Having written almost 40 diaries on US politics in and around the time of the last US Presidential Elections, I decided to leave it to the experts to comment on US political developments since then. However despite trying to keep up to date by reading Booman and a few other US media sources, I have become increasingly puzzled by the direction of the US politics since then, and particularly by the Republican Presidential candidate nomination process. Perhaps people with more expertise than I on US politics can help me out.
Mitt Romney seems to be the candidate all conservatives Republicans love to hate, partly because of his perceived flip flopping on conservative wedge issues like abortion and public health care, but also perhaps because of his Mormonism and alleged “robotic” personality. Thus, although he is the most experienced, best funded, and best organised candidate, he has failed to achieve more than c. 25% support from the Republican faithful. The Republican establishment have overwhelmingly backed him as the only Republican candidate to regularly defeat President Obama in opinion poll match-ups. But the Republican base just can’t get to like, never mind love him
And so we have had a plethora of NOT-MITT-ROMNEY (NMR) candidates seeking to achieve a plurality of support from the remaining 75% of Republican primary voters. So long as that 75% of the vote is shared amongst a number of candidates, Mitt Romney can stay in the lead. However if any one of the rest can become the Conservative standard bearer, it seems that Romney is doomed for all his money and establishment support. But what has been extraordinary is the poor quality of the alternative candidates, so much so that each has collapsed within weeks of having soared into the lead once they become subject to increased public scrutiny.
First we had Sarah Palin (remember her?) who was the darling of the Tea Party movement and other conservatives until her thin track record, poor grasp of the issues, increasingly erratic behaviour, and dysfunctional family circumstances made her seem unsuitable as the conservative poster child. Democrats rubbed their hands in glee at the prospect of President Obama bringing his intellectual and organisational prowess to bear on her faltering campaign. However it was not to be. Palin never seemed to be able to make up her mind as to whether she was in or out, and so we had a succession of even more unlikely conservative candidates.
It may be hard to imagine a candidate even flakier than Palin, but Bachmann tried hard to fulfil that role, inheriting some of the Palin support and less of the baggage. She led with 28% of the vote in some July 2011 polls and seemed well placed to do well in the first primary in her childhood home state of Iowa. A sample of her policy positions include the following:
- Introduced Light Bulb Freedom of Choice Act
- Proposed elimination the federal minimum wage
- Declared global warming is a hoax
- Supports creationism
- Proposed closing down EPA except for some conservation duties
- Drill baby drill
- Proposed phasing out Social Security and Medicare
- Proposed nuclear strike as an option for dealing with Iran
- Supports constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage
- Opposed abortion even in cases of rape or incest”
Bachmann was however eclipsed by the entry of Texas Governor Perry into the race who was perceived by the Republican establishment as having a more heavyweight presence and persona. Perry became the new NMR candidate du jour peaking at 38% in the polls in late August. However his Texan charm did not travel well outside Texas and provided uncomfortable reminders of of a President Bush whose memory seems to have been completely wiped from Republican consciousness. He also performed dismally in a series of TV debates.
Remarkably his nemesis was a black businessman named Hermann Cain whose chief attributes appeared to be an extremely conservative pro-business agenda and a Washington outsider status. A widely viewed YouTube interview showed him to be a clueless bumbling idiot but that did not prevent him topping the polls despite growing concerns about his predatory attitudes towards women. As recently as mid-November 2011 he was still leading the polls of Republican voters – shortly before his withdrawal from the race. It is difficult to see what his appeal was to any group of voters unless you you are desperate to show that you are not racist and are so disenchanted with the political process that a complete outsider holds more appeal than any possible political alternative.
Newt Gingrich’s campaign was dead in the water as recently as last June when most of his senior campaign aides resigned in protest at what they perceived as a less than committed performance by their candidate. By December the implosion of the other leading candidates meant Newt was leading the polls and attracting a huge amount of negative attack ads from the other candidates because of his record as a Washington insider, special interest lobbyist, and serial husband.
Enter Rick Santorum, the only candidate with a word named after him and previously dismissed as a marginal homophobic, racist, creationist, family values “Christian” candidate who believes that excessive liberalism in the Roman Catholic Church contributed to the child abuse scandals. He is an avid “war on terror” supporter and sponsor of the Iran Freedom and Support Act which is aimed at achieving regime change in Iran. Plus ça change? Apparently he has all the late momentum going into the Iowa Caucuses tomorrow and could even win them.
Ron Paul is the one NMR candidate who can’t be accused of being a one month wonder. He has been slowly building support, and it is support which extends from the extreme KU KLU Klan school of racism to moderate independents who are attracted to his non-interventionist foreign policy and civil libertarianism which is some way to the left of Obama (who recently signed the draconian National Defense Authorization Act. An extreme Libertarian, he basically wants to shrink the state (and especially the welfare state) to almost nothing and leave all governance and self regulation to Capitalism and the “free” markets. His social libertarianism extends to opposing the “war on Drugs” as well as the war on terror, policies which may prevent him from ever getting the support of a plurality of Republican voters. However some polls have Ron Paul beating both Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum in Iowa which frightens the hell out of the Republican establishment who have sought to ignore him for as long as they possibly can. He doesn’t even support aid for Israel which is anathema to Democrats as well as Republicans… Whatever the outcome of the Republican primary process, he could significantly move the Overton window – to the right on economic policy, and to the left on foreign policy – especially if he were to run as an independent third party candidate. Either way, Ron Paul could yet be a critical influence on the future of US Government policy.
So what is going on?
So the two leading Republican challengers to Mitt Romney are an unreconstructed War on Terror warrior and an ultra-free Market capitalist. It is as if Afghanistan and Iraq never happened and the global financial meltdown was caused by excessive government regulation. Christian fundamentalism, creationism, climate change scepticism, barely disguised racism and opposition to same sex relationships are key qualifiers for the job. Would someone please explain this to me?