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Change from the change you can believe in

An overview of the 2012 Republican Presidential candidates

The 2012 Republican presidential race started, for all intents and purposes, on November 5, 2008, the day after Barack Obama was elected. Since then, a lot of partisan bickering, speculation and rumor-mongering, and nearly three years later, we have what looks to be the final Republican field before primary season begins. The field isn’t demographically diverse: only Michelle Bachmann and Herman Cain break the trend of white males. But the diverse backgrounds, ideas and viewpoints among the candidates leave something for just about everyone; everyone, that is, who doesn’t plan on voting for President Obama. My overview of the candidates, after the break.

The Pretenders

Jon Huntsman

  • Strengths: As the former ambassador to China (under the Obama adminstration, in fact) Huntsman has excellent ties to China, which could create or enhance a mutually beneficial partnership between the two superpowers. Huntsman has more moderate viewpoints on science and religion and is accepted by the left wing as a “reasonable” Republican.
  • Weaknesses: Being tied to the Obama administration is like poison, and his ideas on the economy aren’t specific enough to appeal to Republican voters, relative to his competitors.
  • Electability: Independents who are disillusioned with Obama’s economy plan but happy with his foreign policy may look at Huntsman as the best of both worlds. Unfortunately, the conservative base won’t vote for Huntsman over anyone but Obama himself.
  • Verdict: Huntsman has some interesting ideas, but all in all would make a better national security or foreign policy adviser rather than a President.

Newt Gingrich

  • Strengths: Newt has plenty of experience working in Washington in a variety of climates, from economic recessions to economic booms. He debates extremely well and has the advantage of having worked directly with Ronald Reagan the Reagan administration. He has solid ideas on the economy and very conservative views on national security, especially our alliance with Israel. He calls himself a “problem solver” and “idea man”, and both concepts are appealing to Americans who have watched the Obama administration and the incumbent Congress run out of ideas on even basic issues.
  • Weaknesses: The American public is sick of career politicians, and no one fits that bill better than Newt Gingrich. Although he’s likable enough, he just doesn’t have the outsider image that Americans are looking for.
  • Electability: Conservatives support Newt Gingrich, but I don’t think he gets any of the independents, who would view him as more of the same.
  • Verdict: While he provides a lot of excellent ideas and veteran leadership, I don’t think he’ll be able to energize the base or independents to support him. However, all of the qualities that make him an unappealing presidential candidate (and it’s really just the one) make him an excellent running mate candidate. With that in mind, I will predict, today on October 23, 2011, that Newt Gingrich will end up being the running mate of whoever wins the Republican nomination.

Rick Santorum

  • Strengths: Rick Santorum is probably the staunchest conservative in the field, and his main selling points are social issues like abortion, gay marriage, and the decay of the American family. He also is strong on foreign policy, where he adopts a very realist point of view about Iran, China and Israel. He’s also strong in debates, although he doesn’t get a lot of time to speak and he ends up sparring with the other candidates so he can get more time.
  • Weaknesses: This election is going to be a referendum on the economy, and apart from his past record, Santorum isn’t really strong on economic issues, and he hasn’t come up with a big plan like his rivals have.
  • Electability: Santorum is certainly conservative enough, and probably too conservative for most independents who might feel that some of his views border on intolerant.
  • Verdict: Rick Santorum has some good ideas, but most of them are too far right for most Americans, and while he can win a conservative Congressional district, I don’t think he’s mainstream enough to be President.

Michelle Bachmann

  • Strengths: Tea Party supporters looking for their candidate need look no further, as Bachmann is the founder of the House Tea Party Caucus. She’s a better-than-expected debater, and has very conservative social, economic and foreign policy views.
  • Weaknesses: Fair or not, Bachmann will always be compared to Sarah Palin, and she has enough unfortunate soundbites to make conservatives and independents alike nervous.
  • Electability: Bachmann is sort of like a female version of Rick Santorum with less baggage, but I don’t see her escaping the “Sarah Palin 2.0” label.
  • Verdict: Michelle Bachmann needs more experience in Washington before she’ll gain the trust of the broader conservative base, and unless she sheds the Tea Party label, she’ll never get the independent vote.

Ron Paul

  • Strengths: Being a former Libertarian, Ron Paul has strong economic credentials, even if they’re a little radical. He’s strongly opposed to abortion, and certainly has the reputation of a Washington outsider.
  • Weaknesses: Most staunch conservatives don’t like Ron Paul’s stance on marijuana legalization or his liberalistic (as it relates to international relations theory) views on foreign policy. His economic ideas are sometimes construed as “radical” rather than “bold.”
  • Electability: Ron Paul certainly has a better chance of making some noise this year, but while independents and obviously Libertarians would support him, his social and foreign policy viewpoints will probably be viewed as too radical by most conservatives.
  • Verdict: The US isn’t ready for President Ron Paul yet, but whoever is nominated would do well to include Ron Paul in their strategic discussions. He’s not afraid to think outside the box, and his ideas are certainly worth considering, even if they’re a little ahead of their time.

The Contenders

Rick Perry

  • Strengths: Rick Perry has been governor of Texas since George W. Bush left office, so he has a lot of executive experience. He’s fortunate to be the governor of a prosperous state so he has job creation numbers to back him up. Texas is also a border state, giving him credibility on border security and, to a lesser extent, foreign policy.
  • Weaknesses: Debating. After surging to the top of the polls when he announced his run in August, it seems that his poll numbers have gotten worse after every debate, and he hasn’t shown a lot of signs of improvement. He sort of seems like a deer in the headlights right now, which doesn’t say much to his crisis management capability. His standpoint on providing education to illegal immigrants is also somewhat controversial and turns off some conservatives.
  • Electability: Conservatives will vote for Rick Perry, if they have to. But being a Republican governor of Texas, Perry draws comparisons to George W. Bush that will be tough to shake and may scare off independents.
  • Verdict: Rick Perry will probably be President one day, but not this election. He needs more experience and more practice debating.

Mitt Romney

  • Strengths: Mitt Romney has strong economic and foreign policy credentials, and his record suggests effective management capabilities. Rick Perry likes to bring up the comparison of jobs created in Massachusetts vs. Texas, but it’s a fact that Texas was the easier state in which to create jobs, so I don’t know that his argument holds much water.
  • Weaknesses: Mitt Romney’s state-wide healthcare plan in Massachusetts, fair or not, draws comparisons to Obamacare, something that hurts his image among conservatives who felt the health care law was forced on them. Romney is also very wealthy, something which sets him apart from the middle-class American.
  • Electability: Somehow, since 2008, Mitt Romney transformed his image from a staunch conservative to a more moderate conservative. And in 2011, I think Romney is one candidate that both independents and conservatives would support, albeit reluctantly. Is he a better option than four more years of Obama? Certainly. But he’s no one’s first choice.
  • Verdict: Like him or not, Mitt Romney is probably the best bet to be the Republican nominee for President. But he’s not my favorite. My favorite is…

Herman Cain

  • Strengths: Herman Cain is the epitome of a Washington outsider, as he has almost no previous political experience. As a former CEO, Cain has management experience and has the reputation of a problem solver (he has a Bachelor’s degree in mathematics and a Master’s degree in computer science), so his proposed solutions are efficient and effective rather than political. His “9-9-9 plan”, while it has flaws, is the first idea that has really taken hold with the American public and the other candidates are rushing to catch up with him. Cain also debates well, and appears comfortable in adversity.
  • Weaknesses: Cain doesn’t really have a filter, and so he’s said some things he probably regrets (like the Islamic Jihad and electric border fence remarks). His recent abortion comments (“It should be up to the family”) were very controversial to social conservatives. His lack of experience is also a problem for him in some cases, since one of the chief Republican complaints against Obama was his lack of experience.
  • Electability: Herman Cain is likable, relatable and seems the most relaxed right now, mostly because he has nothing to lose. His lack of experience or verbal filter might scare off some independents, but most of them should appreciate his no-nonsense approach to problem solving.
  • Verdict: I don’t think Herman Cain will actually be nominated, but if he is, he certainly stands a good chance against Barack Obama. If he’s not nominated, he could certainly serve in an advisory role in whatever administration takes office in 2013.

So there you have it: my vote in the South Carolina primary will go towards Herman Cain. It’ll certainly be an interesting primary season and election season, leading up to the most important Presidential election in at least four years. I feel very blessed and fortunate to live in a country where, if we’re unhappy with the leadership, we have the right to peacefully do something about it, and I look forward to exercising that right in the coming months.

Originally posted on Cleveland, Curveballs and Common Sense on October 24, 2011 at 9:00 AM. Post text content © 2011 Jimmy Sawczuk. All rights reserved.