The Kaleidoscopic GOP Primary, Part Deux


The Republican presidential primary is only getting more interesting every day. That is, it is even more kaleidoscopic than I have previously noted.

Mitt Romney, who has been kicked around pretty hard for Romneycare, flip-flopping on abortion, and, now, his views on global climate change or warming, won a head-to-head poll against President Obama among registered voters. He also seems to be raising beaucoup campaign cash. He is sticking to his game plan, e.g., avoiding a losing situation in Iowa, maintaining his equipoise, and definitely looking like a long-distance runner. He played it safe in the New Hampshire debate with a view toward not undercutting his strength rather than overreaching.

Tim Pawlenty has had an interesting ride, too. His unveiling of an ambitious tax-cutting plan generated reactions from supply-siders (Larry Kudlow, the Wall Street Journal editorial board) that can be fairly described as euphoric. To be fair, the Minnesota governor is also talking tough on spending cuts as are the supply-siders of which I consider myself one.

However, I was, in turn, impressed, then amazed, by Pawlenty’s preemptive strike on Romney, just before the New Hampshire GOP primary debate, when he characterized the nexus between Obamacare and the Massachusetts version as “Obamneycare,” and then running away from it in the St. Anselm’s debate.

There are several rules of political polemics which were violated here. First, do not slap the king unless you intend to kill him. Second, a corollary, when you attack, attack in force and press it to the death. This is the military principle of concentration (mass, maneuver and surprise).

I understand that all the candidates, including Governor Pawlenty, wanted to make nice in the early public debate in New Hampshire, but the Pawlenty campaign has totally undercut what I assume was to be a major line of attack on Governor Romney. One cannot be both tentative and negative in a political campaign.

If Pawlenty was not prepared to engage in this line of debate, he should have held his fire until he was ready. Now he looks indecisive and equivocal.

I had originally viewed him as having a slight advantage over Romney given his excellent record in Minnesota, his ties to the social wing of the party, and his lack of political baggage relative to Romney. But you do have to show up to play the game and play it well. This brings us to Rep. Michele Bachmann, Pawlenty’s number 1 Excedrin headache and the primary reason why his week has been mixed at best.

One has to assume that having a Congresswoman from Minnesota with excellent Tea Party and social conservative credentials, a native of Iowa, enter the race, is a major blow to the Pawlenty campaign which is banking on winning Iowa to slingshot their candidate forward. Thus, Bachmann’s participation in the New Hampshire debate and the announcement of her candidacy for president, represents an existential threat to the Pawlenty campaign which can only be diminished by her participation in the Iowa caucuses.

Watching Bachmann on the debate stage with all those guys, all white but one, in dark suits and understated ties (Boring!), I recalled the effect the former Democratic Governor of Michigan, Jennifer Granholm used to have when she was bracketed by the same monochromatic maleness. Both Bachmann and Granholm are attractive (can I say that?) and articulate women. Who wants to listen to what the guys have to say?

Bachmann seems to have performed very well in the debate according to most observers who seem to be surprised given some of her earlier goofs. She appears ready to play ball.

There is still a lot of clutter in this field. Newt has not yet come to grips with the fact that he is a dead man walking. Rick Santorum, an authentic and battle-tested hero to the Right-to-Life movement, has not provided a credible scenario for winning the GOP primary. Herman Cain brings energy and passion to the podium, but he and Sarah Palin have much to learn about the full panoply of national and international issues. Jon Huntsman, like Mitt Romney, looks like a presidential candidate from central casting, has the money and is a bit heterodox on the issues. However, my read is that he is basically setting himself up for a serious run in 2016, positioning himself in case both Romney and Pawlenty crater.

And then there is the inimitable Ron Paul, who is always stimulating but unlikely to move beyond his energetic libertarian base.

Conservatives are waiting, not for Godot, but for Texas Governor Rick Perry.

Theodore Roosevelt’s political kaleidoscope continues to turn round and round as the Pachyderms choose their candidate to challenge an incumbent President weighted down by an anemic economy, lagging job growth, a weakening housing market and an erratic stock market.

The GOP primary is well worth the fight.


About Author

G. Tracy Mehan, III, is a former Assistant Administrator for Water at the U.S. EPA, in the Bush administration. He is a consultant in Arlington, Virginia, and an adjunct professor of law at George Mason University School of Law.