1. Gen. Sanchez is probably about as strong a potential pick as Texas Democrats can make
2. Texas Democrats continue to think candidate recruiting is about checking boxes.
3. Can he survive a primary?
Over the past decade, Texas Democrats have had a tendency to recruit candidates by checking off demographic boxes. That led to the 2002 “Dream Team” disaster. Frankly, until Sanchez, Texas Democrats really had no one who looked to be even near a strong enough nominee to beat any generic Republican even in a good Democratic year (which 2012 may or may not be). The alternative to Sanchez is probably John Sharp, who has lost a few races in a row now and thus whose current name ID is probably neither particularly high nor favorable.
In this case, Sanchez checks off the “military,” “stature,” and “Latino” boxes. Let’s not underplay those in a state which is increasingly Latino and more pro-military than average. Rising to be the commander in Iraq gives a certain stature as well that previous Democratic Senate candidate and military officer Rick Noriega didn’t have.
And yet one has to wonder whether Gen. Sanchez will be a strong candidate. He was commander in Iraq while the insurgency took root and military casualties began to spike upward, culminating in one of the 2 most deadly months of the war at the height of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. Gen. Sanchez also got the surge completely wrong, saying about the surge in October 2007 that “the best we can do with this flawed approach is stave off defeat.” Not exactly good judgment in what should have been his area of expertise.
But beyond that, let’s go to more technical issues. I’d guess that most high-ranking military officers are not the type of people willing to do the dialing for dollars necessary to be a successful Senate candidate. He also may not have firm stands on some domestic issues. And while he’s had some experience appearing on cable news shows, he’s perhaps not the most polished candidate.
Or watch here, where he implicitly accepts that he let torture happen on his watch:
Questioner: How did [torture] happen? How did it happen on your watch?
Sanchez: Well, I think it’s fairly simple. You had the torture memorandums as we now clearly understand them, how they came about, what they authorized and those were transmitted to the different entities that were operating in these wartime environments . . .
My point is not to impugn General Sanchez’s integrity, but to point out that being a candidate is much harder than it seems. He authorized things that he now calls torture — that’s something that will make people pause and go hrm?.
Many national Democrats — including those who recruited him — were quite vocal of Sanchez when he was the commander in Iraq. Almost all of them called for Secretary Rumsfeld’s dismissal — and yet they now want Rumsfeld’s commander in the field in the Senate? Perhaps not surprisingly, there are already liberal Texas blogs crying out against Sanchez.
Finally, Sanchez will have to explain his candidacy. Why now? What’s his motive for running? He can’t run against the Bush administration — which has been the point of most of his media appearances since retiring from office. He can’t run on the Iraq war. He will have to talk about the Obama administration’s wars — which will probably put him either at odds with the president or with the liberal base. What does he know about economics, solving America’s debt crisis or creating jobs?
For all those reasons, I remain somewhat skeptical that Sanchez will “do better than any other Democrat could,” as Paul Burka wrote yesterday. I think that he probably has the potential to do better than any other Democrat could, if he is decent at being a political candidate. But I’m not sanguine about that. Sanchez probably has just as equal potential to run behind Obama in Texas, even if he is able to survive what might be a probable primary.
So will Sanchez decide to run? He sounded a bit noncommital, and I think most retired generals would probably think it’s not worth it to invest a year and a half into a race that will very likely end in defeat. But only time will tell.