Saturday, November 26, 2011

Race for the White House 2012

This past Thanksgiving week saw the GOP Presidential contenders continue to try to make their pitch to voters as the first contest in Iowa is literally a few weeks away.

Perhaps because of the holiday, there was not much in the way of polling in the contest, as at the end of this week, Newt Gingrich appears to have a slight lead on Mitt Romney in the somewhat meaningless national polls, but with the candidate also holding polling advantages in Iowa and South Carolina. A handful of New Hampshire polls this week show that while Gingrich has moved up to second place, Romney continues to hold a double digit lead and is the front-runner there, which indicates that last week's poll showing a statistical dead heat in the Granite State may have been an outlier.

The main political event of the week was a Tuesday night debate in Washington D.C that was sponsored in part by the conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation. Broadcast on CNN, it was designated as the "Commander in Chief" debate, as it primarily focused on foreign policy and defense issues.

The subject matter made it a bit more difficult for one time supposed GOP front runners Herman Cain and Rick Perry to make much noise, as the topics were considered a bit out of their comfort zone. Conversely, former Senator Rick Santorum and current Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (who was the victim of completely disgusting behavior this week by NBC's Late Night with Jimmy Fallon) seemed a bit more engaged by the topics. There is some speculation that Bachmann, who is a member of the House Intelligence Committee might have leaked classified in formation during one answer in the debate.

Receiving far more air time in the debate than they previously had, courtesy of CNN, were candidates Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman who espoused foreign policy views that are a bit out of the mainstream of GOP primary voters on issues ranging from Afghanistan to the Patriot Act to overall defense spending. Some of the other candidates forcefully disagreed with either Paul or Huntsman during these exchanges. While Paul's libertarian views are well known to most tuned in GOP voters, the additional exposure of Huntsman in a debate could prove valuable to him if people liked what they heard. Some still talk of Huntsman being the next to surge as the "anti-Romney" but I have my doubts on that, since right-wingers actually like Romney more than Huntsman. Currently, the former Utah Governor is still just under double digits in his solely focused state of New Hampshire.

The other two candidates to appear in the CNN debate were of course Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney, who received the most attention afterwards, although Romney got to speak far less than he usually does in the debates. During the times he did have the floor, he staked out positions more conservative than those who were challenging him on a particular point of contention. All things considered, it was another fairly solid debate for Romney.

Gingrich, who has received plaudits from many Republicans for his intelligence and debating skills, also impressed many on Tuesday night. However, a topic that came up towards the end of the debate made the most headlines, as Gingrich expressed a position that some illegal immigrants who have lived in the U.S. for many years should be legalized to some extent. This is the kind of issue that has hurt Perry earlier this cycle and the other GOP candidates, such as Bachmann quickly jumped over Gingrich's comments, calling it "amnesty." The former Speaker of the House has stood by his position, although he seemed to realize almost immediately that he may have misspoke in a political context.

Romney also seemed to disagree with anything that could be considered "amnesty", although some have pointed out he was not always opposed to any path to legalization for those who are currently here illegally. It is a somewhat complicated issue to finesse politically, but to me, as a Romney supporter, it seems pretty clear that the candidate is continuing an overall position of insisting that anybody currently in the U.S. illegally needs to "stay in line" as anyone else would before they are legalized. Romney continues to state that he is very favorable towards all forms of legal immigration, and unlike some on the far right, would encourage and celebrate it.

In the meantime, this has the potential to be a wedge issue to harm Gingrich among very conservative voters. While my own personal views on the overall subject matter, both on the merits and what would be in the long term interest of the GOP are more complex, it just remains so very obvious to me that Romney is far away more electable than Gingrich ever could be, so it is completely understandable if he were to take advantage of the contrast on this issue.