Saturday, December 24, 2011

Race for the White House 2012

"Twas the night before Christmas....

And all through the country, most Americans are presently more focused on other things beyond the contest for President, which will be kicked into a higher gear once the New Year hits.

Trying to take advantage of the media vacuum is renowned media whore Donald Trump, who took the opportunity in his native New York to switch his registration from Republican to Independent. We can be certain that Trump will spend the first several months of 2012 openly flirting with seeking the White House as an Independent and while there will be reports saying he is leaning towards doing so, of course he will eventually take a pass. Later on this week, former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson will formally announce he is ending his Republican campaign to instead seem the Presidential nomination of the Libertarian Party.

Barack Obama has been able to fly to Hawai'i for the holiday after all, following a week of battling with Congressional Republicans over a two month extension of a payroll tax cut. The Capitol Hill back and forth, which ultimately concluded with Speaker John Boehner seemingly giving in to what the President wanted, has pleased Democrats and angered some Tea Party conservatives, who preferred a much longer extension. With this particular inside baseball battle over though, Republicans can avoid having a politically harmful position strapped to their backs heading into an election year, but by and large, Democrats who of course do control the White House and U.S. Senate, feel they won this round.

Of course, Obama's eventual GOP opponent is very likely to not be someone associated with the Congressional Republican leadership. This week is ending with Mitt Romney, who has never worked in Washington D.C. continuing to be viewed as the most likely nominee of his party. A Rasmussen Reports poll this week show him building on a slight Iowa lead, and if he wins there on January 3rd, it is very hard to envision a scenario in which he eventually does not win the nomination.

Romney received applause from conservatives this week for the forceful way he took issue with Vice President Joe Biden's outrageous claim that the Taliban is not the enemy of the United States "per se" and for answering a question regarding Obama's Kenyan uncle who was arrested on a DUI charge earlier this year and who is in the country illegally. While Romney did not bring this issue up, and is said to not have immediately recognized the name of the uncle, he stated that federal immigration law must be enforced and thus he would deport the illegal drunk-driving uncle of the incumbent President.

Victory in the Hawkeye Caucuses are still far from a given for Romney though, as five other candidates are pushing hard, hoping to finish in the Top Four. I believe the candidates who finish fifth and sixth (with the assumption that the non competing Jon Huntsman finishes last) will have a hard time lasting in the race and may be quick to drop out.

Based on current polls, Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich appear most likely to advance, while beyond the visible radar, the organizational efforts of Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, and Rick Perry could surprise. I consider it a very real possibility, that his once sizable polling lead aside, Gingrich's national trajectory could be one that will give him a sixth place finish in Iowa.

Having spent much of the week complaining about the negative ads against him, especially those being run by a technically unaffiliated group on behalf of Romney, Gingrich might be able to "stop the bleeding" to some extent by the XMAS week absence of the negative ads which had saturating the Iowa airwaves. He also boldly challenged Romney to a one on one debate, after the former Massachusetts Governor pointed out how heated politics can get, but the Romney campaign understandably declined the offer from an opponent who may not even be in the top two.

The ex-Speaker's campaign has some serious problems organizationally, which forced Gingrich to spend less time than expected the past week in Iowa and New Hampshire, but instead in the state where he happens to live. The Virginia primary ballot requirements are pretty strict and after having scrambling to acquire signatures for much of the week, it appears as if the campaign has fallen short of qualifying for the ballot, where the most recent polls had put Gingrich at the top. While the organizations of Romney and Paul long ago fulfilled the requirements, all other candidates, in addition to Gingrich also failed to do so, leading to a two person contest in the state.

Of course, if anybody else expects to do anything in the race, a strong showing in either Iowa or New Hampshire is crucial. While some, though not all, polls show Rick Perry gaining some ground in Iowa, he is continuing to battle gaffes and make his voice heard above the crowd. It was bad news for him and several other candidates when the socially conservative organization Iowa Family Leader, which had pledged to unite behind one candidate, failed to reach a consensus and offered no endorsement.

While that division should ultimately work to the benefit of Romney in the state (who they said was never under consideration for their endorsement), the leader of the group, frequent Republican candidate Bob Vander Plaats (who had successfully backed Mike Huckabee in the state four years ago) offered his personal endorsement to Rick Santorum. The endorsement was controversial though as Vander Plaats is reported to have approached Michele Bachmann and asked her to drop out and support Santorum instead. That was an interesting maneuver considering that Bachmann was running ahead of Santorum in Iowa pretty much all year.

Taking both polling data and committed support into account, the one candidate who should easily finish in the Top 3, and probably Top 2 in Iowa is Ron Paul, the 76 year old Texas Congressman, and who has faced some media scrutiny to the extent he may never have.

Politically astute Republicans have long been familiar with the "newsletter" problem that faces Paul. Between his stints in Congress, in the pre-internet days, a newsletter was published under Paul's name and signature that contains several examples of racist remarks and other incendiary and conspiratorial rhetoric.

Years ago, Paul said that he denounced what is in those newsletters and claimed that not only did he not write them, he never even read that at the time. This means that if he is telling the truth, Paul might not be a lunatic racist, but instead be so lax in what he lends his name to, he is someone who for years allowed his signature to sign racist screeds written by someone else.

Whatever the truth is there, this has long since been one of the reasons why Republicans like myself have been at least quietly ashamed to have Ron Paul involved in any way with our party. For a ton of reasons, he is completely unworthy of the Presidency, but he has always been looked as just a fringe, niche candidate who was never a threat to win anything.

If Paul does win Iowa in a couple weeks though, his past will be looked into by the mainstream media in a way that never has been before. Already this past week, Paul walked away from a CNN interview over questions about the newsletters. It would be to the benefit of all in the GOP if Paul, who also of course leaves open the potentially significant possibility of running as a third party candidate in the fall, were to just go away as quickly as possible. However, there may be political points to be scored if another Republican points out just how dangerous Paul and his brand of politics are.

Will most of those who currently support Ron Paul in a cult-like fashion even care though?