The Democratic Party held its first debate of the “2008 primary season” in April of 2007. It doesn’t look like the GOP will start the 2012 primary season quite as early. In fact, as of this writing, no one has officially launched a campaign for the White House. Regardless of when the primaries start, the Republican field will be big, probably bigger than the eight Democrats who initially ran in 2007-08.
There are at least two reasons for this; both have to do with President Barack Obama’s performance.
First, the GOP is no longer reeling, no longer the endangered species it was in January 2009, no longer flatfooted and without a playbook. For about a year, it appeared that the era of Big Government and Big Spending was not only back but here to stay. That ended in March 2010, after the healthcare bill was rammed through Congress. The growing size and reach of government seemed to thrust Americans back into civic engagement. They gave the president’s party what he called a “shellacking” eight months later and gave Republicans both a chance to prove themselves and a roadmap for making Obama a one-term president—namely, spend less of our money, tax less of our wealth, intrude less in our lives.
Second, from the oil-spill debacle, to the endless spending binge, to the insatiable yearning to push government deeper and wider into our daily lives, to the various Senate and House campaigns he has sunk, Obama has lost that aura of political invincibility and inevitability that he had in the final half of 2008 and first half of 2009.
So, who can capitalize on these political realities in 2012?
To start with, there are 29 Republican governors, many of whom think they can be president, and some of whom have strong records to make that case. Mitch Daniels of Indiana is constantly cited as a possibility in the conservative media, and his tax-restraining, smart-spending style provides quite a contrast to Obama. Likewise, Chris Christie of New Jersey is taking on unions, waste and spending in a way that terrifies the Left and cheers the Right. Both could go toe-to-toe with Obama in a debate.
Bobby Jindal of Louisiana has already gone to-to-toe with Obama, in a sense, over the administration’s handling of the oil spill. Haley Barbour of Mississippi is a proven fundraiser and has lots of favors he could cash in. Rick Perry of Texas has won three times in one of America’s most populous states.
The problem with these governors is that in a primary setting, they could cancel each other out or be canceled out by other likely candidates: Daniels’ alacrity with facts and figures, innovations and ideas, would be matched by Newt Gingrich’s. Christie’s fiscal record could be checked by Daniels, and Christie’s proven ability to win over Democrats in a Democratic state could be matched by Mitt Romney.
Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, who recently resigned from his post as ambassador to China, will likely be checkmated by his own record. Huntsman, as The Wall Street Journal reports, “has supported same-sex civil unions as well as cap-and-trade legislation,” which won’t win him many fans in the GOP primaries.
Jindal would likely be overshadowed by bigger personalities, like Barbour. Barbour’s homespun common sense will sound a lot like Mike Huckabee’s. And Perry’s populism is territory already staked out by Sarah Palin.
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