Although the Republican nomination for the next Presidential election will not be chosen until early 2012, those who intend to run for the position are beginning to make themselves known, with two notable debates taking place over the last month. Over the next two article, I’m going to give a brief rundown of some of the main candidates.
If you were a betting man or woman, the wise money would be on Romney. The former businessman and governor of Massachusetts was a strong candidate for the 2008 nomination, but just missed out to John McCain, and therefore has been named “the establishment choice.” Strong in debates, good with the media, generally solid on conservative issues and with a somewhat presidential look about him, he has the potential to be a strong candidate for 2012. He has three big problems facing him; the first is the Massachusetts’ healthcare law he passed, dubbed “Romneycare”. With one of Obama’s weaknesses being his unpopular healthcare reforms, Romney will find it difficult to take advantage of that particular weakness due to the similarities between the two laws. His second problem is linked to the first – many conservatives are sceptical about whether he is a “true” conservative; with commentators pointing both to Romneycare, and to his flip-flopping on the subject of abortion. Finally, his Mormon faith – although more common in the USA than the UK – is still perceived by many Americans as weird, and will also make the evangelical segment of the conservative grassroots uncomfortable. Romney is still the bookies favourite, but he is by no means perfect, nor is he a shoe-in.
Unfairly, Congresswoman Bachmann was, until a few months ago, seen by many as a poor man’s Sarah Palin. A darling of the Tea Party, the ex tax attorney and mother of 5 (as well as foster carer of 23) was known for her strong conservatism, combatative stances on issues, and fiercely polemic rhetoric against the Democrats and the current President, and was seen as much more of a fringe candidate – possibly second in line to Palin. Yet her performances in the Republican presidential debates have been outstanding, and she was considered by many (including this writer) to have easily won the most recent debate. A lot more straight-laced and less folksy than Palin, and with a fiercer, clearer speaking style as well as a successful record of leading and getting things done in Congress, Bachmann has the potential to be a powerful candidate. She is still an outsider, but as is a rising star within the GOP who is even beginning to eclipse the once mighty Sarah Palin, it is by no means impossible that she could gain the nomination.
In any set of candidates, there is always one about whom there is little to say. Tim Pawlenty fits that role perfectly. The governor of Minnesota is running on a strongly conservative campaign, but it is sometimes difficult to tell due to his flat language and often poor delivery. His emphasis has been on social issues, specifically on opposing gay marriage and on limiting abortion for all but the most extreme cases. This could easily be a misstep, as the conservative mood at the moment tends to be less concerned with social issues and more concerned with the economy. Also, however socially conservative he may be, Bachmann will always match him, and do it convincingly. Some conservatives have also questioned his conservative credentials, pointing to some large tax-hikes as governor, a state-wide smoking ban and mandatory ethanol mixtures with gasoline. Ultimately, Pawlenty is supported by those who believe that all that is needed to win 2012 is to elect a standard candidate who won’t rock the boat and who will point to Obama’s failings. Those of us who believe that it will need more than that to beat Obama will want someone other than this uninspiring governor.
Ron Paul is the true radical of the Republican Party; he is best described as an out and out libertarian as opposed to a conservative. Famously given the motto by The Onion – “Fiscally I’m a right-wing nutjob, but on social issues I’m f**king insanely liberal”, this sums up Paul’s strengths and weaknesses at the same time. He has shown himself to have a broad base of support that reaches out well beyond traditional areas of Republican support. His fierce dedication to the free market and his small government, low tax economics makes him attractive to conservatives, while his isolationist foreign policy stance and social liberalism on issues such as gay marriage and drugs (but not abortion – he is pro-life) opens his appeal up to many on the left as well. Yet, while he has been winning straw poll after straw poll, leading many to believe he can win the nomination, his broad base is also his potential weakness. A Ron Paul presidential run risks falling between two stools by failing to appeal to conservatives due to his socially liberal policies and pacifist foreign policy, while failing to appeal to the left due to his economic policies. Simply put, a Ron Paul run would be an enormous gamble, and could result in a landslide for the Republicans, or an easy second term for Obama – there is no middle ground with Ron Paul.
The Baptist minister and former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza is easily the character of the bunch so far. Sounding strangely like Samuel L Jackson (one is waiting for him to yell “They speak English in What?” at any moment), Cain has won many people over with his straight-talking yet jocular debating style. The unique appeal of the only black candidate currently running lies in his success in the private sector: he boasts that he is not a know-it-all politician, but instead a business man who knows how to get the right people in to get things done. In a straw poll as to who won the first Republican presidential debate, Cain won easily and has support from both the Republican mainstream and from the Tea Party. His strength is certainly his private sector experience, as well as his excellent debating style which leads many conservatives to believe he could destroy Obama in the debates. His biggest weakness is that his jocular style means people don’t take him seriously as a candidate. Additionally, his unusual claim that he would be uncomfortable appointing Muslims in his Cabinet as they may support Sharia Law is one that has drawn criticism from all sides of the political spectrum, and leaves many wondering whether Cain is a lunatic disguised as a legitimate candidate. Cain is still an outsider, but not be dismissed outright.