Saturday, July 23, 2011

Race for the White House 2012

In a week where much of the U.S. sizzled under oppressive summer temperatures, the political heat was also ratcheted up, with Members of Congress from Florida attacking each other (rhetorically), Barack Obama throwing a press conference temper tantrum about his relationship with Speaker John Boehner, and Republican Presidential candidates beginning to try to undercut each other a bit more. With all these conflicts raging, the formal entrance into the 2012 field of former Louisiana Governor Buddy Roemer was basically unnoticed. Imagine that.

The Republican primary process will continue to take a back seat in the news as long as the fight over raising the debt ceiling continues. Both Obama and Boehner appear quite willing to make a deal, but they also have to contend with more ideological House Members in both parties. As of now, both sides are said to be far apart on agreeing to a deal to prevent the U.S. from going into default in a matter of days. Republicans are insistent on significant spending cuts while Democrats are intent on raising taxes.

I still think a deal will ultimately be worked out, and it is likely to be one not too much to the Democrats' liking, despite the previous conventional wisdom that they had the political upper-hand. Obama's press conference at at 6 p.m. Washington time yesterday was remarkable in how un-Presidential he appeared. He accused Boehner of walking away from the negotiations, and having not returned his phone calls, while the incumbent President came across as quite peeved at the whole situation. So much for "No Drama Obama." I do not know how well he comes across in Harry Truman mode, and his own poll numbers continued to slide this week. Obama realizes that he is under significant political and governmental pressure to get a deal done, which is why Republicans appear willing to stand firm until the Democrats give in on more things.

Personally, I think there is no doubt that the debt limit is going to have to be raised in order to prevent the possibility of economic disaster, but my suggestion of a compromise would be to raise it temporarily, while also implementing deep cuts in discretionary spending. Yes, the issue will have to be resolved again, closer to the 2012 election, but if Democrats and Republican both follow through with seriously cutting the budget and paying down the debt, there will be more bipartisan willingness to raise it again.

On the GOP Presidential front, there were both minor developments, and some potentially larger ones, as everyone keeps waiting for a formal decision by Rick Perry, whose rhetoric indicates greater likelihood that he will run. It really appears that Mrs. Perry is the most enthusiastic about a Presidential candidacy. Some national polls however have shown Perry as being quite competitive nationally with leading active GOP candidates Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann. If Perry does get in and has a successful launch, he could appear to vault into front-runner status, but other late-entering candidates in similar situations for both parties have seen their political stars rise and fall pretty quickly once they actually announce.

Republican Herman Cain made some news this week with a continuation of his theme of making some pretty rigid right-wing remarks. He claimed that communities could have the right to ban mosques, which is a comment that should be anathema to any legitimate freedom loving American conservative, and also claimed that while he personally had no problems with Mitt Romney's Mormon faith, that he knew of southerners that do, and that is why Romney will be unable to capture the party's nomination. Cain, who actually supported Romney for President in 2008, now appears to be trying to generate support by slyly raising questions about Romney's religion. It's pretty unfortunate that such a smart guy would resort to those ends. There is also some irony in the fact that an African-American is claiming that he will in position to benefit from the perceived bigotry of people in Dixie. While Cain was never going to be the GOP nominee, and has seen his campaign already fizzle out to a great extent, his statements on the campaign trail may rule out the possibility that he could be appointed to some sort of Cabinet position by a Republican President. He may be stuck with doing the talk radio thing.

In the meantime, with Romney and Bachmann at a higher tier, other candidates, who were expected to do better, are starting to punch upwards. Jon Huntsman, who is far down in the polls, already has a new campaign manager, a former top strategist to the unpopular and fairly liberal former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. This past week, the Huntsman campaign took some public shots at Romney over tax and job creation issues. Huntsman and Romney had been friends (and distant relatives for some time), but Huntsman can be expected to go negative against the GOP frontrunner. He has no other choice. In a match-up of credentials and Gubernatorial records, it may have to be pointed out though that Republicans in both Massachusetts and Utah have a distinct preference for Romney over Huntsman.

Tim Pawlenty is also struggling to break out of the back of the pack nationally and in many states. The pressure for a strong showing at the upcoming Ames Straw Poll in Iowa will be higher on him than anyone else. In fact, if he does not at least finish second, there may very well be calls for him to drop out of the race. His immediate problem is Michele Bachmann, a former State Senator in Minnesota who served while Pawlenty was Governor.

Pawlenty has been pointing out that while he has campaigned for Bachmann's runs in the Gopher State, her Congressional accomplishments are "non-existent" and that her strong rhetorical and personal appeal cannot compete with his record of accomplishments.

Bachmann has had pretty high staff turnover for a relatively new Member of Congress, and many that have left her office appear to be quite disgruntled about the experience. In the past, a former staffer has strongly denounced the idea that she could be President, and this week, a story broke in the publication called The Daily Caller that could significantly impact the Bachmann Presidential campaign in a negative way. The information contained in it appear to be gathered from at least one former staffer, while the other GOP campaigns deny having anything to do with it. Still though, the implications could ultimately be beneficial to others in the field, especially Rick Perry.

In decades past, the American public knew little of the health challenges faced by politicians such as Franklin Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy and the ways those issues might have affected their ability to effectively serve. In current times, the media is far more interested in learning more about a candidate's medical history, and that is especially going to be the case for a political lightning rod such as Bachmann. The Daily Caller story alleges that she suffers from severe migraine headaches, brought about by stress, that have basically incapacitated her for days at a time. It has been reported that these episodes, for which she has been hospitalized, have caused her to miss votes in Washington and skip political events.

Bachmann and her doctor have released statements this week confirming that she suffers from migraines but that they are controllable by medication at the outset of attacks. As long as the Congresswoman does not appear to miss any events on the campaign trail (and she may be watched closely) now, this story could fade away, or the potential by some to push it could lead to a political backlash that works in her favor. However, I also believe, that even though such fears are probably overblown, some voters are going to have major concerns about Bachmann's ability to serve as Commander in Chief, if periodic health problems prevent her from performing at full capacity. Nonetheless, I just have never gotten to the point where I see any realistic possibility of Bachmann becoming President in 2013 anyway.

Running for President has to be a stressful and energy consuming affair for candidates of all political stripes. It may seem glamorous at times to political junkies, but it is likely anything but, especially at this point in the cycle. Let's hope they are all feeling at their best, as often as possible, as the issues are presented and debated in the months ahead.