DADT Repeal will Weaken Our Military

The repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell– the 17-year old policy against homosexuals serving openly in the military– is set to pass Congress this weekend.  And contrary to triumphant Democrats, this repeal will weaken our military’s combat effectiveness.

The results from the Pentagon study seem pretty clear.  40% of combat troops, including 58% of Marines, believe DADT should not be repealed.  Nearly one in four servicemen said they would probably or certainly leave the military earlier than planned if DADT were repealed– a full 8% said repealing DADT would impact their decision more than any other factor, including pay and retirement benefits and combat environment.  The number of combat troops saying that an openly gay member in their unit would negatively impact unit cohesion outnumbered those saying it would have a positive effect by roughly 4-to-1.

By contrast, consider the population that would be newly allowed to serve in the military if DADT is passed.  Homosexuals make up about 2% of this nation’s population (just ask any anonymous poll).  Of these, only about 1 in 6 consider it important to tell those that they are serving with that they are gay (the Pentagon survey found that only 15% of gay servicemen would come out after DADT).  All in all, we’re looking at expanding the ranks of our military by probably half a percent, tops.

Even if we suppose that the vast, vast majority of those who say they will leave the military in response to DADT’s repeal are lying, we’re still faced with a fairly ugly trade-off.  Considering the concentration of DADT supporters in the front lines, the effect could be even more pronounced, with the small gains in personnel coming in non-combat personnel, and the exodus coming from front line troops.

I’m a fairly big supporter of gay rights– in no way am I praising or supporting the personal opinions of those 1-in-4 servicemen who say they will cut their duty short in response to repeal.  But our military is not meant to be a vehicle for social change.  Our military is tasked with one purpose– to defend our nation.  To subordinate it to any other aim, to politicize it in the service of some sort of social goal, shows reckless disregard for our security.

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“Trickle Down” Economics Are Well-Established Fact

There’s nothing more that progressives love more than snickering at “trickle down” economics.  They believe that trickle down economics are some sort of supply-side nonsense which has been thoroughly discredited by history– in reality, so-called “trickle down” effects are a well-established feature of Keynesian economics– in fact, it is hard to find any mainstream economic model that does not explicitly include trickle down effects as a prominent feature, and virtually all economists will readily point out the problems with the “no trickle down” position, which more generally is a subset of the flypaper fallacy.

The premise of trickle-down economics is simple: in order to produce goods, businesses use a combination of low-skilled (and generally low paid) labor, high-skilled (high paid) labor, and capital.  Most economic models use what is called a “Cobb-Douglas” production function, which looks like Y = L^a * H^b * K^c where Y is output, L is low-skilled labor, H -s high-skilled labor, and K is capital (one can also toss in other factors of production, like land).

The payments that go to each factor of production depend upon their marginal product– that is, if you took a partial derivative with respect to the factor, the result would be equal to the market wage or rent.  If you do the math, it is clear that the productivity (and thus wages paid) of low-skilled labor depends to a considerable degree on the amount of capital and high-skilled labor it is paired with.

The idea of “trickle-down” economics is then spurred by a simple observation.  If a tax on high-income earners or capital reduces the amount of those resources supplied, then low-income workers will feel some of the burden.  In fact, given a high enough elasticity of supply, one can find that sometimes, more than 100% of the burden of a tax placed on one factor of production is borne by another factor of production– the classic analysis that produces this effect is when you take a two-sector economy and tax capital in the labor-intensive sector.

Capital is highly elastic, owing to the fact that it can easily be transferred to another country.  If the capital gains taxes in America are high, no problem– just invest your money overseas.  High-skilled labor is also elastic– not as much as capital, but still moreso than low-skilled labor.

And so, conservative proponents of tax cuts for the wealthy are not, as progressives like to pretend, purely interested in helping out the rich.  They’ve simply looked at the elasticities and discovered that if one lowered the tax rates on capital gains and upper-income brackets and raised them on the poor, the poor would actually be better off.  In the business of economics, we call this a Pareto improvement– both the poor and rich are made better off by the tax change

Admittedly, conservative elasticity estimates for income taxes are on the higher end of the spectrum (though for capital, they’re very likely right).  But regardless of the magnitude of the effect, it exists.  Taxes on the wealthy hurt the poor, sometimes even more than they hurt the wealthy.

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Nothing Hypocritical in Opposing Earmarks

Unlike MIT, Casa de Yost gets MSNBC, so that’s what I’ve been watching lately.  Now, I’m no huge fan of MSNBC.  Dylan Ratigan and Ed Schultz are flat out insane, and Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow are barely better.  The network really is just a liberal Fox News– it’s even more ridiculous because while Fox merely reports the news from a conservative perspective, MSNBC feels compelled to tell you, frequently, that they’re liberal, as if they or their audience needs reminding.

Nonetheless, I’ve long believed that conservatives should spend more time watching MSNBC than they do Fox News.  The way to win arguments is not to spend all your time talking with people who think like you do, but instead to spend time listening to the arguments of your opponents and discover their flaws.  If you can anticipate the lines that are going to be trotted out against you, you’ll have a lot more success not just in defeating them, but also in avoiding the half-baked lines from your own side which will get you in trouble.

Right now, MSNBC is giving a LOT of airtime to one left-wing talking point in particular, which is that Republicans are hypocrites for railing against an earmark infested bill even though some of the earmarks in the bill were put in by Republicans.

MSNBC thinks they’ve caught Republicans in some sort of clever trap.  But the truth is simple and exhonerating.  Earmarks are a legislative tool.  They can be used for good, or they can be used for bad.  In recent times, earmarks have been used as a means of larding bills with pork– they have been abused.  In response, Republicans want to do away with them altogether; some in their establishment would prefer that the practice merely be mended rather than ended, but they’ve lost the argument to their reformist wings.

So when MSNBC brings on some conservative Senator with just a couple earmarks to his name, and tries to excoriate him as some sort of grand hypocrite, they’ve missed the point entirely.  This guy will gladly discuss any of his earmarks and defend them as reasonable spending.  He’ll even defend some of the earmarks of others.  But he is clearly not convinced that the good that is done from the few legitimate earmarks like his outweigh the bad that is done by the pork-barrel hurricane that the availability of earmarks has unleashed.  There’s nothing hypocritical in that.

There are surely some Republican senators out there who have been abusing the earmark system, and if MSNBC hounds every GOP member as a hypocrite, they’ll find some who fit the bill.  But if the narrative they push is that all opposition to earmarks is unfounded, they’ll be doing their audience a great disfavor by putting them out of touch with both the public at large as well as the nation’s thought-leaders– not only are earmarks overwhelmingly unpopular, but the conclusion of the conservative reformers that they should be ended has compelling logic behind it.

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UA President raises Dining issue at Faculty Meeting

At today’s faculty meeting, just before 5:00 p.m., for the first time in his term, Undergraduate Association President Vrajesh Y. Modi ’11 spoke to the meeting. In the New Business section of the meeting, he raised the issue of dining:

Recently, over 1800 members of the community signed a petition expressing concern — really opposition — to the plan as currently structured. Students are perplexed by how the administration can continue to move forward with implementing a plan with this degree of opposition, and they feel their voices are not being heard.

At least from the point of the view of the Undergraduate Association, we want to let you know, and have it on the record that we intend to bring up this issue of student engagement at the Faculty Policy Committee and also at the subsequent faculty meeting.

President Hockfield said, “Thank you,” and invited comment from the audience.

Chancellor Philip L. Clay PhD ’75 replied:

I just want to make an observation about the history of the dining system., and many of you have been at MIT longer than me and know: that over the years a number of efforts have been made to improve that.

On the balance, to create two subcritical systems. One system of residence halls that included dining as part of the construction, building, and original programming. Those four dining halls, along with Masseeh Hall, which I lived in as a graduate student and recall fondly lining up for the same food they served at Lobdell but it tasted a lot better, in the company of my fellow graduate students.

So those five dining halls, stand as one part of the system. The other part of the system is several dining halls that were constructed or renovated from various buildings, or built new, to NOT include dining. Now we’ve tried over the years including over the 10 years that I’ve been in this position to try a variety of schemes. All of the ones that we’ve been working on in the time I’ve been chancellor have a good deal of student engagement and some of the experiences worked better than others.

I recall for example, fall of 2001, the group of dining– whatever group it was called at the time–The Dining Board recommended there be mandatory dining started with the freshman class that would arrive the next fall. I came into this room with near all of the seats filled with students who objected to that even though there wasn’t a student in the room who would be affected. But it would have provided an opportunity to transition something that was more common at our peer institutions.

I accepted that rejection and asked that the group — the expanded Dining Board — expanded with some of the students in the room — come back within 45 days with suggestions for how to improve upon the recommendation of the group that had worked the previous year.

That group came back with what became the Simmons plan. The Simmons plan was found to be promising for a year or two and then it was expanded to Next and then to Baker and to McCormick. But the problem wasn’t just that we had two sub-critical dining systems. The other part of the problem was we were losing $1 million a year.

And it was a part of my job to make sure we stopped losing $1 million a year though we had no notion that we should somehow be profitable. Given that we did not have a system that was really designed to be that way.

So starting 3 years ago we started on another journey to improve dining. A number of studies and a number of different groups. We settled on a process about a year ago where the housemasters and students and student governments in the five dining halls where there was dining–or would be dining, in the case of Masseeh. Would work and put together plans that would allow the dining to go forward in those five halls.

There was never a suggestion that we add dining to any hall that did not have it even though the UA was invited and other students were involved, hoping that there would be a plan that would welcome the participation of students who did not live in the dining dorms.

They worked over the course of last year and this year and they came to a concensus. They came to a recommendation at the end of last term and that had a number of hearings and forums and other activities. We settled on a plan and then in the fall we started to get the pushback that Vrajesh talked about.

Go back and look what was recommended last spring. And what was announced two weeks ago — three weeks ago. You will see there are a number of changes designed to represent the responsiveness that was accepted by the House Dining Advisory Board. Those have been incorporated into a proposal that. meets all of the concerns that we would possibly respond to in the plan that we will move forward with in the fall.

Now, there have been surveys and other means of communication that convey a mix and complicated message. There was a survey published in The Tech back in September, there were petitions of various kinds, there were small demonstrations of varying sizes, but we responded on cost, we responded on a variety of plans ranging from meal plans with as few as seven meals to as many as nineteen meals. Variety in the various dorms and some accomodation for the different working styles of upperclassmen versus freshmen.

We expect that some of the students who live in house dining will, for a variety of personal reasons, not choose to be there. But those who are freshmen–freshman this year–were told when they came to MIT that there would be a dining plan, and that in selecting a residence hall they were selecting the dining plan that that hall would agree to.

So what we have now, and the bids are out to select vendors– what we have now are several plans. Seven to 19 meals. Five halls have dining facilities. We will support the non-dining hall dormitories through upgrading their kitchen and other cooking facilities. And we will welcome students who do not live in the dining halls to in fact subscribe to a dining plan of their choice if they like.

We have addressed the issue of cost, so that students on financial aid will be able to make a choice among these within the allowance that have been set forward in the student budget for housing.

So students will have a choice and we encourage them to take the choice. But we do not have a choice to continue 2 sub-critical systems. Systems that don’t meet our expectations about cost, don’t meet our expectations about providing a community for students who want dining. Now we know some students do not want dining, and they don’t have to pay.

But I have a really hard time accepting that students who live in a non-dining dorm can object to what students in a dining dorm have over the course of the year decided is best for them.

So that’s where we are.

I would welcome to continue discussion. But I also know that it is important to move forward with implementation. We welcome ideas on implementation. We also know hardly any plan that we make that recommends a fundamental change will be done correctly the first time.

There will be –as there is now in the dining facilities in Sloan and other places– people with clipboards going around looking at all sorts of things. Understanding that from time to time or after some period of review, changes will be — but I would like to see those changes be made in response to the experience of students in those places, and not to some notion of what some cultural assault is against MIT.

I came at a time when actually eating that not-so-great food in what is now Masseeh Hall was a pretty good experience for how to end a day and I think there are lots of students who want that opportunity.

Some don’t want to get up for breakfast so there’s a flexibility that allows them to use that meal for lunch. There would be some students for whom 7 meals is enough and there are others who will jump at the idea of 12 or 14 or 19.

And I hope the Faculty will support their colleagues, housemasters in these 5 dorms, the GRTs and others who work with the students to come up with these plans.

This plan did not come from me. I never attended a single meeting of the HDAG. They didn’t come from staff who had no connection. They came from those housemasters and students.

And all of the technical matters. From costing, the financial calculation, came from the work of three different parts of MIT — four different parts — they came from the faculty who were involved in the process, came from Finance whose numbers drive our budget, they came from the Dean’s Office that operates housing and dining, and they came from Financial Aid, who needed to make sure that what we produced was important to the students.

All of them agree, all of them were involved in the process. We made a lot of progress between last May and November, and I urge you to listen to what will be offered and to support our moving forward. Thank you.

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Ranking the Pundits

I’m a guy who likes to quantify things, even if it is done in a needless, arbitrary fashion.  One of the things I like to quantify is my approval or disapproval of opinion sources I read.  To that end, I keep a database of articles that I have read that ranks, on a scale from -5 to 5, my belief, purely on the basis of that article, whether I will enjoy reading another article from that author.

The -5 to 5 scale goes something like this:

Articles are judged on the degree to which I agree with them, the novelty of the arguments they make, the strength of their points, their writing style, and whether they seem blatantly partisan.

  • -5:  The article goes against empirically proven fact
  • -3: The article states opinions I strongly disagree with, has made virtually no compelling arguments, has a writing style I find unappealing, and/or is partisan in nature.
  • -1:  The article was largely a waste of time, and is more or less wrong.
  • 0:  The article said nothing novel or of interest.
  • +1:  The article made an easy point that I agree with, but was generally weak, or made a point that I disagree with, but was strong/offered novel arguments.
  • +2:  The article made a strong case on something I agree with, and had a generally good style.
  • +3:  The article made a powerful case on something I agree with, and introduced novel arguments.
  • +4:  The article changed my mind on an issue, demonstrated support for a core belief that I hold, offered novel arguments or a compelling writing style.
  • +5:  After reading the article, it represents my view on the topic almost perfectly.

The scoring system is relatively flexible, but functionally there are a few lines that get drawn:  Articles scoring less than -3 must state something I think is demonstrably false, articles scoring more than 0 must say something interesting, articles scoring more than 2 agree must agree with my point of view, and articles scoring more than 3 have to change or create major additions to my views.

At this point, the database has about 1000 scored articles in it, and I’ve used it to rank the authors and publications I read.  Because the scale is not curved, on average, the scores are slightly positive (0.6), which reflects my tendency to read things I like more often than things I don’t like.

In the future, when I link to an article from this blog, I’ll also give the “Keith Pundit Rating” (KPR) if the author has five or more scored articles in my database.  Also, for your amusement (and in the interests of disclosing my own political biases), here are the scores of the 50 or so authors I have right now in my database with more than 5 articles to their name:

Reliably Awesome:

  • 4.4 — Walter Russell Mead at The American Interest

Must read:

  • 3.1 — Daniel Drezner at Foreign Policy
  • 3.1 — Jay Cost at RealClearPolitics
  • 3.0 — Fareed Zakaria at NewsWeek
  • 3.0 — Reuel Marc Gerecht at The New Republic
  • 2.9 — The Economist (no byline)
  • 2.8 — Shikha Dalmia at Forbes
  • 2.8 — Ramesh Ponnuru at The National Review

Almost always read:

  • 2.5 — Stephen Spruiell at The National Review
  • 2.4 — Megan McArdle at The Atlantic
  • 2.4 — Jonah Goldberg at The National Review
  • 2.4 — Reihan Salam at Daily Beast
  • 2.4 — The Los Angeles Times Editorial Board
  • 2.3 — Ross Douthat at The New York Times
  • 2.2 — Peter David at The Economist
  • 2.2 — Christopher Hitchens at Vanity Fair and Slate
  • 2.2 — Richard Cohen at The Washington Post
  • 2.2 — Eli Lake at The Washington Times

Usually read:

  • 1.8 — David Harsanyi at The Denver Post
  • 1.8 — Anne Applebaum at Slate
  • 1.8 — Clive Crook at The Atlantic
  • 1.8 — Matt Welch at Reason
  • 1.5 — Rich Lowry at The National Review
  • 1.4 — Conn Carroll at The Heritage Foundation
  • 1.3 — David Weigel at Slate
  • 1.3 — George Will at The Washington Post
  • 1.2 — Ezra Klein at The Washington Post

Barely make it on my reading list:

  • 1.0 — The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board
  • 1.0 — The Washington Post Editorial Board
  • 0.9 — The New York Times Editorial Board
  • 0.8 — Robert Samuelson at The Washington Post
  • 0.8 — Dana Milbank at The Washington Post
  • 0.8 — Mark Schmitt at The American Prospect
  • 0.8 — Victor Davis Hanson at RealClearPolitics and National Review
  • 0.8 — Matthew Yglesias at Think Progress
  • 0.7 — Eugene Robinson at The Washington Post

Not worth reading:

  • 0.4 — Annie Lowrey at The Washington Independent
  • 0.4 — Peggy Noonan at The Wall Street Journal
  • 0.4 — Noam Scheiber at The New Republic
  • 0.3 — Jonathan Chait at The New Republic
  • 0.3 — Michael Tomasky at The Guardian
  • 0.3 — David Brooks at The New York Times
  • 0.2 — David Broder at The Washington Post
  • 0.1 — Charles Krauthammer at The Washington Post
  • -0.2 — Gail Collins at The New York Times
  • -0.4 — Robert Wright at Bloggingheads.tv
  • -0.6 — Peter Beinart at Daily Beast
  • -0.8 — Paul Krugman at The New York Times

Avoid:

  • -1.2 — Bill Scher at Bloggingheads.tv
  • -1.4 — Timothy Noah at Slate
  • -1.8 — Thomas Friedman at The New York Times
  • -2.2 — E.J. Dionne at the Washington Post

The distribution is skewed positive (even moreso than the general scores) because I tend not to re-read authors I dislike.

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No, I will not fill out your course evaluation

…until after finals are over.

When I’m studying for finals, I am not going to put the time aside to fill out an evaluation. It simply doesn’t rate high enough on my list of priorities to do when there are more pressing matters [ie, my GPA] at stake.

Now, let me evaluate the class after I’ve taken the final and have nothing else to do, and you’ll get comments that are more thought out, and have the benefit of a few days of reflection. Will some people trash the class in reviews because they did poorly in the class? Sure. But who cares. If MIT cares about getting evaluations that let them improve the classes, then feedback is feedback, and more of it is better.

Until then, realize that when you send the same email half a dozen times in one week and you still aren’t happy with the response, there’s something more fundamental than a lack of knowledge that’s keeping your response rate in the single digits. Allow classes to be evaluated after finals week ends.

Good luck with finals! -J

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Obama is Missing the Point of Triangulation

Sean Trende at Real Clear Politics thinks Obama has just made an egregious political error.  When I read Trende’s analysis, it seemed off.  He was missing something, focusing on the wrong thing, I couldn’t put my finger on it.  I agreed… the press conference was confusing.  But that one press conference alone couldn’t be that significant, right?  That was my feeling

That is, until I read Matt Lewis at Politics Daily.

Lewis dissects it perfectly.  Obama has two good choices: play hard ball with a winning hand, or compromise and declare victory.  If he compromises and then tells the world he lost, he gets no credit for being moderate and no bump from his base for being liberal.  Whether you like or dislike the results from the compromise, now you have a reason to dislike Obama.  And more than that, by blasting the deal he just made, Obama is erasing whatever moderate bona fides he could have earned, bona fides that would have given him a stronger hand in future negotiations.  Republicans wouldn’t get away with shutting down government and going to the mattresses against a moderate– they just might against a liberal.

For a president who claims moderation and compromise are at his core, Obama sure sucks at messaging from the political center.

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Where did they buy this?

Siegfried Hecker has an article in Foreign Policy discussing the uranium enrichment plant he toured in North Korea.

It’s not a bad article.  But he doesn’t discuss the one burning question that should dictate most of our foreign policy toward North Korea:

Did the Chinese supply this plant to the DPRK?

At a minimum, China served as a transshipment point for the centrifuges, which is pretty bad already.  But if China is the originating state, not Iran or Pakistan (neither of which seem capable of “ultramodern” facilities), then the reading we have on the Chinese-North Korean relationship (that the Chinese are tired of their North Korean neighbors) is woefully off.

It might be time to begin discussing the return of nuclear weapons to South Korea with our allies in the region.  China needs to know that if it creates existential threats for its neighbors, its neighbors will generate their own existential threats to China.

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Sidenote on the Legality of Seizing Julian Assange from Abroad

Sam Raymond, an MIT alum and class of 2011 law student at NYU points out to me that U.S. v Alvarez-Machain is a much closer legal basis for seizing Julian Assange than U.S. v Verdugo-Urquidez.  He’s absolutely right– the legal doctrine as a whole is called the Ker-Frisbie doctrine, and in short, it holds that defendants may be prosecuted in the U.S. regardless of whether or not they were properly extradited.

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Start Looking

Republicans need a fresh candidate to do well in 2012

Intrade.com is an online prediction market that tracks, among other things, U.S. politics.  In the aftermath of a bruising defeat of Congressional Democrats, Intrade predicts more of the same in 2012.  The market currently gives Republicans a 3 in 4 chance of retaining control of their newly acquired House, and roughly a 70% chance of taking or tying the Senate.

Despite giving several buy recommendations on Republican futures, Intrade’s markets are bearish on at least one GOP prospect: the White House.  Even as Intrade views Democrats dimly, Obama is given a 57% chance of serving a second term.

Perhaps Intrade credits the GOP’s lack of presidential chances to the potential candidacy of Sarah Palin.  According to the market, the former Alaskan governor has a 20% chance of winning the nomination, but a recent CNN poll has her losing to Obama 52-44 in a nation-wide matchup.

However the Palin-spoiler effect alone does not seem to be enough to explain a 60-40 advantage.  After all, the same CNN poll has Obama trailing against other Republican hopefuls– Mitt Romney has Obama by 5 points, Mike Huckabee by 8.  More likely, it’s not just particularly bad candidates like Mrs. Palin that Intrade believes will lose to Obama, but most of the current field.

With that thought in mind, here are three Republicans you likely haven’t heard of that will certainly run in 2012 and that the GOP should give serious thought to before handing the reins to Mitt Romney.

1)  Mitch Daniels

Who he is: A former director of the Office of Management and Budget, a graduate of both Princeton and Georgetown, and the current (and popular) governor of Indiana, Mitch Daniels is an accomplished budget balancer.  Nicknamed “The Blade” by Bush during his budget cutting days in Washington, as governor Daniels turned a $800m deficit into a $1.3b surplus from 2004-2008.

Why he might lose: Daniels is a thoughtful and articulate public speaker, but the 61-year old Arab American lacks the mob-rallying charisma that is normally associated with presidential runs.  Nominally, he hews to socially conservative views, but Daniels is clearly uncomfortable with social issues, which will make it difficult for him to draw social conservatives to the polls.  Moreover, Daniels has frequently stated that tax increases may be necessary to balance the federal budget– not a surprising admission to the political center, but apostasy to many of the voters he will need to win primaries.

Why he should run: Mitch Daniels is a singularly competent budget wonk.  The odds are good that the federal deficit will be the number one issue on voters minds in 2012, and Daniels’ resume reads like he was built in a lab to tackle just such a problem.  His willingness to compromise will not endear him to Tea Party types today, but give it time– after a year or so of frustrating battles in Congress, Daniels will look less like a fiscal turncoat and more like the man for the job, not just to the Tea Party, but to the nation.

2)  Tim Pawlenty

Who he is: “Minnesota’s Ronald Reagan” and current governor of that State, Pawlenty has been a long time legislator and successful moderate-conservative governor in a liberal state.  He was elected in 2002 to balance his state’s budget without raising taxes, and delivered on that promise, overcoming a deeply reluctant state legislature.  He was frequently discussed as a vice presidential pick in 2008.

Why he might lose: Although as governor Pawlenty has not endorsed big ticket policy items that would require an embarrassing reversal in the Republican primaries (the executive summary of why Mitt Romney failed in his 2008 run), Pawlenty is still a somewhat awkward fit for a Tea Party dominated GOP.  He also lacks foreign policy credentials and national experience, which his opponent will have in spades after having served four years in the White House.

Why he should run: Pawlenty has executive ability a strong reputation for budget cutting, but his main asset is the ability to inspiringly deliver the conservative message without resorting to the extremes of rhetoric that turn off centrists.  Wit, passion, and a talent for retail politics– more so than any policy mix– may prove to be just what the party needs to unite its disparate poles.

3)  John Thune

Who he is: The junior senator from South Dakota, Thune earned his seat in a tough campaign against former Democratic powerhouse, Tom Daschle.  Thune is recognized as the winner of the “invisible primary”– if the next presidential candidate were hand picked by party leaders, Thune would head the GOP’s 2012 ticket.  He has built a funding network, gathered together a team of operatives, and earned the backing of several high-level Republicans (many of them his friends in the Senate)– only Romney will go into the race better armed than Thune.

Why he might lose: if John Thune wins the nomination, Republicans would have to hope for a right wing wave or a left wing gaffe to squeak the South Dakotan past Obama.  Thune is a highly competent candidate, but his politics, even amid today’s conservative resurgence, are quite a bit to the right of the American public.  He has been deeply conservative during his time in the Senate (in 2009 he was ranked the sixth-most conservative senator), and is unlikely to pick up much of the political center in a nationwide election.

Why he should run:  Thune might be next to hopeless as a presidential prospect, but his spot atop the ticket will give a two or three point boost to every conservative running in every race in the nation.  Thune’s conservative bonafides are strong enough to bring out the Republican base in droves, but to liberals he comes off as genial midwesterner– Democrats might not like his policies, but they’ll have a hard time building Thune into the sort of bogey man that will bring their own flock to the polls.  The disparity in turnout between the bases might not mean much to Thune, who will surrender independents (and the election) to Obama, but for every Republican sitting down ticket of him, the advantage of having their side turnout while the opposition sits at home will be pronounced.

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