Despite its Congressional victories in the 2010-midterm elections six months ago, the Republican Party finds itself steeped in chaos. But it is far too early to declare Democrats winners in 2012.
For sure, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty's entry into the Republican presidential sweepstakes will do little to garner interest in their field at this stage of the contest. Pawlenty is the polenta on a GOP candidate menu that so far is uninspiring and bland. The Republican nomination has failed to attract the better-known candidates, such as former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour and Donald Trump. And over the weekend Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels said he would not run, which disappointed many in the party leadership.
All of this has caused great angst among the Republican Party hierarchy, in part because it opens the door for Representative and Tea-Party favorite Michele Bachmann. The feisty and diminutive former tax attorney was born in Waterloo, Iowa, and now represents Minnesota's 6th Congressional district. She is against taxes, government bailouts, President Obama's health care law and even incandescent light bulbs.
Bachmann is a fiery speaker who has a fiercely loyal following, even though she is gaff prone. For instance, she said the Revolutionary War began in Concorde, New Hampshire, rather than Lexington and Concorde, Massachusetts. But Rep. Bachmann enjoys strong support among Christians and she would have home-court advantage in the Iowa Caucuses. That would mean former Governors Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman would be slowed out of the gate.
While whacky Newt Gingrich appears to have self-destructed, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin could also decide to run for president; although it appears she likes making a ton of money speaking. Nonetheless, influential Republicans are so concerned that they keep raising the names of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie or former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, though they both have repeatedly declined the invitation.
Even though Republicans now control the House of Representatives, they are deeply divided between their more moderate elements and the Tea Party wing. This has made life most uncomfortable for their lachrymose leader, Speaker John Boehner. Many Tea Party members have said they will vote against raising the country's debt limit even though such a move would have cataclysmic consequences globally and on every American.
These extreme conservatives are also holding the Speaker's feet to the fire on budget compromises with the White House. And, with Congressional Republicans marching in lockstep behind Representative Paul Ryan's radical budget plan that would change the way Medicare and Medicaid work, they have given President Obama a strong campaign issue. House Republican members have now been feeling the heat from their constituents, and none of the declared GOP presidential candidates has fully embraced the Ryan plan. In fact, candidate Gingrich called it "right-wing social engineering," before he tried to back off the comment.
But today's political atmosphere is super charged, the rhetoric is polarized and there is an enormous level of distrust. Given the fact that today's news cycle is down to 142 bytes, one ambiguity, one perceived mistake or one major news event can turn the election on its head and be exploited for short-term gains.
So when the president says, "The border of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed to swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states," it's like a stink bomb went off. Never mind that this has been the talked about solution for decades, and President George Bush said something similar four years ago. Republican candidates heaped criticism on the president, most forgetting to mention the phrase "mutually agreed to swaps," in an effort to undermine his strong support from the Jewish community (i.e. Florida).
Yet just three weeks ago President Barack Obama was being heralded nationally for his daring and "gutsy decision" to green light a covert operation that killed Osama bin Laden. With one bold act the president countered criticisms that he lacked leadership and national security credentials. Wait, not so fast! The afterlife for success is a nano second, and a large percentage of Republicans still think President Obama is a Muslim.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are on track to wind down as per schedule, and U.S. military involvement in Libya is limited. Yes there is some encouraging economic news and the government bailout of the auto companies has helped to right the industry. But unemployment seems stuck at 9 percent while gas prices remain high. Home foreclosures continue at a record pace and huge federal deficits threaten to unleash inflation on all Americans.
Nonetheless, one would think that President Obama would glide to victory in 18 months. But between now and November 2012 Republicans will continue to aggressively attack President Barack Obama. And if the economy falters and unemployment remains high, the GOP will win in 2012 with Romney or Huntsman or Pawlenty. Then there will be plenty of polenta to go around!
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