I think by any reasonable stretch of the imagination, it's not hard to see that the current state of the U.S. Republican Party is one of extremism and limited vision. The perception that President Barack Obama is extraordinarily left wing, has forced many of the candidates to push harder to the right. Combined with the perception that Obama is weak, and that Americans are itching for another new direction, and the seven current contenders looking to be named the Republican nominee for President of the United States are in the midst of a bitter, incendiary and occasionally noxious contest that has already eclipsed the 2008 Democratic primary in terms of those qualities.
I bring it up because on Monday, in the next edition of Beyond the Ballot Box on CFRU, we'll be spending some time on the air discussing the state of American politics once again. To get my own thoughts in order, I thought I'd wax poetic on the various candidates with my impressions. Fasten your seat belt, this will most definitely be a bumpy ride.
Representative Michele Bachmann
Initially seen as Sarah Palin's inheritor as the GOP's First Lady of Policy, and potentially its first lady presidential nominee, Bachmann's squandered an initial lead as the party's struggled to find a nominee, and she's struggled to avoid one quotable gaff after another. Fortunately for Bachmann, the art of making gaffs is a hobby shared by many of her fellow nominees.
Working in Bachmann's favour is that she is one of a few high-profile critics of Obama not to fall in with any of that birther nonsense. On the other hand though she's anti-EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), pro-drilling, pro-life, anti-immigrant, anti-healthcare, anti-financial system reform, and pro-first strike against a nuclear Iran. Also, for a woman against government subsidizing, the "Christian counseling" practice she co-owns with husband received $137,000 in federal payments and $24,000 in government grants for counselor training between 2006 and 2010. I have a hard time tracking her fall in the polls to any one thing, but on the other hand she hasn't done too much to distinguish herself lately either.
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich
The current frontrunner, there's been a lot of humour about Gingrich being the right man that's been there the whole time. Is Newt the natural alternative to Obama, or is it simply his turn at the head of the Republican pack? There sure was no indication that things would end up this way when Gingrich first joined the race. Last year's Gingrich's campaign kicked off with a pair of events that almost made it DOA before it ever really got started: a half a million dollar debt to Tiffanys and the en masse resignation of several high-ranking staffers.
But in the year since, Gingrich hasn't just survived but thrived. As Governor Mitt Romney's stayed steady with moderates, Gingrich is picking up support from the men, evangelical Christians, and conservatives that have become disenfranchised with Bachmann, Governor Rick Perry, and pizza magnate Herman Cain. The question now is though, will Gingrich meet a similar fate? Despite being the newly minted frontrunner and declaring last week that he will be the nominee come next fall, he's taken hits for his consulting work with mortgage lenders Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, as well as a more recent utterance where he called the Palestinians an "invented" people. He also suggested the other day that schools could save money by replacing paid (and unionized) janitorial staff by having poor kids sweep up after themselves at the end of the day.
Still, Gingrich is vulnerable, especially amongst the very people spiking his rise in the polls. If his past infidelities and working relationship with then President Bill Clinton while he was Speaker of the House become debate fodder, he may start to lose ground. But for now, it looks plausible that the race will come down to Romney and Gingrich.
Former Governor Jon Huntsman, Jr.
Huntsman shares the distinction with Ron Paul of being the two guys in the race that have yet to enjoy frontrunner status, moreover, it's highly unlikely that he'll ever have it either. Not only has Huntsman been the only Republican candidate to come out on the recognition side of global climate change, but he's been an actual member of the Obama administration serving as Ambassador to China. But any cache Huntsman had attacking Rick Perry on climate change evapourated when he refused to take Perry on face-to-face on the matter in a debate. One could argue that Huntsman's importance in the campaign has continued to evapourate.
Working in Huntsman's favour is that he does appear more conciliatory, more willing to work across party lines, and more centre to the right than his fellow candidates. On the other hand, when it comes to economic policy he's more or less lock step with other candidates advocating for the elimination of all deductions and credits, the elimination of taxes on capital gains and dividends, and lowering the general corporate rate from 35 to 25 per cent. Still, despite his differences, it seems that Huntsman can't make any kind of dent in the polls.
Representative Ron Paul
Like his time during the 2008 campaign, it seems that Paul finds himself in the also-ran position. Although he's doing surprisingly well in Iowa polls, Paul can't seem to make a case for himself as head of the "Blue Republican" movement. He opposes the War on Drugs, is for upholding civil rights in the midst of the War on Terror, and is against direct military action by the U.S. and has come out against the "American Empire." All things that aren't going to win him any favours in the Republican base despite his strong commitment to a balanced budget and maintaining the balance of separation of church and state on behalf of church. If Republicans wanted to offer a real counterpoint to Romney, they'd go for Paul, but in the primary season it's all about the base, and that base won't go for a man like Paul.
Governor Rick Perry
If there's one candidate not satisfied giving just one reason he's not ready for prime time, it's Texas Governor Rick Perry. Not only has he proved it once, but he seems that he's out to prove it weekly. Here's Perry's latest slip of the tongue:
You'll notice the inference that Obama's liberal agenda is pushing open acceptance of homosexuality, while putting good, pious religious people in the closet. There's also a further inference that if Obama isn't Christian, then what is he?, which comes from the same school of buffoonery that gave us that birther nonsense. Least of all, Perry comes off as seriously homophobic, and this comes just a month after the controversy involving a hunting cabin that the Perry family used to rent called "N***erhead."
It also doesn't help that Perry's tied with Bachmann for number and frequency of gaffs, up to and including his 53 second search for the third government agency he'd get rid if he were elected President. It's no coincidence that Perry started taking a dip in the polls the minute he started debating, which suggests that like the Democrats, Republicans at least want a Presidential nominee who can speak in complete sentences. With Gingrich up in the polls, Perry's lost the one, surefire constituency he should have had secured, but in a bizarre way, Perry's entry on the national stage has a lot of people thinking fondly about the intellectual prowess of George W. Bush.
Former Governor Mitt Romney
If the Democratic National Committee runs that ad, or ones like it a couple of million more times then that's it for Mitt. If John Kerry was a flip-flopper in 2004, then I'm not sure what term best suits Romney because he doesn't just change his position with the revelation of new information, like Kerry's stance on the Iraq War, but he goes to its fundamental opposite like bring pro-choice as Massachusetts' Governor to now being pro-life.
Since the moment he's entered the race, Romney's been the presumptive nominee, yet, for some reason, he's been unable to "seal the deal" with Republican voters, who have been grasping for someone, anyone, from Donald Trump to Chris Christie, to take up the cause. He's got fundraising, endorsements, and an accomplished resume in the public and private sectors on his side, but he still can't make a convincing case for himself. And in the meantime, Romney is attacked by the other Republican challengers for his new found hard right stance on social issues, the healthcare plan he championed in Massachusetts and even for being too intellectual for having a 59-point tax plan (as opposed to, say, Herman Cain's 9-9-9 plan).
So what can Romney do? I think most Republicans know that deep down, of the candidates available, he stands the best chance of winning in the general election. But make no mistake, he's got baggage. As a businessman he did more job cutting than job creating, there's still some bizarre aversion to the election of a Mormon amongst a large percentage of Americans, and then there are the accusations of ideological pandering. On the other hand, as many have pointed out, Romney does look like the B-movie interpretation of what a U.S. President should look like. Or worse, like one of these guys:
Former Senator Rick Santorum
Which brings us to the man that Sarah Palin praised for his "ideological consistency," but then again Cookie Monster is fairly ideologically consistent too. Santorum may be the red right hand of social conservatism in American politics, but that really hasn't done him any favours in this race. Santorum routinely finishes in polls around Paul and Huntsman territory, and now he's betting all his chips on the caucuses in Iowa, hoping to get enough juice in that first contest to keep him going through the next several primaries.
Although perhaps known more for having a name synonymous with a gay sex act, and unsuccessfully petitioning Google to remove all records of it from their search engines, Santorum really has nothing new to offer in terms of policy ideas or positions on key issues. In this election cycle, he famously was the first to attack a question offered by a gay service member by video at a September debate saying, "any type of sexual activity has absolutely no place in the military....And the fact that they're making a point to include it as a provision within the military that we are going to recognize a group of people and give them a special privilege to – and removing 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' I think tries to inject social policy into the military. And the military's job is to do one thing, and that is to defend our country." Interestingly though, a month earlier, Santorum, at another debate, used Iran's persecution of gay people as a justification for U.S.-backed intervention in the area.
Former Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain
Until last weekend, Cain was not only leading a successful campaign for President, but he had also enjoyed the longest stretch as frontrunner of any candidate in the race so far. If Cain's unprecedented success as a presidential candidate is the political story of the year, then his equally great fall must take second place. After accusations of sexual misconduct surfaced, Cain continued to enjoy support, but when a woman came forward claiming a 13-year affair with the businessman, it was all too much and his campaign was suspended as of last Saturday. It begs the question, Republicans support Cain when alleged to have committed sexual assault, but his extramarital affair was too much to handle...?
If anything, the rise and fall of Herman Cain either proved or disproved the virtue of the politically inexperienced candidate. His 9-9-9 plan was easily criticized as overly simplistic, suggesting that no bill from the Cain White House would be longer than three pages smacked of anti-intellectualism, and his foreign policy opinions are shockingly misinformed. Worse still, the entire package of the Cain philosophy was wrapped up in a kind of pride as the campaign praised itself for being anti-establishment, and Republican supporters eagerly played the race card in Cain's defense. (Anne Coulter's "Our Blacks are better than their Blacks" comment comes to mind.)
Of course, Cain's campaign for now is merely suspended, but that's political spin for "We're giving up, we just don't want to make it sound like we're giving up." Leaving the race on the words of a quote from the Pokemon movie, Cain perhaps painted the perfect analogy for this Republican race, a cartoon presuming itself capable of making a serious philosophical statement. But really it's about collecting strange little creatures living in their own bubbles, and waiting for their turn to get attention and be played in the game. Because when it comes to the electoral college, you've got to catch 'em all!