Politics Straight, No Chaser
A new week, a new GOP frontrunner
Published: Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Updated: Thursday, October 13, 2011 16:10
As the nation moves toward the end of President Barack Obama's first term in office and a looming presidential election in November 2012, the focus has shifted toward the Republican Party's competition for the nomination and their apparent inability to find a strong frontrunner.
For university students, most of the major party primaries in our lifetime have consisted of strong party-approved and appointed candidates moving quickly through primary season and on to the general election. The candidate has usually been chosen more by party leaders than the people, and strong pressure was placed on a candidate who tried to cross the party.
That all changed in 2008, when now-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Obama engaged in a long primary battle for the Democratic nomination. That contest redefined the nature of primary season. In the past, states like Iowa and New Hampshire ruled the scene because their primaries came first, and a win in these states led to momentum that would ultimately win a particular nomination. In this system, the states whose primaries are earliest have the most power. During and after the 2008 election, many states chose to move their primary dates up in the year, thus giving them more influence. The frenzy that ensued in 2008 for the Democrats seems to have transferred to the Republican field for 2012.
The headlines covering the 2012 Republican field running for president over the last several months reveal an odd and distinct pattern. One candidate quickly rises in popularity, plateaus as the frontrunner for a few weeks, and then quickly drops back to the levels of the rest of the field as a new frontrunner emerges. From Newt Gingrich to Michelle Bachmann, then Rick Perry and now Herman Cain, the pattern repeats itself.
Throughout this primary season, steadfast frontrunner Mitt Romney has maintained support hovering around 20 percent, other candidates have at times appeared to rival or pass him in popularity, but the former Massachusetts governor consistently manages to weather the storm as candidates fall around him.
The Republican Party initially warmed up to Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House during the Clinton White House. A series of botched public appearances and mismanaged campaign finances quickly led to his political demise. At one point, Gingrich took a lavish vacation with his wife, and the pair was then exposed to have outrageous unpaid bills to Tiffany & Co. jewelers, resulting in his entire campaign staff walking out on him. To Republican voters, he was considered to be a less than serious candidate.
The next GOP hopeful to rise in the polls was Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn.). In August, she won the Iowa Ames Straw Poll. A straw poll is a vote with non-binding results held by states to gauge support for candidates in upcoming elections. As the spotlight on Bachmann intensified, she responded with a series of public gaffes about American history and policy facts that garnered widespread criticism from the Republican field and political pundits. The final stake was driven when Newsweek gave Bachmann a cover story with the headline "The Queen of Rage." The photo featured a close-up of the congresswoman against a stark blue background as she stared directly into the camera with a crazed, wide-eyed look on her face. The picture stirred up controversy and Tina Brown, the editor of Newsweek, ultimately apologized. But the damage had been done. Bachmann's time as the frontrunner was over.
A late entry into the Republican field was Texas Gov. Rick Perry, whose poll numbers peaked in mid-September. Republicans flocked to support Perry, but the truth is, the country knew very little about him or his policies. The other members of the field constantly attacked him in a series of debates on several policy issues. Perry supports the rights of undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally through no fault of their own. When a parent brings a child across the border, for instance, Perry supports that child's ability to grow up and attend college in the U.S. This sounds very similar to parts of Obama's Dream Act, a bill the Republican Party is largely against.
Bachmann directly attacked Perry for mandating that female teenagers in Texas receive the HPV vaccine, on the grounds that he trampled fundamental parental rights and passed the legislation because the drug company that produced the vaccine had contributed to his campaign. Though Perry denies these allegations, his time as the GOP frontrunner came to a grinding halt as quickly as it had begun.
The current Republican primary candidate-of-the-hour is Herman Cain, who has little political background but is a successful businessman and former CEO of Godfather's Pizza, headquartered in Nebraska. Cain is a strong supporter of the Tea Party Movement and his "9-9-9" tax plan has gained strong conservative support in the last few weeks. The plan calls for a 9 percent flat tax on businesses, a 9 percent flat tax on individual citizens and a 9 percent national sales tax. While economists doubt the effectiveness of such a plan, for a party craving a simpler tax code free of loopholes, the plan has caught the most recent wave of public support.