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David Helfenbein

David Helfenbein

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Assessing the Republican Field

Posted: 04/20/11 12:08 PM ET

There are four real contestants in the Republican primary. Whether they are declared or undeclared is irrelevant. They are as follows, and in no particular order: Mitch Daniels, Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman, and Tim Pawlenty. These are the candidates who should be taken seriously. Daniels, Huntsman, and Pawlenty still have time to rise in the polls, increase name recognition, and brand themselves. Each seem to understand that in order to win the primary they have to attack the Republican base from a unique perspective: Daniels wants to move away from social issues, Huntsman seemingly wants to blend the Maverick McCain with the Teddy Roosevelt, and Pawlenty apparently wants to be the echo of Reagan (but then again, which Republican doesn't?).

Some say Daniels is trying to appeal to all Republican voters in a Lee Atwater type strategy of "the big tent." In a year of economic strife this is not such a bad idea. The problem is, however, that in order for Republicans to truly survive long-term they need to be more vocal on social issues in order to be more inclusive and not exclusive of all Americans. They must, for example, tackle issues such as LGBT. According to a recent CNN poll, a majority of Americans are now in favor of same-sex marriage, with 51 percent saying marriages between gay and lesbian couples "should be recognized as valid" and 47 percent opposed. In Utah, Huntsman supported civil unions and still maintained an extraordinarily high approval rating. So I am not so certain that avoiding social issues is the way to go.

While the candidates who appeal to the base do often win the primaries, I believe that Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann are too polarized to win. Sarah Palin is also oversaturated. Kudos to her media strategists who have kept her in the limelight for so long, but she has also had, shall we say, her time in the sun. And Bachmann, quite frankly, is like Palin on speed.

Donald Trump is a distraction for the time being. The party should like this. No one wants to be the front-runner right now -- and name recognition for Trump is paying off. No one wants to peak too early. Peaking too early is a bad thing. Romney, for one, should be the happiest of all. It takes the attention off him as the most probable front-runner of all possible candidates for the time being (at least until Trump came along). Trump likely loves all of this attention. Why not?

And all of this talk about Huntsman admiring Obama and the Clintons? Sure, it will likely hurt him with the base. But what is so wrong with respecting others in politics? Politics is so polarized and everyone has such a short attention span. After the Arizona tragedy, the D.C. politicians all sang each others praises and then only a short time later were all throwing each other under the bus again. Who cares that he wrote letters showing respect for members of the other party? Hardly a scandal.

There are a lot of thoughts in this piece. I haven't written for a few months. But the main thesis here is to watch four candidates: Daniels, Romney, Huntsman, and Pawlenty. These individuals are who I believe to be the serious candidates. Everyone else is a media show. But all of this is also what makes America great.

 

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