Sunday, 12 June 2011

2012 Republican candidates: who's in, who's out, how will they do?

In a previous post, I looked at ways in which I thought Obama could hold onto the Presidency in the approaching 2012 election. This time, I'm looking at the potential Republican candidates and assessing their chances and potential strategy. Something that's been really obvious is how fast-changing the Republican field is; between starting this article and finishing it, all sorts of different things happened. Admittedly though it did take me about a month to actually get this article finished; I kept getting distracted by other things (and I still haven't proofread it all. I'm a terrible person).
The first thing the party needs to get right is the candidate they choose to represent them in the election. Unlike our own system, party supporters in each state choose the person who will go on to be the party's candidate in the Presidential election.

Mitt Romney 
Status: Officially running
This is who my money's on; I'm so confident of him winning that I might find out whether the local betting shop will let me gamble on the Republican primaries. (Naturally my confidence means he'll perform terribly or drop out early.)

Romney's wealth is something that going to play a large role in his campaign. He spent $44 million of his own money in the 2008 primaries, which clearly means he's got tonnes of resources to throw into the campaign, but I also wonder whether the public will be wary of supporting a very wealthy and successful man in a time of economic difficulty and unemployment. They may seek to elect someone a little more in-touch with the average Joe. Romney seems to be doing a good job so far of appealing to the concerns of average Americans, with the centrepiece of his website being a video about unemployment and how to fix it.

Furthermore, Romney's background in running successful business and his pro-private sector stance could help to gain trust and donations from business as well as concerned citizens who are looking for a job. He has also served as Governor of Massachusetts for 4 years, so his track record is going to be something which is bound to be raised during his campaign by opponents and used as a guide for the kind of policies he could be expected to enact if he becomes President. Key things which stick out are his economic policies; he successfully turned a large deficit into a comfortable surplus, which can be used by the Romney campaign to show he understands how to balance the books, a winning policy at the moment. However, part of his measures for balancing the books involved increasing fees and closing tax loopholes, which could see him losing support from the anti-tax Tea Party movement and other Republicans who seek lower taxes. Amongst the general public, his ability to run a balanced budget in a moderate and sensible way should play well, but ironically his use of tax rises to reduce spending cuts in his state may be his downfall amongst Republicans. Similarly, the Massachusetts healthcare reform of 2006 has also been used to highlight a degree of hypocrisy, since the legislation does much the same as the recent federal government reforms that Romney opposes. It could potentially be spun that Romney does not oppose healthcare reform full-stop, but believes that it should be an issue which is left with the states, not the federal government. However, as the concerns from Republicans over reforms centre in no small part around concerns of overly-large government and too much intrusion into the private sector and the lives of the public, it could be a sticking point for Romney if it is highlighted by other candidates who are untainted by such reforms in their past.

Mike Huckabee
Status: Not running
Huckabee could have expected to get significant support from the Christians and strong social conservatives in the Republican party, which would have given him a stable core base of support. It's therefore surprising that he dropped out, especially as in polls he was performing remarkably well, often coming in first or second place in recent polls. I suspect he has simply predicted that the Republicans won't win the election next year.

Donald Trump
Status: Not running, lots of hot air

Oh Donald. His biggest assets are his business experience and having loads of money, but is he really Presidential material? I don't think America would have been willing to elect Trump. Whilst he stood a chance in the Republican primaries, I can't see any way he could have won over the majority of the public. Aside from lacking political experience, he has also humiliated himself with his Obama birth certificate investigation, and just doesn't come across as the type of person who is cut out to be President. He reminds me of a mix between Boris Johnson and Alan Sugar.

Trump, until announcing that he wouldn't be standing, was actually doing very well in the opinion polls, often coming in first or second place. I suspect that this was partly due to name recognition, and also a desire for someone with business know-how in these times of economic unrest. I don't think he would have won the Republican nomination in the end though; he lacks political experience and his obsession with the Obama birth certificate has proved that his political abilities extended only about as far as appealing to the minority Tea Party without being able to reach out to moderate Republicans, let alone swing voters. Whilst his vast wealth would mean he would have had a lot of resources to throw at his campaign to run adverts and hire staff, etc, I also think it would have been a hindrance to him, as voters may have have been reticent about electing a very wealthy and detached man to be their President because he seems incapable of appreciating the problems average citizens face. If faced with the choice of a less-than-perfect Obama, or a loon from The Apprentice, most would pick Obama, and I think Trump was wise enough to know that standing could only be an expensive and damaging mistake.

Newt Gingrich
Status: Officially running
Gingrich is one of the more experienced Republicans in this process, with his biggest claim to fame being that he served as House leader in Congress from 1995-99, and before that, minority leader. His most notable achievement is the Contract with America, which made the Republicans very top-down in the midterm elections by ensuring that congressional candidates signed up to the policy plan. So our best bet for seeing what kind of policies the Ginginator would push during his campaign is to dust off his Contract and see what it contains. In summary, it was aimed at making government more accountable and less wasteful; a push towards lower spending and taxation; harsher policies on crime; and incentives for small business. That's a fairly typical GOP position at the moment, and does little to set him apart from his competitors.

Newt didn't get off to a good start, with his criticism of Republican healthcare proposals alienating him from both potential high-profile backers and Republican supporters. One would have thought a former House leader would have been a bit more wise than to call party's healthcare proposals "too radical" and "social engineering". What it indicates to me though is a degree of centrism; it's possible that Gingrich has recognised that the rightwards shift of the party in recent years - particularly during the Obama Presidency - risks making them unelectable to the majority of the public. Whilst it's clear that he doesn't support the Obama reforms, by not pursuing the typical pro-market, anti-government Republican approach to healthcare, he may be reaching out to moderate Republicans and setting an eye firmly on appealing to moderate bipartisan America. Considering about 70% disapprove of what Congress is doing, it seems like Gingrich may have recognised that success in the election will not necessarily come from taking a hardline position against Obama's policies. However, if he does follow

Sarah Palin
Status: Unannounced, probably not running
She was previously the right's pin-up, but recently she's suffered from a mysterious decline. Having nailed her colours the mast, she's managed to alienate the centre-right, leaving her with only only the support of the Tea Party movement and others committed to lower tax, smaller government and large cuts. It also seems that with all the publicity and attention she got, there's been a degree of what's been dubbed Palin fatigue; she's received such extensive coverage that people got bored of her and she began to stop looking like a fresh face. Whilst her lack of national political experience was a hindrance during the 2008 Presidential election, where she was John McCain's running mate, I suspect her experience of being violently thrown into the national limelight and surviving has taught her a great deal about how to run a successful Presidential campaign. She saw how John McCain's campaign was run, and can build up a similar style whilst fixing his mistakes. She's certainly been doing the rounds and gathering substantial funding recently, so she's in a fairly comfortable position if she wants to make a run for it.

Something which sticks out for me is that she stepped down as Governor quite shortly after the Presidential election. Whilst her reasons for this were valid - namely that she was spending most of her time dealing with attacks from opponents rather than governing - I think her stepping down from her position could be seized upon by opponents as example of her shunning responsibility and not being up to the job. Further still, if she were to win the Republican nomination, I just don't think the country as a whole would be willing to elect her. Whilst Obama's rise in the opinion polls is merely a temporary, I find it highly unlikely that Palin can gather enough support amongst a sceptical public to beat Obama even when he's at his most unpopular. She is too tainted from the 2008 election to win in 2012.

Today (10th June) has also seen the Guardian release of  a number of the emails sent to and from Palin's official email account whilst she was Governor. I hasted to point out that this was done in a legal and official way, but I find the Guardian's as-per-usual flagrant bias more irritating than normal. The paper is out to get Palin because it doesn't like her; its anti-Republican, anti-conservative bias is even more pronounced now we have the current coalition government. Rant aside, the potential impact of these hundreds of emails is that, whilst her opponents during the Republican contest may not use them against her, they're certain to be used by Democrats to portray her as extreme, out-of-touch, and a bit mental. Personally I think that whilst some interesting stuff may come out of the disclosures, picking on one politician and uploading all their emails to the Internet is immoral and flagrantly seeking to influence the outcome of elections, but we are talking about the Guardian here.

Ron Paul
Status: Officially Running
Paul is my own American politician pin-up. I use him as an example in almost all of my Politics question answers, and if I was the kind of lad who had posters on his wall, there would be one of him. Not because I agree with all his positions and opinions - though I do generally share his libertarian stance on social issues like drug liberalisation and his desire to reign in the excesses of the government - but because I just like and respect the bloke. I don't much fancy his chances, though. He lacks funding and his views on things like legalising drugs will never play well with social conservatives and beyond that wouldn't get much support from the mainstream. He is, however, committed to upholding and defending the Constitution, which could play well in this era of increased patriotism and concern over the scope of government. Whilst his desire for large spending cuts and tax reductions will appeal to the Tea Party, more moderate Republicans are likely to be put off, and so will swing voters. Paul's biggest obstacle is that he is a very ideological candidate, and whilst his intentions may be noble and his policies may find appeal, I find it difficult to believe that someone pushing a pseudo-libertarian agenda. People are inherently scared of radical change, and when push comes to shove, most don't want a fundamental shift in the government's role.

Something quite unique to Ron Paul is his stance on international intervention. It's difficult to know how this will pan out, but he could certainly make political capital about how an America led by Ron Paul would have stayed out of Iraq and wouldn't currently be in Libya. Come 2012, I suspect the action in Libya will have become less popular and more costly, so Ron Paul can safely oppose it. He would, though, alienate pro-interventionists who continue to support the Bush Doctrine. As Ron Paul is not a typical Republican, I was surprised to see him say that he doesn't believe in evolution. In the strongly-Christian elections in the USA, particularly in the GOP nomination race - this isn't that uncommon and won't be a big issue, but I suspect it would become an issue for him if he won the nomination and needs to court support from moderate voters. Whilst it might be possible to appeal to liberals on the basis of drugs liberalisation, he'll find it more difficult to convince them of his support for much smaller public spending, lower taxes, tight borders, and pro-life stance.

Paul's best chance of doing well in this contest is to fare well in the New Hampshire debates and primary. This is the state he has the highest chance of winning because it has some strongly rogue and libertarian tendencies and was recently ranked the most socially and economically free state in the US, partly due to the interesting Free State Project. Whilst winning one state wouldn't usually be cause for celebration, as  students of American politics know, New Hampshire is a front-loaded state; it's the first primary to take place and can give the winning candidate momentum, leading to more donations, media coverage, and an increased chance of ultimate success. All-in-all, though Ron Paul doesn't stand much chance of winning the primary, and almost no chance of winning the Presidential election itself. America just isn't ready for his type of polices and the sweeping change they would bring.

Michele Bachmann
Status: Unannounced, probably running
The Sunday Times had an interesting article a week or so ago which seemed to fancy the chances of Bachmann. It highlights that Sarah Palin has still yet to make up her mind, and so Bachmann is enjoying a polling boost due to being the only female Tea Partier. As she has not served as a governor nor a Senator, her name recognition is not as high as some of her oppenents, and there is a less clear record to judge her stance and chances on. It's a fairly typical immoderate Republican voting record: I've picked out a few notable examples: against repealing Don't Ask Don't tell; against healthcare for 9/11 first responders; in favour of lower spending and lower taxes; and against expanding children's health insurance. So she's a social and fiscal conservative. Due to her stance on such social issues as Don't Ask Don't Tell, she could be in line to pick up those who may have otherwise been drawn towards strongly Christian Huckabee, but her fiscal conservatism doesn't make her stand out because it's a common thread for most of the candidates. Therefore, due to her lack of background, and due to not being unique, I don't think she has much chance of getting anywhere.

Rick Santorum
Status: Officially running
Santorum announced the other day (6th June) that he'll be running. The name rang a vague bell for me, but I had to look him up before I could pass comment. He's currently a Senator representing Pensylvania, and has previously served as a Representative in the House for a district in the state. He appears to be quite G.W Bush-ite in foreign policy (currently reading his book - am now a Bush fan), having defending Guantanamo Bay and strongly lambasted Iran and Islamic extremism. Domestically, he highlights the need for supporting families, religion, and traditional values. He appears to be of the slightly more moderate persuasion than such rivals as Bachmann, but only slightly. I don't fancy his chances because he lacks the experience and reconition of some other candidates, and he doesn't seem to bring much new to the table.

Herman Cain
Status: Officially running
Months ago, I highlighted this chap and said I was going to adopt him as my pet candidate. I wouldn't vote for him, but he's an interesting fellow. He stands out as being the only black candidate, and I've summarised in a previous article what strategy I would advise him to take if I were in that sort of business. (For some strange reason, no-one has snapped me up as their strategist, so I'm still available for hire...)  To summarise, he's got next-to-no chance because he's so little-known and underfunded compared to some of the big-hitters that he's up against. I also don't feel that his reliance upon Christian votes will serve him well in the first New Hampshire primary, so he' unlikely to get off to a good start. I also feel he may suffer from some lingering racism amongst Republican ranks (a small minority, I must point out.). I'm not going to run through potential strategy because I've linked above to an article where I did it at length. But to compensate, look at that beautiful 90s photo background! It's so 90s it's listening to The Backstreet Boys whilst wearing casual blue jeans and watching Pulp Fiction. Mr Cain, children of the 90s salute you for your commitment to marbled blue photo backings.

Something I've just noticed is that, despite emphasising his humble beginnings, Cain used to work as a banker in the Federal Reserve. That's potentially damaging on two levels. Firstly, in case you hadn't noticed, banks and bankers aren't the most popular people in the world at the moment, and secondly, Ron Paul (and probably also Gary Johnson, below) will rail against the Fed. Ron Paul in particular puts a great deal of emphasis on shutting down the Federal Reserve, so is likely to tear into Cain for having worked there. Herman could respond by saying that having worked there he knows the problems first-hand, but it's still potentially very damaging.

Gary Johnson
Status: Officially running
Whilst Twitter may be what my former headmaster calls a "time bandit" and the technological equivalent of crack, if it weren't for the land of Twit, I would never have discovered the self-titled 'people's President'. His chances were always going be narrow because few have heard of him, and he's also been excluded from the upcoming first New Hampshire debate, which will put him at an early disadvantage. He previously served as Governor of New Mexico, and has similar libertarian views to Ron Paul, including supporting drug liberalisation. Even if Republicans swing libertarian enough to support his policies, I suspect he won't fare well against the more experienced, more well-funded, and more well-supported Ron Paul. However, there is potential to make issue out of Paul's age and how he seems to run for President every 3 days and keeps failing.

Tim Pawlenty
Status: Officially running
Yet another governor, Pawlenty presided over the state of Minnesota from 2003 until January this year. Whilst his success in balancing the state's budget will serve him well during the primary process, the fact that it was not a long-term solution could come back to bite him on the bum. He didn't fix the state's deficit long-term, but appeared to have only done it in the short term up until his time as Governor ended, so he can easily be accused of short-term political posturing and not having long-term solutions to problems. He's comparatively young and charismatic, but he's nothing special, and I doubt his prospects. Having said that, he does do some wonderfully over-the-top videos.

Chris Christie
Status: Undeclared, almost certainly not running
The Sunday Times informed me that a delegation of Iowa Republicans had literally been sent to "beg" Christie to run. It looks like he's not willing to though. I don't know much about Christie, but he seems like a very intelligent bloke and an apparent moderate Republican. Christie is apparently refusing to run this time, perhaps because he doesn't think the Republicans will win, or perhaps he doesn't feel he's established enough to perform well in the primaries. It's a shame he's not running, because his demeanour strikes me very positively and I think he'd have a chance to do well. However, I think it's wise of him to wait until he has greater name recognition and a longer-term reputation as a competent Governor. I was particularly impressed with his response to a question in the video below:
And here's another one because I've decided I love him and he's going up alongside Ron Paul as my imaginary pin up poster:


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