Thursday, October 27, 2011

Republican Idol

Were it not for the struggling American economy President Barack Obama would be in a commanding position in his campaign for re-election in 2012. But the current field of Republican presidential candidates is doing all they can to help President Obama win a second term.

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has pretty much been the GOP frontrunner since he announced his candidacy. But Romney has been stuck at about 23% in national polls of those who say they are Republicans. The fact is that many conservatives don't believe he is one of them because Romney has flip-flopped on several of their key issues, like abortion.

Just this week Romney sidestepped a question on whether he supported Republican Gov. John Kasich's restrictions on public sector employee bargaining in Ohio. State polls show that the restrictions are overwhelmingly unpopular among Ohioans. One day later Romney clarified his position by saying he supported the initiative "110 per cent." But both Democrats and Republicans criticized Romney for his handling of the issue.

Texas Governor Rick Perry briefly shot past Romney when he declared his candidacy, but he crashed back to earth following a series of poor debate performances. In an effort to regain momentum, Perry announced a "flat tax" that, upon careful examination, benefits the rich at the expense of the middle class. He then raised questions about the authenticity of President Obama's birth certificate, a move that has been denounced by many leading Republicans. Now the Perry campaign has suggested that he may not participate in some future Republican debates.

Businessman Herman Cain charmed the American public with his smooth and likeable style, whether on the campaign stump or in debates. He surged to the top of the polls after he announced his "9-9-9" plan as a "bold and simple" way to turn the economy around. When critics charged that his plan was regressive for low and middle income taxpayers, he then came up with the "9-0-9" plan. Some observers suggest he is making it up as he goes. Now his position on abortion has been attacked as too liberal. Meanwhile, Cain has not yet put together a serious campaign organization. Instead, he has been on a nationwide book tour.

Representative Michele Bachmann, leader of the Tea Party Caucus in the House of Representatives, started strong but quickly sank in the polls. Now a tea party group is calling for her to end her presidential quest. A tea party executive told CNN, "I think it's pretty obvious that Michele Bachmann is about Michele Bachmann."

For the most part, the other Republican candidates have languished in the polls. Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman has been too centrist. Former Speaker Newt Gingrich is too unpredictable. And former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum has consistently trailed the others.

Meanwhile, President Obama has taken to the campaign trail to sell parts of his jobs bill that failed to pass Congress intact. He got some good news on Thursday when the House passed one small portion of that bill which would repeal a 3% withholding tax on payments the government makes to contractors. The president also got some encouraging economic growth numbers for the U.S. as Europe announced a major agreement to deal with their economic crisis.

With the 2012 election one year away, it is unlikely that the nation's unemployment rate will significantly decline or that the economy will take off in the next twelve months. Despite his string of national security successes, President Obama will almost certainly be on the defensive during the fall campaign for his handling of the economy.

However, he is no doubt grateful to the Republicans for their brutal primary process. It has shown that the GOP is bereft of any good ideas to turn the economy around--other than cutting taxes for the rich and reducing entitlements. More importantly, it has exposed the enormous flaws each of the Republican candidates has, beginning with the serial flip-flopper, Mitt Romney. It is like the worst season of American Idol--call it Republican Idol.

President Barack Obama should be feeling a little better these days about his re-election chances in 2012.

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