After eight years of Obama, why would the GOP nominate a first-term senator?

A key question from Erick Erickson on Ted Cruz Day that applies to more than just Ted Cruz. Not only will GOP voters expect a snappy answer to this from him, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio, I’d bet cash money that it’ll be put to one or all of them at one of the Republican debates.

All three of these men would make excellent Presidents. I know them personally. I backed them when they were at single digits in the polls. I pray for them regularly. I like them all.

Still, I think they have to answer a question those who come from Governor’s Mansions will not. That question is this:

For six years, Republicans have said the nation made a mistake electing a one term Senator the President of the United States. Why should you, a one term Senator, be the GOP’s nominee?

Rubio and Paul will have almost a full term under their belts by election day 2016. Cruz will have almost four years, the same as Obama had on election day 2008. If one term wasn’t enough for the amateur from Illinois, why is it enough for our guys?

The answer (or rather the answer that’ll be given) is, I guess, that Obama’s inexperience wasn’t so much an inexperience problem as it was an Obama problem. Ask yourself this: Would he have been a better president with a full term in the Senate under his belt? More than one term? (Hillary had one and a third.) If Obama had spent four years as governor of Illinois, would he have been a considerably better commander-in-chief? The “inexperience” argument is ultimately one about ineffectiveness — the guy never took the time to learn the ropes, which is why he often seemed not to know what he was doing when he was put in charge. But on the stuff that matters most to conservatives, Obama did “know what he was doing.” He got the stimulus passed and then, with a major, major assist from old pro Nancy Pelosi, he got ObamaCare passed. The parts of Hopenchange that most aggrieve the right were the parts where Obama was effective; the “ineffectiveness” argument is more natural to the left, which whines endlessly about all the goodies they wanted from Hopenchange — cap and trade! amnesty! a public option! — that haven’t been delivered. “If only he’d spent more time on the Hill building relationships,” they say, “maybe he’d have been able to forge grand bargains.” Could be, but that’s certainly not a lament you will, or should, hear on the right. Also, his lack of executive experience hasn’t stopped him from becoming one of the most aggressive presidents in modern American history when it comes to executive action. If he had spent four years as a governor, would he have stopped short of rewriting America’s immigration laws last November? I don’t see why. Would he have taken a tougher line with Iran or a less tough line with Qaddafi? Again, I don’t see why. From a conservative perspective, the awfulness of Obama’s presidency arguably shows that you don’t need experience to reorient the country towards your vision of government. That’s not an argument you’ll hear Rubio et al. make at the debates, as it skates too close to the line of praising Obama for comfort in a GOP primary, but there’s merit to it.

If you’re a righty and you want to hit Rubio, Cruz, and Paul on inexperience, you need to do it the way a lefty would use it against Obama. Have they been on the Hill long enough to build the relationships they’d need to overcome Democratic filibusters? Cruz might have trouble answering that question since he’s more famous for the shutdown than for legislation he’s enacted, but Rubio and Paul have both reached out to Democrats during their terms. Rubio helped get the Gang of Eight bill passed; Paul has partnered with Cory Booker on sentencing reform and medical marijuana. (Then again, are any of those initiatives that conservatives want to see their nominee championing?) They’ve got better working relationships with Democrats in Congress than, say, Scott Walker does. They’ve also grappled more intimately with foreign policy than Walker has, as is plain every time Walker broaches the subject. And Cruz, as the most conservative man running, has a counter to all of this: If he ends up getting elected president, he’ll have such a mandate from the country to move government right that even centrist Democrats in the Senate who dislike him will be terrified into compromising with him. If you want to see some major shifts towards conservatism, the best thing you can do is nominate a guy with long coattails, who can bring Republicans into the Senate with him and approach the sort of filibuster-proof majority that Obama used to pass the stimulus and ObamaCare. When you’re as popular as O was in 2008, you don’t need experience to turn your biggest priorities into law. Cruz may not be that guy, and the likelihood of any sort of coattails in 2016 for the GOP nominee is small (the Senate landscape heavily favors Democrats), but a national mandate would move the ball on policy more than any amount of experience would.

If I were Cruz and positioning myself as the anti-establishment candidate, I’d answer Erickson’s question with a question of my own: Wouldn’t you prefer an “outsider” who’s spent less than a term in the Senate to an “experienced” candidate like Jeb Bush who’s going to owe endless favors to the special interests bankrolling him? One unhappy consequence of experience is cronyism; the longer you’re in government, the more powerful your allies, the greater the risk that you’re going to be captured in office by people who want to exploit your agenda for personal gain. If Cruz ends up as the last non-establishment candidate standing against Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio or even Scott Walker, the donor class and its lobbyist allies will be arrayed against him. In that case, Cruz can say, Republican voters will need to choose — the “inexperienced” guy beholden to no one but the party’s grassroots or the “experienced” guy who’s been bought and sold by country-club Republicans eager to stop the right and further enrich themselves? Which is another way of saying that experience, while important, ain’t the most important thing. And Cruz, Rubio, and Paul will be reminding you of that often.

Exit question via Sean Saffron: Would conservatism be better off with Cruz in the Senate? “Cruz could likely hold his seat in perpetuity while remaining a strong advocate for limited government… If Cruz focused on being a conservative foil to Senate institutions like Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vermont), class of ‘74, or Robert Byrd (D-West Virginia), the longest-serving senator in history, he could play an important role in the resurgence of liberty and a return to Constitutional government.”

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