With just thirteen months to go before the 2012 presidential elections, Republicans are more confident than ever that they will defeat President Barack Obama, their number one priority for America. But the more scrutiny their field of candidates receives, the more people are asking, "Is this the best they can do?"
Texas Governor Rick Perry, who has surged into the lead among declared Republican candidates, according to polls, walks with swagger and speaks with a "straight talkin'" twang. The self-proclaimed "jobs creator" has presided over the state for the past decade during which the Texas economy has prospered.
Governor Perry repeatedly points out that Texas has added more jobs in the past two years than the rest of the country combined. While that may be true, it is also true that the unemployment rate in Texas just rose to 8.5 percent, the highest it has been in twenty-five years. When the governor first took office in December 2000, the state unemployment rate was 4.2 percent, the lowest rate since he began serving as governor. Moreover, Texas currently has a higher unemployment rate than any of its adjacent states.
Governor Perry rails against President Obama's Recovery Act of 2009, aka the "Stimulus" package. But the governor used billions of stimulus dollars to balance his 2010 state budget. Texas has already received more than $11 billion of the $16.7 billion in stimulus money it has been awarded under the program. Further, the governor claims that stimulus spending added no new jobs nationwide. In a recent debate he said, "(Obama) had $800 billion worth of stimulus in the first round of stimulus. It created zero jobs." Yet government and independent reports show that between 1.3 million and 3.6 million jobs were added or saved because of the measure.
Governor Perry has stubbornly stuck to his "Social Security is a Ponzi scheme" attack in campaign appearances and debates. His position has now become a major issue in the Republican primary. And it is flying in the face of even Republican voters who overwhelming support the program. It has also energized the campaign of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who wants to keep the current program with some fixes.
Governor Perry has come under fire for his 2007 executive order mandating that sixth-graders be vaccinated against cervical cancer with the Gardasil vaccine, which is manufactured by the drug maker Merck. "I will tell you that I made a mistake by not going to the Legislature first," he now says about the decision. Was this a classic "pay-to-play" scheme?
Gardasil received FDA approval a year before his executive order. But the governor's former chief of staff and close friend, Mike Toomey, was a lobbyist for Merck. Merck has given Perry's campaign $28,500 in donations and the GOP Governor's Conference another $377,500 when Governor Perry chaired the organization. The Texas Legislature later overturned the executive order.
While former Governor Romney is a far better candidate than he was when he ran for president four years ago, he has not been able to excite the Republican base. And it is no wonder. Governor Romney has changed his position on many important issues in order to win more support. This has raised great suspicion among conservatives.
When campaigning for governor in 2002, his position on abortion was that he would "preserve and protect" a woman's right to choose. Now he describes himself as an abortion opponent. In 1994 he said he was in favor of strong gun control policies, but in 2006 he joined the National Rifle Associate and said he supports the right to bear arms.
In 2008, Governor Romney wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times entitled, "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt." In it he argued against a government bailout because it would fail, You can kiss your money goodbye. Yet when the program righted the industry, a Romney spokesman claimed, "Mitt Romney had the idea first. You have to acknowledge that. He was advocating for a course of action that eventually the Obama administration adopted."
But of greatest concern to the Romney campaign was his passage of a universal health care law in his state. President Obama modeled his health care legislation after the Massachusetts plan, or "Romney Care." Republican presidential candidates have attacked Governor Romney hard on the issue, most notably Governor Rick Perry. "I think Mitt is finally recognizing that the Massachusetts healthcare plan he passed is a huge problem for him," Perry recently said.
With the Republican field in turmoil, it would seem that President Obama, who is seeking a second term in office, should be in a good place. But that is not the case. A recent New York Times/CBS News poll shows that the nation's high unemployment rate, 9.2 percent, and a struggling economy are taking its toll. The poll found only a 43 percent approval rating for the president, and a weakening of support among his base. Only a third of those polled approve of his handling of the U.S. economy and more than half disapprove. While a majority supports the president's latest jobs proposal, almost 60 percent of those surveyed believe that unemployment will remain high for the next two years.
Most Americans like the president, understand he inherited a bad economy and recognize it will be hard to turn things around, especially given the country's structural problems and a sagging global economy. But they want action now. And most Americans are tired of all the petty bickering between Congressional Republicans and Democrats. No wonder the poll shows a historically low approval rating for Congress.
The president has recently become more aggressive in his campaign appearances, calling on Congress to quickly pass his jobs bill. But the GOP Congressional leadership, while not totally dismissive, is going to continue to drag their feet. Since, according to the Constitution, all tax and revenue bills must originate in the House of Representatives, which is controlled by Republicans, it is unlikely the president will see much of his proposal pass.
So the president will be left with having to forcefully run against a "do-nothing" Congress, and with convincing a majority of voters he is the best person to fix the economy. Otherwise, on election day frustrated voters may be willing to vote for a change just to try something different, hoping a new president will get America back on track.