With a little more than a year to go before the 2012 presidential election, things are really heating up in the Republican Party. After a rather indecisive start, some GOP candidates are clearly emerging as frontrunners, while others have fallen too far behind to make up the difference (in fact, Tim Pawlenty has dropped out altogether). Meanwhile, President Obama has kicked his 2012 campaign into gear, advertising extensively online, and making speeches around the country.
So who are the major competitors in this race? I can hardly claim to be a political expert, but the following is a rough primer on who I think will be the big players in the 2012 election, and a brief description of each’s views and opinions.
44th President of the United States, and the Democratic incumbent in the 2012 campaign. Obama has been raising a pretty substantial amount of cash for the race, and hopes to get up to a record-breaking $1 billion for the whole campaign, up from his $779 million last time around. But despite this, Obama may not stand all that great of a chance of winning. The most recent polling data from Gallup shows the president’s approval rating dropping down below 40% for the first time in his term. If that indicates anything about his success in the coming election, things aren’t looking great for him.
Obama seems to be on the losing side here for two reasons. First, economics. Plain and simple. History has shown that the American people directly associate the success of a given president with the current state of the economy. And as the US goes into what may be a double-dip recession, more and more people seem to be blaming the President for what’s happened to their job, their house, and their bank accounts.
Second, Obama’s record in the Oval Office has shown little sweeping change, and his accomplishments are somewhat spotty. His health care plan is faltering in state courts, Guantanamo Bay is still up and running, and we’re still in Afghanistan. Don’t get me wrong, he has made progress; taking out Osama bin Laden and pulling the country out of Iraq (to a large degree at least), just to name a few. But compared to such Democratic titans of change as FDR or Lyndon B. Johnson, Barack Obama doesn’t have much to show for his years in office so far.
Republican House member, representing Minnesota’s 6th congressional district. Bachmann is a devoted part of the Tea Party movement, and was part of recent strong opposition to the raising of the federal debt ceiling (she, like many others, doesn’t seem to realize that the debt ceiling is raised so the US can pay off debts that it has already incurred). She is also a stalwart conservative, both fiscally and socially, and has a strong appeal to the Far Right and large numbers of evangelical Christians.
Bachmann’s popularity and presence has been growing over the past weeks and months, and she resonates strongly with America’s substantial ranks of conservative Christian voters. She has also had two recent victories in Iowa: Coming in first at the Ames Straw Poll, and soundly defeating fellow Minnesotan Tim Pawlenty in heated debate at a Republican debate in the state. Pawlenty has since dropped out of the race for the GOP primary.
But early success in straw polls and interparty debate doesn’t guarantee a good president, let alone a viable candidate in the general election against Barack Obama. Bachmann is similar to Sarah Palin in that she is loved by a specific demographic group (Far Right voters and evangelicals) and widely loathed by most others. Her extreme views and ideas simply don’t resonate with most people outside of her sphere of “Values Voter,” Tea Party influence. On top of that, she has shown little in the way of true leadership skills, and seems to be choosing to lead by protest, rather than by ideas.
What do I mean by that? Bachmann is loudest when objecting to others’ ideas (namely, Barack Obama’s), not when suggesting different ideas that might work better. She is, in a word, confrontational, which is a quality that only helps someone opposing those in power, not someone in that position themselves. But then again, in this age of polarized, partisan politics, she may still have a decent shot at the presidency.
(Also, if she wins, I’m moving to France.)
Current and long-time governor of Texas. Rick Perry only joined the primary race this past Saturday, the 13th of August, after a few months of deliberating. (He said he would “definitely not” be running last December) Perry is something of an archetypal GOP candidate, being fiscally and socially conservative (and Christian). He has a long and, some would say, decorated history as governor of Texas, and claims responsibility for Texas’ relative success in creating new jobs during the recession.
Even though he joined the race mere days ago, many political junkies believe that Perry stands a high chance of being the frontrunner’s (Mitt Romney’s) main competitor. During his term as governor, Texas created a much larger number of jobs than any other state in the country, and the numbers there were substantially above the national average. Now, this of course does not mean that Perry was directly responsible for these great numbers, and many would argue that the jobs created were the kind few people would be ecstatic about holding. But still, it looks good.
So Rick Perry seems to have a great economic track record, especially concerning jobs, which are Americans’ biggest concerns at present. On top of that, Perry can talk the conservative talk, frequently promising to hack big government down to a minuscule size if elected. Add to that his conservative Christianity, prayer rallies, and gubernatorial experience (real leadership experience, unlike Bachmann), and Rick Perry seems to have a pretty straight shot at the Republican nomination.
Any drawbacks? Being from Texas. While Rick Perry largely resonates with conservatives, his geographical ties to a recent and rather unpopular president may hamstring him. Though of course a candidate’s strengths and abilities don’t necessarily come from or are hampered by his place of origin, the words “Texan” and “President” still don’t sit together comfortably in the minds of many, particularly the more independent voters who still resent the last Texan to sit in the Oval Office (but who doesn’t?).
Businessman and former governor of Massachusetts. Mitt Romney ran in the 2008 GOP primary, and came pretty close to the nomination, though he ultimately lost to John McCain. Romney is currently the decided frontrunner in the GOP race, leading in the polls and the pocket money (so to speak).
Romney has the benefit of name recognition from the 2008 race, as well as a pretty strong conservative history. He’s not as hard-lining as Perry or Bachmann, so he stands a better shot at winning over independents. Romney has a history of corporate leadership, and can claim to have experience leading a financial structure efficiently, which many people feel is exactly what this country needs (of course, part of that efficient leadership in Romney’s corporate life came from extensive job-cutting, but hey).
Romney does face the drawback of his history. During his time as governor, Romney brought nearly-universal health care to his state of Massachusetts. Since that decision, Romney has taken a lot of flak from his conservative competitors about his “Romneycare,” which they claim puts him on equal footing with the much-disdained president. On top of that, Romney has become more conservative over the past years, which leaves him without the long history of conservatism that candidates like Perry and Bachmann can claim.
So Who’s the Next President?
I wish I knew! I’d like to say that I’m confident that President Obama will be reelected in 2012, but things are still up in the air. Obama hasn’t been the dealmaking, aisle-reaching president he ran as, but I do think he could still get some great things done in a second term in office. The GOP primary is still quite undecided, and the general election hasn’t even begun, so we’ll have to see how the situation continues to change. Come back later for another update on the race!