The plight of the Republican Party during the years Obama has been in office has been damaged because every time they begin to make some traction against the President, some nut metaphorically runs into the center of the political dialog yells "We hate women!" several times and runs out again, changing the subject and the political dynamic. This time the nut was Rick Perry, but it has been Todd Akin, Rush Limbaugh and others in recent years. Sweeping anti-abortion legislation, of the sort proposed by Perry, may help with the Republican base and in solid red states and districts, but it damages the Republican Party nationally and with swing voters.
Over the course of the primary, another more significant problem regarding Mitt Romney, one which is potentially much more serious, emerged. As Romney has campaigned for president, it has become increasingly clear that while he is smart, well-spoken, looks presidential and has an attractive family, he is also not a strong campaigner with little ability to build connections with people or inspire excitement from supporters.
While there are numerous potential running mates who can provide ideological balance to the ticket, Romney cannot make the same mistake McCain did and choose somebody who will alienate swing voters, not because of his or her ideology, but because of his or her ignorance. The first question Romney should ask about any potential running mate is whether or not that candidate is able to speak intelligently and fluently about the major issues. This should not be a difficult standard, but at least three of the party's major candidates for the nomination, Cain, Bachmann and Perry did not meet this standard. This will be a difficult needle to thread for Romney because a large proportion of his party, appears to view ignorance as an important and desirable trait in a politician, often mistaking ignorance for toughness. Romney will have to find a way to win these voters through finding a running mate who appeals to their conservatism, but not their ignorance.
Today, however, this order is largely reversed. Instead of foreign countries receiving assistance because they are allies, in much of the world, including large parts of Africa, the former Soviet Union and the Middle East, foreign countries are U.S. allies because they receive foreign assistance. Thus, for non-wealthy countries, receiving U.S. assistance is what defines that country as an American ally. To a large extent, the alliance has become the result of the assistance, rather than the other way around.
Fidel Castro, who has not had much experience with political competition of any kind has referred to the Republican primary campaign as a “competition of idiocy and ignorance.” Sadly, the longtime Cuban leader has a point. The race to the intellectual bottom and the loutish demonstrations of intolerance which havecharacterized the Republican race for the presidential nomination has been entertaining but also disturbing. Four years ago, the world saw the American political process at its best as the American people peacefully turned the page on the disastrous Bush administration and elected a new and very different president. The race this year, at least on the surface, is very different, but there are still elements of the campaign which demonstrate the strength and resilience of democratic systems of governance.
The Republican primary has demonstrated that the far right is not as powerful as once thought. Predictions that Romney could not survive the deep south because of his views on social issues or the particular brand of Christianity he practices are going to be proven wrong in the coming weeks. Four years ago, John McCain was cowed by the activists in his party into selecting a running mate who while keeping the right wing happy was unable to appeal to independents and those in the political center.
The Obama White House probably watched the Republican primary season with some dismay as a series of candidates including Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul, each more bizarre and unelectable than the others, briefly donned the mantle of front-runner before giving way to Mitt Romney. Romney, the likely Republican nominee, feels like a generic representative of his party from a generation ago. He was born to privilege, made a lot of money, is committed to making his rich friends richer, uncomfortable with the more radical social conservatives who constitute the Republican Party base, awkward when confronted with ordinary working Americans, but extremely comfortable with the financial and foreign policy power elite.
2012, like most years, promises to be an interesting political year. Some of the stories which were so significant in 2011 will continue, while others will fade away. The tragicomic reality show which was the Republican nominating process will quickly give way to a presidential election with two candidates who, unlike Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry -- who horrified us, made us laugh and otherwise entertained us in 2011 -- have a real chance of being president in 2013. The campaign between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama will likely be very close with a great deal of drama as the US engages in the quadrennial event known as "The most important election of our lifetimes."
Rather, the main story of the Republican primary season has been that the race has been extraordinarily uncompetitive. Despite the absence of a Republican incumbent or even sitting vice president, the sense among many in the Party that President Obama is very vulnerable and a base energized by the Republican victories in the 2010 midterm election, Mitt Romney has been the front runner for the nomination almost since the day John McCain lost in 2008. With two weeks to go before the first votes are cast, he still occupies that position.
The absence of any personal narrative around Romney does not mean there is no narrative to his campaign and the image of "All-Business Man, the world's most boring superhero" which, according to the New York Times, he has cultivated. Romney is not the first GOP candidate to present himself as a leader from the private sector uniquely positioned to rebuild the country and the economy. The businessman as savior is a popular Republican theme, which is consistent with the Republican's ideological preference for business interests over those of working people, youth, senior citizens, the environment or anything else.
Herman Cain's recent inability to demonstrate a command of even the most basic facts and debates around recent events in Libya made Rick Perry's failure to recall which three federal agencies he wanted to abolish during a recent debate seem positively statesmanlike by comparison. Cain, however, is not the first presidential candidate, or occupant of one of the country's highest offices to make the kind of mistake that would embarrass an above average high school student. Vice President Dan Quayle famously advised a young schoolboy to add the letter "e" to the end of the word "potato" during a spelling exercise. Similarly, poor command of the facts and garbled pronunciation were almost a defining characteristic of George W. Bush during his campaign for the presidency.
Herman Cain's turn as the front-runner for the non-Romney division of the Republican Party's presidential primary seems to be winding down. The candidate most likely to take Cain's place, at least for the next few weeks, is Newt Gingrich. Gingrich will continue the back to the 1990s feel of the Republican primary, but like Cain, and Donald Trump, Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry before Cain, Gingrich has no real chance at being his party's nominee in the general election. Romney remains the overwhelming favorite to win the nomination, regardless of the relative positions of candidates like Gingrich or Cain.
To a significant extent, the more interesting foreign policy developments in the election do not have much to do with either of the two men who are likely to be there party’s nominees. These developments may also have more bearing on 2016 than 2012. Nonetheless, at least three Republican candidates, Ron Paul, Rick Perry and Herman Cain have made statements, or taken positions on foreign policy that could prove important harbingers of the future of the foreign policy debate in the U.S.
The Democratic Party finds itself in a different situation as the sitting Democratic president is running unopposed for the nomination and already has a sufficiently enormous lead in fundraising and organization that any primary challenger who would emerge at this point would be badly defeated. The Occupy Wall Street movement is wisely not even talking about running somebody against President Obama in the Democratic Party, but this would be about the best thing that could happen to the Obama campaign. If such a candidate were to emerge, Obama could move to the center now, run up a string of impressive primary victories and use his ample resources to marginalize the Occupy Wall Street, largely through attacking the credentials and credibility of whichever flawed candidate was supported by the Occupy Wall Street. This would put him in a strong position for November especially as once he secured his nomination Obama would then be able to use his resources to again court the activist wing of the party. Additionally, running somebody against Obama would, in of itself, erode much of the Occupy Wall Street movement's support because many liberals would see the movement as seeking to destroy President Obama and behaving counter-productively.
“Trying to have it both ways, while running up massive debt” may not be the successful slogan for the Republican Party, but it would be accurate. The Republican refusal to see the obvious contradiction between preaching the need to balance the budget while advocating for policies that would increase the debt is neatly captured in Mitt Romney’s recent foreign policy speech.
One of the most intriguing questions surrounding the word painted on a rock in Texas Governor Rick Perry's hunting camp is not whether or not the rock was painted over, or even whether or not the governor is a racist, but why the tone of so much of the media coverage of this story is one of such great, perhaps even genuine, surprise. Is anybody really shocked that a right wing governor who has never sought or received African American support, almost never sincerely said or done anything to suggest that racial equality is important to him and who has closely aligned himself with a movement whose members have frequently crossed over into overt racism, has a disturbingly high comfort level with racist words?
The approaching collapse of Rick Perry's candidacy is not, in and of itself, particularly surprising, but the speed and lack of drama with which it occurred is striking. Perry, of course, is still in the race; and may recover his footing and grow to be a strong candidate, and even win his party's nomination, but that is looking increasingly unlikely. Perry was not undone by some unexpected revelation about his past or major political scandal, instead it is occurring simply because of his inability to make the transition to the national stage, unimpressive debate style and a defeat at the hands of Herman Cain in a minor non-binding straw poll that are contributing to his likely demise.
Rick Perry's emergence as a national figure is a reminder that nothing is ever static and that politics can always get more extreme. Bush had roots in the newer, more Southern and conservative wing of the Republican Party, but due to his family name and degrees from elite academic institutions, still had ties to an older and more moderate Republican Party. Perry, however, is a far more authentic product of the right wing of his party. Although, Bush is only four years older than Perry, in some ways they seem to have come from different generations.
Despite President Obama's latest poll numbers showing that his approval rating lags behind his disapproval rating by a roughly seven points, the numbers are not all bad for Obama. A more significant indicator, at this time, is that the President has raised more money than all of his opponents combined. Similarly, all of the Republican candidates lag far behind where both candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were at a similar time in 2007.
Rick Perry has shaken up the Republican presidential primary because he seems to be taking the mantle of Tea Party favorite and far right darling away from Michele Bachmann. Before Perry joined the race, Bachmann seemed to be the most likely to be the last Tea Party candidate standing against Mitt Romney. Now Perry is more likely to be in that position. On the issues, Perry is not more moderate than Bachmann. Both are fundamentalist extremists with radical anti-government views who have evinced little understanding of a modern state or economy and demonstrated little interest in or knowledge of foreign affairs other than their belief in a strong America. Perry seems to have eclipsed Bachmann's popularity because he is less prone to gaffes than Bachmann, is slightly better at keeping his mouth shut sometimes and is enjoying something of a bump in the polls because he is the new candidate about whom voters may not yet know very much.