Saturday, August 20, 2011

Race for the White House 2012

With the Ames Straw Poll in the rear-view mirror, the Republican Presidential race has moved along this past week in some interesting ways.

While it appeared his 2012 viability has long been endangered, the withdrawal of the race by former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty came even swifter than expected. The morning after his disappointing showing in Ames, Pawlenty withdrew from the race during a Sunday talk show interview. "T-Paw" is young enough to have a future in the GOP, but he has now seen his national ambitions twice stymied; first by being passed over by John McCain as the apparent runner-up in the 2008 Veep sweepstakes and then again this year in a short-lived Presidential campaign, that at one point looked promising. Many (including myself) had surmised that Pawlenty would be the eventual #2 candidate in the Republican primary field, while others, including some liberal MSNBC talkers thought he would eventually emerge as the compromise GOP choice for the nomination. Pawlenty, who early on had an impressive campaign structure, will now be watched to see if he will be issuing a primary endorsement, and how that might effect both the race and any hope he might have of being put on the ticket as the Veep candidate next year.

Spending his first week on the campaign trail, in the early states, Rick Perry, the one sitting Governor in the race was very visible in the media and has many Republicans buzzing. Some, especially on blogs, are downright certain that he will emerge as the eventual GOP nominee, and point to polls out this week, both from states, and a Rasmussen national poll, showing Perry ahead by 11 points over second place finisher Mitt Romney. I believe we are headed towards an interesting point in the campaign, as I stated months ago, back when Perry had denounced interest in the race, that he would be formidable if he did run. However, I think, as we have seen in Presidential politics before, these sort of "flavor of the month" candidates often fall hard back down to the political earth. It is dangerous to be perceived as a "front-runner" this early in the cycle and as a Romney supporter, I am not overly concerned about my candidate being overshadowed currently.

While the Perry campaign has many conservatives cheering, liberals, the media, and a lot of establishment Republicans have been taking great notice of some of the headlines from Perry's roll-out tour and how it might demonstrate serious national political weakness. Early in the week, Perry made comments in which he mused that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke was "borderline treasonous", followed by a veiled comment of how the nation's top economist might face danger in Texas. Some on the right profess to love the blunt talk from Perry, while most others, including many Republicans who served in the Bush Administration went public with criticism over Perry and how his remarks indicated how not ready for prime time he might be.

One of those Republicans is Karl Rove, who over 20 years ago was believed to be the person who convinced Perry to join the GOP, but who has had a strained relationship with him for over 10 years now. Rove, who is a Fox News contributor, has come across this week on the airwaves as being very much opposed to a Perry candidacy, without his having to directly say it. Rove raised some serious eyebrows when he stated that he had heard that both New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and House Budget Chair Paul Ryan of Wisconsin were seriously looking at getting into the race and that Rove expected the field to grow. In fact, after Rove's remarks, various media stories did seem to advance the possibility of Christie and Ryan running, but I have my doubts. Perry supporters, which seemingly include Rush Limbaugh, characterized Rove's remarks as evidence that the GOP establishment is "scared to death" of Rick Perry. If that is the case, I would say it would not be a fear of his views or how he would govern nearly as much of the fear that he could ruin a great chance to defeat Barack Obama.

In addition to the Christie and Ryan speculation, there has also been talk late this week that Sarah Palin may be announcing her candidacy after Labor Day. One again, I very much doubt it will happen (as a Romney backer I would have no objections), but if Perry's entrance into the race has truly shaken things up this much, we could be in for a season of some serious political fireworks that any political junkie would have no choice but to relish. A large number of Perry supporters seem to be convinced that Palin will be endorsing their candidate in short order.

While I will try not to say something along these lines every week, I remain very optimistic about the long term prospects of Mitt Romney. He has been less visible than some of the other Republican candidates thus far this year, and it is true that many in the party's base seem to be lukewarm about him, but ultimately, when the voting starts next January and February, Romney's electability against Obama might make all the difference. I believe Republicans, including many in the Tea Party movement, will ultimately realize that the differences between the GOP candidates are not incredibly deep, and that the electability factor, and who is polling best against the incumbent, will be quite significant. While he has not been making headlines on a daily or even weekly basis, Romney has been spending this year raising large amounts of money and building political organizations across the country. I am sure he would prefer to save it to use against the Democrats, but if necessary, he will have ample resources to use against Rick Perry or anyone else who might be in the way of a convention coronation in Central Florida.

Other Republicans remain in the race of course, but the media is actively dismissing them as having realistic shots at the nomination. Michele Bachmann, who was boosted by her Straw Poll showing, spent Sunday night at an event in which Perry also appeared, and was criticized for the way she seemed to deliberately avoid being in the room at the same time as him. In perhaps a more embarrassing gaffe, to which she has notably had many, the Congresswoman wished Elvis Presley a "happy birthday" on August 16th, which is the day he died (allegedly.)

Bachmann's rhetoric this past week has included more references to her gender and status as the only woman seeking the White House. With another strong opponent in the GOP field, the other Republican candidates back in the pack are going to try to emphasize as much of a niche as they in order to gain support. Rick Santorum is attacking Perry from the right on social issues, while Jon Huntsman is likely to embrace his positioning as the most "moderate" Republican in the field as basically his only chance. Making a play for the Volvo driving, latte sipping wing of the Republican Party, Huntsman had criticism for Perry's conservative views this week on global warming.

Of all the announced candidates, Ron Paul easily polls third or fourth best nationally, and that is probably unlikely to change. He has a base of committed supporters, but they are bemoaning the fact that the media has been ignoring his campaign in proportion to his level of support. I suppose I could understand that frustration, but the truth of the matter is that Paul has absolutely no chance of being the GOP nominee. He is easily the first choice of his supporters, but among other Republicans, he is not even the second, third, or even ninth choice of almost anyone else.

Barring a political upset, the eventual winner of the Romney vs. Perry skirmish will emerge to face the incumbent President. This past week has seen more bad news on Wall Street and Barack Obama's job approval numbers continue to fall to new lows. While I expect the general election to be fiercely competitive next year, clearly, the Republican nomination will be one worth having.

Earlier in the week, Obama visited some Midwest states in a large, partially Canadian built bus, on a trip, labeled by Mitt Romney as the "Magical Misery Tour." During these stops, Obama sparred on a rope line with some young Tea Party activists and the headlines gathered were not exactly good. Currently, the incumbent and his family are now in the ultra-wealthy liberal enclave of Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts, on a vacation.

Past Presidents, including George W. Bush have, like Obama currently, faced criticism over taking too many vacations. I believed then and believe now that with the support infrastructure that goes anywhere the Chief Executive does, a President is never truly "off the clock." However, when looking at it through a strictly political lens, many Americans think Obama just takes too many vacations. While his Republican predecessor would spend much of each August at his relatively modest Texas ranch, on a property he owned, Obama's spending time hobnobbing with the rich and famous in an exclusive location at least contributes to the perspective that he is out of touch.

This is even more of an "optics" problem for the sitting President considering some of the headlines of the past week. With unemployment remaining chronically high, Obama, on his bus tour, announced that he had a workable plan to create jobs and solve that problem, but would announce it in a September speech, after he returned from his vacation.

Wow. That takes chutzpah, and unlike Michele Bachmann, I know how to pronounce that word. if Obama has a plan to bring jobs to the jobless, one would think that would be a pretty important thing to get enacted, like right away, and not only after he got back from a luxurious stay on the Cape. Many Americans have been waiting to find a job or worried about losing their current job for a long time and assuming that the occupant of the Oval Office really does have a good plan, would prefer not to wait until September.

With each passing week, it looks like a smartly selected Republican nominee, capable of running a strong campaign, might very well add the name of Barack Obama to the list of the unemployed.