into the crowded dustbin of history, has become mere hope that she can right a campaign that has lurched off the rails. If she can’t there’s no one good collecting splinters on that bench. Joe Biden, who is sometimes fondly regarded as the class clown, is difficult for most Americans to see as a president. Martin O’Malley, the recent governor of Maryland, is a nice loser and Elizabeth Warren reminds many of George McGovern in a petticoat. Mr. McGovern, a decent man with an authentic war record, was lucky to carry only Massachusetts. There’s said to be an old fellow in Vermont who has his own wishes and dreams, but nobody shares them.

The bench is so weak, in fact, that some Democrats are talking about bringing back Al Gore, and John Kerry is said to be thinking maybe he can make a comeback if he succeeds in leading the mullahs in Tehran down the sawdust trail. When a party begins speculating about retreading its retreads, it’s in a spot of trouble.

Any baseball manager with a chaw of Red Man in his back pocket could tell the Democrats that a strong bench is crucial over a long, tough season. When Casey strikes out, there’s got to be someone waiting on deck.

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