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Jack Strayer: The Four Horsemen of the GOPocalypse

Published 10:23pm Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Because of my long career in Washington, D.C. as a lobbyist/health policy consultant/think tank vice president, I somehow earned the moniker of “Niles’ Washington Insider.”  It was either Gloria Cooper of “Here’s Gloria” or Ron Sather of the Chamber of Commerce who came up with it, but it has stuck and I am asked frequently about public policy, politics and presidential primaries.

So let’s look at the Republican Presidential Primary candidates. I know three of them well, and the one I do not know tends to be my favorite at the moment, but never mind about that right now.

In 1978, when I served as the personal assistant and office manager to then U.S. Rep. David Stockman, a Georgia candidate for Congress paid a visit to our office on Capitol Hill.  His name was Newt Gingrich.

He had heard that David Stockman was one of the brightest young congressmen and came to pay his respects.  David was impressed with Newt and found him to be equally brilliant when discussing public policy and economics. After Newt was elected to Congress, he spent a lot of time in our office talking with David and another young, brilliant congressman, Al Gore Jr. from Tennessee.

In 1994, when the Republicans gained control of the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time since 1948, and Newt Gingrich became Speaker of the House, I was asked by Speaker Gingrich to advise his staff on free market health care reform, including Health Savings Accounts.

Speaker Gingrich helped catapult my career in a way that no one else could.  But after leaving the U.S. Congress in disgrace, he began collecting a lot of “baggage.”

On Election Day 1994, a young, brash congressmen from Pennsylvania whom I had befriended, Rick Santorum, beat incumbent Senator Harris Wofford. That night, I was emceeing an election night party in St. Petersburg, Fla., for a group of trucking executives and called Rick Santorum during his victory party. Using a speaker phone, Rick celebrated with us from his party in Pittsburgh. It was a wonderful night and it led to many years of policy discussions with Sen. Santorum and his staff.  But Rick is a career politician with little private sector experience.

Ten years later, I became acquainted with U.S. Rep. Ron Paul through my relationship with the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, a conservative medical group. I learned quickly that Rep. Paul was an outspoken libertarian with some pretty quirky thoughts on government. While I respected his position on health issues, I quickly realized that Ron Paul was not particularly interested in private sector solutions to public policy problems.

The closest I came to Mitt Romney was meeting his health staff when he was governor of Massachusetts. They came to Washington to meet with the Consensus Group on Health, of which I was a member.  His staff was drafting the landmark Massachusetts health reform law and requested our input.

I think I was the only Consensus Group member at that meeting who actually approved of Romney’s individual mandate for health insurance coverage as the only way to avoid preexisting condition exclusions.  But I am getting wonky here and that is not my point.

My point is that knowing the personal side of presidential candidates is not necessarily a prerequisite for supporting them.

I like Mitt Romney’s politics and I am impressed with his accomplishments in the private sector. In this contentious age of partisan one-upmanship, I think we could use a Republican president who served as governor of a liberal state like Massachusetts.

I fear my other good friends are either too polarizing or too partisan to reverse the gridlock that is weakening our form of democratic government. We need a proven leader who can run the administrative branch of government and is not afraid to compromise. Governor Mitt Romney is the only one who fills that bill.

Whoever becomes the Republican nominee, he will have an uphill battle if the economy continues to improve. President

Obama is poised to run a campaign based on his achievements in foreign policy and economic recovery, leaving the Republicans with the apocalyptic vision of four more years of polarizing gridlock.

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