Monday, September 12, 2011

The GOP candidates, Part 1: The Field

Over the next few days, I'll try to as briefly as possible summarize my thoughts on the Republican Presidential candidates. I think there are four candidates with a realistic path to the nomination, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, and to a lesser degree, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann and Texas Rep. Ron Paul. Each of them will get their own post later on. In tonight's Republican debate, there will be four other candidates, who I'll discuss here.

Also, apologies to Fred Karger (gay rights activist), Buddy Roemer (former Louisiana Gov. and Congressman who lost to former KKK leader David Duke in 1991 before disappearing for over a decade), and Gary Johnson (libertarian former New Mexico governor), who are so far behind that they can't get into the debates.

Herman Cain, former CEO of Godfather's Pizza
Herman Cain is running the campaign Donald Trump wishes he could have run. Cain has never been elected to anything, but he's had a good run in this field, with his support reaching double digits after a well-received debate performance in South Carolina back in May. He has since faded, but still maintains enough support to stay in the debates.

My impression from watching him in debates is that he excels at telling Republican voters what they want to hear, even if he doesn't have much of an idea what it means. After making several statements about the Israel-Palestine conflict a few months back, it became clear that he had no idea what the Palestinian "Right of Return" is. Being a rather important issue in the conflict, that was the moment that I wrote off his chances of being a serious contender.

Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House
Despite leading the Republican war against the Clintons in the 90's, Gingrich also demonstrated an ability to work with President Clinton on big initiatives such as welfare reform. In 2005, he had high-profile discussions with then-Sen. Hillary Clinton about health care reform. It is this willingness to work with Democrats that made Newt my preferred candidate (though in this field, that's not saying much).

Unfortunately for Newt, his campaign had one of the worst rollouts in recent history. He appeared on Meet the Press and denounced the Republican/Paul Ryan budget as "right-wing social engineering". He picked a bad year to fight the new Republican/Tea Party orthodoxy. He was forced to quickly walk back his statement, and his candidacy has never recovered.

Jon Huntsman, former Utah Governor
I am flabbergasted that Jon Huntsman is doing so much worse than Mitt Romney. Both are handsome, Mormon, rich, moderate former governors. Huntsman has a better record creating jobs in his state than Romney did in his, as Huntsman and Perry pointed out in last week's debate. Most importantly, Huntsman does not have the "RomneyCare" baggage that should be poisoning Romney's chances among Republican primary voters.

In the recent debate, he denounced those of his competitors (read, Perry and Bachmann) who have led to his Party being viewed as "anti-science". While accepting the role science should play in a modern society might help him in a general election, it will make it very difficult to emerge from a Republican primary.

Rick Santorum, former Pennsylvania Senator
Santorum's appeal is pretty much limited to social conservatives who don't like the Tea Party, or at least those who don't like Bachmann and Perry. He's militantly anti-gay and anti-abortion. He was also defeated, as an incumbent, by 19% in his re-election bid in 2006.

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