Friday, March 11, 2011

Republican presidential candidates for 2012

Hucabee (David Ball/Wikimedia)
In spite of the weaknesses of President Obama’s policies and his growing unpopularity, Republican challengers in 2012 may well have a tough time winning the presidency.  The likely slate of Republican challengers all have significant weaknesses that would lead to a difficult campaign. 

One of the leading Republican challengers is the man who won Georgia’s Republican delegates in 2008.  Mike Huckabee is a former governor of Arkansas and current television host on Fox News.  Huckabee is also a former pastor and author of several books, including the recently released A Simple Christmas.  Huckabee is a solid conservative, in spite of being denounced by several other candidates and talk show hosts as a “populist” and liberal.  Huckabee is a charismatic campaigner who stole the show at the 2008 Republican debates.  Huckabee is a supporter of the Fair Tax.

Huckabee’s chief weakness as a candidate is his record of pardons as Arkansas Governor.  Critics have pointed to the number of Huckabee pardons, the suspicion that many of them were issued based on jailhouse conversions, and the fact that several of the people to whom he gave clemency returned to a life of crime.  The most infamous of these was Maurice Clemmons, a juvenile prisoner in Arkansas, who moved to Washington State and murdered four police officers after being granted clemency by Huckabee.

Mitt Romney (Wikimedia/Steve Jurvetson)
Huckabee also made headlines recently on two occasions.  In one instance, he commented on the Michael Medved Show that Natalie Portman’s out-of-wedlock pregnancy sent a “problematic message” to young Americans.  In the second, he misspoke about Obama’s childhood and said that the president grew up in Kenya. Huckabee is currently the host of a talk show on Fox News.

A second Republican favorite was also a star of the 2008 GOP primaries.  Mitt Romney is a former governor of Massachusetts, but a native of Detroit.  Romney had a successful private sector career as a business management consultant and executive.  Notably, he was largely responsible for the success of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.  He was elected Massachusetts Governor in 2002.

Like Huckabee, Romney also has some less than desirable attributes to overcome.  The largest skeleton in Romney’s closet is Romneycare. The Massachusetts state health plan, which is widely described as a prototype of Obamacare, is increasingly unworkable and expensive, just like the federal version of universal health care.  Romneycare has many of the same features that conservatives find so unappealing in Obama’s reform law, including a mandate that everyone buy health insurance. 

Romney has other problems as well.  In his past political career he has held positions on social issues, such as abortion and gay rights, that many Republican voters would find objectionable.  His socially moderate (or liberal) positions may have helped him in Massachusetts, but hurt him nationally.  Additionally, Romney’s Mormon faith is controversial for some.

The third of the top three Republican figures in 2012 election speculation is Sarah Palin.  Palin, the former governor of Alaska, burst onto the national political scene in 2008 as John McCain’s running mate.  The “Mama Grizzly” was widely popular among conservatives, but was widely unpopular among the country at large.  Although more experienced than Barack Obama (and in the supporting role on the ticket instead of the lead), she was widely portrayed as a political neophyte.  Saturday Night Live skits mocking her (“I can see Russia from my house”) and she became a laughingstock in the media.

Sarah Palin (Wikimedia/Therealbs2002)
Palin went a long way toward redeeming herself in the 2010 elections.  Even though she was not a candidate, she played the role of Tea Party kingmaker in several races (but endorsed several losing candidates as well, notably in Delaware and Nevada).  She has also authored a book and hosted a cable television reality show.  Recently, Sarah Palin was voted the second most admired woman in the US (right behind Hillary Clinton).  She remains a favorite target of the left as her recent spat with comedienne Kathy Griffin shows.

Palin has two serious problems.  The first is that, although she was a popular governor of Alaska, she faced a number of charges of ethics violations.  Ultimately, she was cleared of all wrongdoing (although only after the 2008 election).  The deluge of ethics complaints was a factor in her decision to resign her position as Governor of Alaska.  Her resignation lends credence to charges of inexperience and doubts about whether she is tough enough to be president. 

More troubling is Palin’s abysmal approval rating.  The leftist hatchet job on this successful conservative woman may have done permanent damage.  Her unfavorable ratings are very high, even among Republicans.   In a March 2011 Quinnipiac poll, Palin was the lowest ranked Republican and scored just above Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi.  This means that Palin would be starting with a significant disadvantage in a campaign.

Two Georgians are also likely contenders in the race.  Newt Gingrich, former Clinton-era speaker of the House of Representatives and architect of the “Contract with America,” hinted strongly that he is considering a presidential run.  Since he left congress, Gingrich has served on several national security and health care commissions.  He has authored many fiction and nonfiction books.  Gingrich has set up foundations for health care reform, restoring America’s Judeo-Christian heritage, and for seeking bipartisan solutions.

A Gingrich candidacy would face problems as well.  Gingrich has a long history of personal and marital problems, including divorces and affairs.  Like Sarah Palin, he has a high negative rating and was unpopular when he left office after a showdown with Bill Clinton that led to a government shutdown.  Nevertheless his leadership of the House helped to balance the budget and generate surpluses in the 1990s, a development that President Clinton took credit for.

Herman Cain (Wikimedia/Gage Skidmore)
The second Georgian is the only one so far who has formally declared his candidacy.  Herman Cain has vast experience in the corporate world.  He was an executive at the Coca-Cola Company, Pillsbury, Burger King, and as CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, a company that he rescued from bankruptcy.  He also led the National Restaurant Association and was chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.  Today he is host of the Herman Cain Show on Atlanta’s WSB AM-750, where he often is also a frequent guest host for Neal Boortz.  Cain was emcee at 2010’s Douglas County Tea Party in west Georgia.

Cain’s biggest negative is his lack of name recognition.  He does not show up at all in many polls, but is starting to gain traction after winning a Tea Party straw poll in Phoenix in February.  He has never won a campaign.  He was defeated in a 2004 bid for Georgia’s GOP senate nomination.  Finally, even though he has extensive leadership and financial experience, he lacks the foreign policy experience needed in today’s world.

Donald Trump has also hinted at a possible candidacy.  The real estate tycoon and reality television star recently spoke at CPAC and told crowds that he might enter the race.  Trump has considered running before in 1988 and 2000.  He is well known, but it is questionable whether votes would seriously consider him as a candidate.

There are several other potential Republican candidates who suffer from lack of name recognition.  New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is engineering a turnaround of the Garden State, but, like many other potential candidates, is virtually unknown to most of the rest of the country.  Tim Pawlenty, the governor of Minnesota, has a conservative record and cool nickname (“T-Paw”).  Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour’s campaign may have ended before it started with an unfortunate remark about segregation.  Mitch Daniels, the two-term governor of Indiana, is also rumored to be considering a run for president.  He is also relatively unknown outside his state, but recently angered conservatives by proposing a truce on social issues, even as the left-wing assault on marriage continues.  Jon Huntsman, Jr., the current ambassador to China and former governor of Utah, is also thought to be a possible candidate.  Finally, Rick Santorum is a strong social conservative who is well known as a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania.  However, Santorum suffered a landslide loss to Democrat Bob Casey in the 2006 elections that will not be easy to overcome.

Former candidate Ron Paul rounds out the list of likely GOP candidates for 2012.   Paul is a libertarian-leaning representative from Texas and has a loyal following around the country.  He previously ran for president in 1988 and 2008, but failed to win the nomination.

In spite of his dedicated following, Paul has many negatives.  Most obviously, Ron Paul is a year older than John McCain.  In 2012, he will be five years older than McCain was when he ran against Barack Obama in 2008.  As a libertarian, Paul also has taken a number of positions that most Republicans do not agree with.  He opposed the Iraq War and is somewhat of an isolationist.  Likewise, Paul’s call to end the Federal Reserve will probably sound a little too extreme for most voters.  In 2008, he failed to win a single state and never got more than 25% of the vote.

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