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Unpeeling the Republican onion

Like it or not, the Presidential election campaign is upon us. It is quite amazing that the process of electing a President is now a two-year ordeal – fully half of a four-year Presidential term. As the trite saying goes, “it is what it is” so we all best get ready.

The able staff of the Stennis Institute has prepared the electoral maps of the three most recent Presidential elections. The process of comparing votes for Congressional seats with Presidential electoral votes is well underway. The same can be said of the search for comparable elections in the history books. The 1948 election of then much-maligned President Harry Truman comes immediately to mind. Also, the jockeying for position by states on dates for Presidential primary elections has begun. Those dates, which are now less than 100 days away, seem to be creeping toward us.

Exhaustive searches of websites dedicated to news and political commentary covering every inch of the political spectrum from the far right to the far left show that the GOP is rapidly approximating the perhaps overused metaphor of the “circular firing squad.” Although many of the shots are aimed at Democratic incumbent President Barack Obama, they often zoom past the ear of a fellow Republican. By the same token, Democrats from various locations are not beyond lobbing a few grenades into their own circle.

All of the red and blue maps in the world depicting past and predicting future electoral votes are of little use without enabling a guess as to who will oppose President Obama in the 2012 elections. The website RealClear Politics does as well as anyone in tracking the myriad of polls and charting them using a colored line unique to each respective Republican candidate. Right now this chart looks like the confetti shot from one of those New Year’s Eve party novelties.

There is, of course, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. He has swapped the lead back and forth with Texas Gov. Rick Perry, with both of them hanging in the low to mid 20 percent range. Old timers — I being one — will recognize Romney’s campaign style as being startlingly, though predictably, similar to that of his late father George Romney. The father, like his son, was always viewed as a highly capable, but perhaps too detached, patrician sort of candidate to appeal to the masses.

Also, with Mitt Romney paradoxes abound. For example, Republicans have clearly laid claim to the 11 Southern states as home territory for their “base.” These states are the same states that have been labeled “the Bible Belt” for their staunch embodiment of evangelical Protestant beliefs. One of these beliefs is that Romney’s religious affiliation, Mormonism, is in fact a cult, and that it cannot share in their Christian heritage. On the other hand, when white Protestant Southerners contemplate a contest between the Democratic, African-American incumbent whose middle name is Hussein, their objection appears to soften. Then there is the ongoing dilemma of “Romney Care,” the Massachusetts healthcare plan passed with Romney’s full support. It is an interesting paradox indeed to watch as Romney takes credit for the ground-breaking success of this plan that was allegedly used as the model for the Obama healthcare plan while vowing to derail the Obama coverage for the rest of the country.

Then there is Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who entered the race like a “scud missile” across Romney’s bow. Perry is now quickly discovering the impact of debate “play-by-play” video on 24-hour news television, and that his pragmatic approach to the Hispanic immigration issue, just like that of his predecessor George W. Bush, is unwelcomed by the hard right. The “scrutiny hounds” are on his trail.

And then comes former Godfather’s Pizza executive Herman Cain. Cain may have the staying power to be this year’s Huckaby. However, his comment that African-American Democrats are brainwashed, coupled with his expressed fear that the country is on the brink of incorporating Islamic Sharia law, has been his ticket into the scrutiny arena.

The darling of the idealistic college crowd appears to be Ron Paul. While the GOP conservatives share Paul’s libertarian disdain for government of any type, his anti-war isolationist views fall flat in the party nominating machinery.

The late great TEA Party queen Michele Bachman has seen her once-promising candidacy sink back into the pack. Likewise, former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Senator Rick Santorum have yet to gain any traction at all. John Huntsman chose to run a moderate, general election-type of campaign that is decidedly out of tune in the Republican nominating season.

And without the entry of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, there remain some storm clouds on the horizon for Republicans. These come in the form of potentially disruptive “Third Party” candidates. Sarah Palin has hinted at such a move, but said late last week she was not a candidate, and former Congressman and TEA Party leader Dick Armey has threatened the same if the “right” nominee is not chosen.

The “on again, off again” support of the Democratic base for President Obama and other potential threats to his re-election will be examined in a future column.

Dr. William Martin Wiseman is director of the John C. Stennis Institute of Government and professor of political science at Mississippi State University. Contact him at marty@sig.msstate.edu.


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