Monday, June 27, 2011

An Early Look at the Republican Presidential Contenders

With just under 500 days until the next Presidential election, it appears that media has become completely obsessed with the Republican candidates for President. But for a brief hiatus to cover Rep. Anthony Wiener’s wiener, it seems as if the news these days is almost 24/7 Republican candidates. So, I decided to do my own “first look” at the contenders. Note that absent some monumental change, I don’t see myself voting for any of these candidates. And the thoughts that I express aren’t necessarily what I think about the candidates, but rather, what I think the reaction of Republican voters will be. So, when I say that a candidate has a “flaw” for example, I’m speaking not of my problem with the candidate but of how Republican voters will, I believe, react to that candidate.

I’ll discuss the candidates in no real particular order…

Presidential Candidate Mitt RomneyMitt Romney

Romney seems to have several major flaws that I think will wind up hurting him. First, he’s a Mormon. While we don’t have religious tests for public office, I have to wonder to the extent to which evangelical Republicans will be put off by Romney’s religion. From my perspective, his religion shouldn’t matter (though what he himself believes and how he lives, are obviously relevant); but I tend to think that there is a large part of the electorate — perhaps the same part that continues to believe that President Obama is a Muslim — who won’t vote for a Mormon (and might not vote for a Catholic or Jew). And I’m not sure that I’d trust polls on this issue. I think that a lot of voters who, in reality, would not vote for a Mormon (or Jew or whatever) will be embarrassed to admit that to a pollster. Nobody wants to be labeled a bigot, even anonymously.

Second, Romney has earned a reputation for flip-flopping on his positions on certain issues (in particular, abortion). For whatever reason, it seems to be a political liability for a candidate to change his or her mind. For myself, I don’t have a problem with a candidate who changes a position on the basis of new information or of the evolving nature of societal acceptance of certain things or any of a host of other reasonable explanations (provided that the candidate offers a good explanation). But I will agree with a lot of people who don’t like politicians who appear to change positions, not because of any deep reason, but simply for political expediency. As we get closer to actual voting, I suspect that Romney’s opponents (or PACs who don’t like him) will flood particular markets with video of Romney’s very strong support of abortion rights in a Massachusetts gubernatorial debate some years ago. I think Romney will have a hard time explaining his change of position that doesn’t come off as pandering for political expediency, especially when his “flip-flop” is shown as just one of a pattern.

Next, given how unpopular healthcare reform has been on the right (at least by those who are completely uninformed about what the healthcare reform legislation really did, as opposed to the lies and fear-mongering that they’ve been spoon fed), I think that Romney’s Massachusetts healthcare reform (I won’t call it Romneycare, mostly for the same reasons that I don’t call the federal healthcare reform Obamacare) will be the proverbial albatross around Romney’s neck.

Finally, have you noticed how, even though Romney is supposedly the frontrunner, nobody seems to really like him much? I’m not sure what that’s all about (I haven’t watched or listened to him enough), but somehow he just doesn’t generate any real enthusiasm. If people aren’t excited about the candidate, how much of an effort (not just giving money) will they make to get that candidate elected?

Presidential Candidate Tim PawlentyTim Pawlenty

Pawlenty is a bit of a wild card to me. I really don’t know much about him or his policies as Governor of Minnesota. The way I see it, Pawlenty may have a big upside if he can get people to notice him and pay attention. But so far, he hasn’t been able to do that and he’s been in the race for a long time. And Iowa, the site of the first primary (well, caucus, actually) is just next door. So you’d think that he’d be able to make an impact. But, for whatever reason, he seems to be stuck in neutral (or even moving downwards). Add to that the fact that he appears to be challenging for many of the same voters as fellow Minnesotan (is that right?) Michelle Bachmann. Two candidates from the same region competing for the same space. If voters were making choices on the basis of intelligence and reason, then Pawlenty should win that mini-race by default; but as we know, many voters make their decisions on many facts other than such silly things as intelligence, qualifications, and competence.

Unless Pawlenty can gain some major traction soon, I think that he’s going to be dead in the water.

Presidential Candidate Michele BachmannMichelle Bachmann

That I’m even including Bachmann in this list is literally painful. Seriously. The degree of stupidity exhibited by this woman is so frightening that I’m actually terrified of what it says about members of the voting public that anyone would support this ignoramus. But at least she’s smarter than Sarah Palin. Then again, my 11-year-olds are smarter than Sarah Palin (as are both of my dogs, my old pet rock, and that sock I wore the other day), so that’s not saying much.

I’m torn on what I think Bachmann’s chances are. On one hand, if voters really listen to her and to some of the things that she’s said in the past, to how easily she just makes shit up or lies, to her complete disdain for science and evidence, and to her constant appeals to our xenophobic and bigoted instincts, then I think that she’ll end up on the trash heap of failed candidates. On the other hand, look at how many people believed in “death panels” or worry that sharia law is taking over America or honestly believe that President Obama is a Kenyan Muslim who hates America or that being liberal (or even just a Democrat) is akin to being a Marxist, socialist, fascist, or some other form of evil intent on destroying America. Those people will love Bachmann. So the question is whether people, as the primaries draw nearer, will think before they vote, or whether they will continue to allow themselves to be guided to decisions premised on lies.

Bachmann did well in the New Hampshire debate a few weeks ago. It will be interesting to see how she does with more and more aggressive questioning — not to mention attacks by other candidates — as the campaign progresses. If she responds well, her stock will obviously rise. However, if her mouth starts running off on autopilot without giving the brain (presuming there’s one there) a chance to catch up, then she could quickly reveal herself as someone wholly unfit for office. Thus, I expect Bachmann to follow a Palin-like strategy of trying to limit her media exposure to “friendly” interviews. Of course that won’t matter much if members of the public get to ask her questions or in future debates where other candidates will have their chance to challenge her.

The good news, I guess, is that should Bachmann be on the ticket (even as a VP candidate), I don’t think that the Republican could possibly win. She has so much baggage that will compel most moderates away from the Republican party and make it much easier for Democrats to focus “turn out the vote” efforts just to vote against Bachmann.

One more thing: I really wish someone in the media would challenge Bachmann when she says that she raised 28 kids. She had 25 foster care children (and I don’t mean to denigrate that; I think that is something for which she is justifiably proud and for which she should be applauded); however, it is my understanding, that some of those children were with her for a very brief period, such that she may have briefly fostered them but didn’t really “raise” them. But, like her false claim that she didn’t benefit from farm subsidies, this is just another case where Bachmann plays “fast and loose” with facts without apparent challenge.

For some of my previous thoughts on Bachmann, please see my posts “Republican Congresswoman Follows Palin's Lead and Calls for Investigation Into Anti-Americans in Congress”, “Bachmann Misreads Herself! Huh?”, “Bachmann Now Supports Obama? Do These People Ever Listen to Themselves?”, “Bachmann Calls Her Own Comments an ‘Urban Myth’”, “Seditious Words From Republican Who Believes Democrats Are Anti-American”, and “Michelle Bachmann: The Idiot Who Won't Shut Up”. Since my last post focusing on Bachmann, she’s made plenty more truly idiotic statements; I just haven’t had the energy to keep up with them. But if she gets anywhere close to the White House, you can be sure that I (and many, many others) will be very quick to highlight just how dump — and dangerous — this woman really is.

Presidential Candidate Ron PaulRon Paul

Paul has a very energized and vocal base of support, but is otherwise not terribly well known. I think that some of his libertarian views will find a lot of favor in the Republican electorate. But other libertarian views will, I think, really turn off many more Republican voters (i.e., legalization of drugs). Moreover, I think that once people start to really focus on the implications of some of Paul’s efforts to eliminate huge portions of the government, then the perceived popularity of his ideas will begin to lose favor — quickly. Similarly, Paul’s isolationist views are at odds with the more hawkish elements of the Republican electorate.

Finally, and this may be more relevant to the general election than to the Republican primary, some of Paul’s associations and the nature of some of his biggest supporters (anti-Semites and white supremacists) will (I hope) make people, both Republicans and Democrats, uncomfortable.

Presidential Candidate Herman CainHerman Cain

The following statement is going to sound a bit racist, so let me complete the thought before you draw any conclusions. I think that Cain’s support is largely based upon the fact that he’s black (and note that, if I’m not mistaken, he is careful to note that he’s black and not an African-American, not liking that particular designation). What do I mean by that? I think that a lot of Republicans are, knowingly or otherwise, trying hard to show that both they and other Republicans are not racists and that opposition to President Obama is not based on racism. How best to show that you’re not a racist? Simple: Support a black candidate! Maybe, I’m wrong. Maybe Republicans really like Herman Cain, even though most had never heard of him before very recently and many more are highly unlikely to have heard much of what he has to say. Yet even with his relative obscurity, he continues to poll quite well. Hmm.

But I think that Cain is highly unlikely to do well as people hear more from him and the other candidates. He has demonstrated that he is a bit of a gaffe machine. Moreover, his overt Islamophobia combined with his efforts to walk back the overt Islamophobia all while insisting that he didn’t actually say the things that he clearly did say (maybe he hasn’t heard of YouTube?) to be charged with being an Islamophobe may make some voters a bit nervous. Sure, there is a segment that probably agrees with Cain’s idea of a “loyalty test” for Muslims (that same segment would probably be happy kicking Muslims out of the US or requiring them to convert to Christianity, too), but I don’t think that more moderate voters will favor that viewpoint.

Finally, I think that there is a large portion of the Republican electorate that will reject Cain because he’s black.

Presidential Candidate Newt GingrichNewt Gingrich

By the time I finish this post (I started it last week…), Gingrich may be done. His campaign staff quit en masse a few weeks ago, last week his fundraising folks quit, and we’ve learned that his $500,000 line of credit to Tiffany was actually the second line of credit he had (apparently, Gingrich also has a $1,000,000 line!). That’s a lot of jewelry. How many engagement rings can you buy for $1,500,000?

Gingrich has so much baggage, I suspect that airlines charge him extra just to fly. Recall (and you can expect that other Republican candidates will certainly remind voters) that Gingrich was removed from his position as Speaker of the House because of ethical lapses. Gee, that’s who we want for President. And Gingrich has left not one, but two wives, for women with whom he was having extra-marital affairs. And according to some reports, in both cases, the soon-to-be ex-Mrs. Gingrich’s were either in the hospital or ill when he decided to get divorced. Moreover, don’t forget that Gingrich, while he was leading the impeachment efforts against President Clinton for lying about a blowjob, was himself having an extra-marital affair with a House staffer. His explanation for that infidelity: “There's no question at times in my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate.” Ah, yes. The old, I’m such a patriot, I just had to have sex with someone who wasn’t my wife defense. Rep. Anthony Weiner resigned last week for tweeting naked pictures of himself, but serial-philanderer Gingrich is running for President?

I could go on and on with Gingrich’s flaws, but it just doesn’t seem worth the effort. His presidential aspirations are toast, but the name recognition that he revives will help him sell more books and give more speeches … which of course will help him pay that bill to Tiffany.

Presidential Candidate Rick SantorumRick Santorum

Santorum scares me, though thankfully, I don’t think that he has a chance of getting the nomination. He is a man that his so tone deaf to the world around him that I would be truly frightened of what an America under the leadership of Santorum might look like. He’s also one of those holier-than-thou sort of people. I just read an article last week about how the extremely anti-abortion candidate, a candidate who doesn’t believe in any exceptions, permitted doctors to induce an abortion in his wife to save her life. In other words, abortion is evil and nobody should ever have the right to an abortion … except for Santorum’s family. The saving grace, so to speak, is that I think Santorum’s social values stances are so far to the right, that he will be very unappealing to all but the furthest right portion of the Republican party. While the primaries tend to drive candidates toward the extremes, I think that candidates like Bachmann and Pawlenty (or maybe Rick Perry) can position themselves to the far right without going as far right as Santorum.

Presidential Candidate Jon HuntsmanJohn Huntsman

Like most Americans, I don’t really know much about Huntsman. From what I’ve heard, he plans to run as the most centrist of the Republican candidates. And while that appeals to me, I don’t think that’s going to play terribly well with the primary-voting Republican base. The fact that Huntsman is a Mormon will likely cause him the same problems that Romney will encounter. And Huntsman’s positions on things like civil unions (he supports them) and global warming (he believes in it) may be anathema to the Republicans he’ll need to secure the nomination. (I’d love to know what he thinks of evolution; if he believes in it, then he’s probably toast.) He might be a formidable opponent for President Obama in the general election (especially if he could run from the center and characterize President Obama as running from the left), but first Huntsman will need to get the nomination and those sort of centrist (and rational…) positions aren’t likely to endear him to the Republican base. Finally, you can be sure that time and again, other candidates will remind voters that Huntsman not only served in the Obama administration (as ambassador to China) but that Huntsman has offered (in writing, no less) glowing praise of President Obama. The visceral hate of President Obama from so many on the right (Obama Derangement Syndrome) may make a candidate that not only worked for/with President Obama, but even had the audacity to say something positive about him, just too “extreme”.

Presidential Candidate Gary JohnsonGary Johnson

Johnson, the former Governor of New Mexico is a true libertarian. But that means that some of his views on social issues won’t meet with a lot of favor from a portion of the Republican electorate. More problematic for Johnson is the complete lack of name recognition that he has (or, to be more precise, does not have). In this month’s Republican debate in New Hampshire, Johnson, a declared candidate, was not included, while Bachmann, who only declared during the debate, was included. If Johnson can’t find a way to get in front of voters and to be on the same stage as the candidates who do have name recognition, then he is going nowhere fast.

Presidential Candidate Fred KargerFred Karger

Karger is openly gay. ’Nuff said? I don’t know. Maybe the 3 or 4 Republicans who favored repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and the 1 or 2 Republicans who support civil unions or … gasp … gay marriage will vote for Karger. But in reality, his campaign is simply a stunt and he’s not a viable candidate. One question, I suppose, is whether Karger will draw any votes at all; if he does, those votes are likely to come from the more moderate portion of the Republican electorate, at the expense of candidates like Huntsman or maybe Romney.

Presidential Candidate Rick PerryRick Perry

So far, Perry isn’t in the race, though in recent weeks there have been some inklings that he is considering throwing his proverbial hat into the ring. Perry has a lot of ups (at least as far as Republican voters and the primaries are concerned), not the least of which is that he (other than Gingrich) would be the lone Southerner in the race. And after Iowa and New Hampshire, the Republican primary contest moves to South Carolina. From there, southern states become very important on the path to the Republican nomination.

Perry does, however, have some serious baggage of his own. First, and this is just my own two cents, will voters be uncomfortable with yet another Texas cowboy in the White House? I think that even a lot of Republican voters don’t look back on the Bush presidency with great fondness. Thus, one has to wonder whether Perry’s ties to Bush (if I’m not mistaken, he was Bush’s Lieutenant Governor) and other eerie similarities (he even seems to like to talk like Bush, droppin’ his Gs and bein’ all folksy) will be too much. And the macho cowboy image he likes to portray (he jogs with a gun and kills wild animals while jogging?) maybe a bit much for a lot of Americans.

There are also persistent rumors that Perry is … drum roll please … gay. Enough so, that his “even though I’m not running” team is apparently working to counter those rumors. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire? And even if there isn’t a fire, how will Republican voters react? Recall the drubbing that McCain took in South Carolina in 2000 when Bush supporters painted McCain as the father of a “black” child (his adopted Asian daughter). If Perry has to spend face time telling people that he’s not gay, it will just be less time that he has to talk to them about why they should support him.

Finally, there is the giant elephant in the room that I suspect every other Republican candidate will remind voters of time and time again and that is Perry’s flirtation with the early Tea Party movement and suggestions that Texas should secede if it doesn’t get what it wants from Washington. It will be hard to argue that he should be elected President of a country that he suggested, however obliquely, that Texas secede from. After all, it’s hard to play the role of the patriot when your opponents have red meat that they can display to suggest that you are anything but patriotic. My question is why the national media, in story after story on Perry and whether he may run, never remembers to mention that particular episode.

Presidential Candidate Sarah Palin

Sarah Palin

What is there left to say about the blathering idiot from Alaska (or is that Arizona)? The half-term governor (and half-bus tour non-candidate?) is like a lightning rod of love and hate. She appears to have an adoring public who would probably be willing to kill the other candidates (and voters, too) to get Palin elected. But I don’t think that there has ever been a candidate with more negative polling numbers than Palin. For every voter who lovers her, several absolutely detest her.

Could Palin win the Republican nomination? I don’t think so. I think that once she had to stand on stage with the other candidates and debate them day after day, the grin and wink routine would wear thin. She only debated then Senator Biden once and he didn’t pound on her the way the other Republican candidates might. If she runs for the Republican nomination, she’ll have to debate the rest of the candidates, some of whom at least appear to have a firm grasp of some of the issues (however delusional their policies may be) where Palin can offer little more than “gee, shucks” folksy bon mots that don’t really say much. And heaven help Palin if she is ever actually forced to really discuss an issue in depth. If she really runs, she won’t be able to limit press access to Fox News and friendly reporters. Who knows, some reporter might even ask her really hard questions, just like Katie Couric. Or they might ask her another gotcha question like “What have you done today?” And you can bet that if she gets in the race and starts making headway, some candidates opposition research team will begin to put forth Trig-trutherism information (that is, advancing the conspiracy that her baby was not really hers but rather her daughter’s…). Just like Obama Birtherism, Trig-truthism remains a active conspiracy among some.

If Palin is unable to handle any of that, just as she was apparently unable to handle the extreme stress and attention of governing Alaska, then how will voters really respond to her desire to be the Republican nominee for President?

Other Candidates

Jimmy McMillan, Tom Miller, Roy Moore, Buddy Roemer, Vern Wuensche, and maybe others. You may have heard of Judge Roy Moore (the Alabama Ten Commandments judge) or Buddy Roemer (former Democratic Governor of Louisiana). All of these guys make Fred Karger look like a highly viable candidate with a good chance to win.

The Kingmakers

One additional point that needs to be raised with regard to all of the candidates. Unfortunately (or fortunately, I guess, depending on your viewpoint), none of this may matter in the least! Why? Because the decision of who is chosen as the Republican nominee may, in all practicality, be out of the hands of voters. Instead, the decision may be entirely up to corporate donors who can now spend unlimited amounts to say and do whatever they want to help or hurt their chosen champion. If a particular candidate generates corporate or SuperPAC support sufficient to drown out competing candidates and viewpoints, then voters may never get the real chance to make any kind of meaningful decision. A candidate with a good message but not enough funding to spread that message will whither in the face of a well-funded onslaught. And if that weren’t enough, we have to remember that the real GOP kingmaker is probably Fox News. If they support a candidate and give wall to wall favorable fair and balanced coverage while turning the fair and balanced “dynasty of lying” (to use John Stewart’s phrase from last week…) on the non-favored candidates, then those actions, too, may take meaningful decision-making out of the hands of Republican voters who may simply believe and do as they are instructed (or have no choices left by the time that poorly-funded, non-Fox supported candidates have been forced from the race).

Ah, democracy.

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