A Further Perspective

The Kaleidoscopic GOP Primary

Still, the field is shaping up at last.

By 5.20.11

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I faithfully listen to audiobooks as a means of coping with northern Virginia traffic. Recently, I have been engrossed by Edmund Morris's Colonel Roosevelt (2010), which, like the first volume of his biographical trilogy, could very well earn him another Pulitzer Prize.

At one point in the book, Theodore Roosevelt describes the workings of politics as a kaleidoscope that is constantly changing form and circumstances never repeating themselves again. At least that is what I recall. I do not have a text to consult, a small price to pay for listening rather than reading a book.

That vivid metaphor came to mind while reading about the latest twists and turns of the fascinating Republican presidential primary.

Haley, The Donald, and Huck are out. Dr. Ron is in. Tim Pawlenty, Michele Bachmann, and Mitt Romney are in the launch position. Rick Santorum campaigns hard. Mitch Daniels and Sarah Palin do their best Hamlet imitation, and the crowd calls for more Chris Christie and Paul Ryan despite their Shermanesque disclaimers.

Then, there is Newt. Ohmagawd. Whatever was he thinking? There was his pandering after the corn ethanol vote in Iowa, his I-love-my-country defense (I never thought of that one, exclaimed Pat Buchanan) of his ignominious marital and extra-marital behavior and, most spectacularly, his trashing of GOP House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) and, by implication, the entire Republican caucus that voted for the Ryan Medicare reform proposal as "radical" social engineers. Incredible.

Give the guy credit, Newt Gingrich accomplished one heck of a hat trick by way of political self-immolation. He better start up another think tank and promote one of his 100-point programs that nobody understands except for those avid readers of Alvin Toffler. I mean, it takes a lot of talent to (censored) off, simultaneously, the Wall Street Journal editorial board, Charles Krauthammer, Rush Limbaugh, Bill Bennett, and almost every right-of-center pundit and voter maintaining a pulse. His performance merits several twists of the kaleidoscope for sure.

Regarding the broadside directed at Chairman Ryan, no one would have cared if Gingrich had merely declined to endorse his plan while applauding his leadership, bravery, yadda, yadda, yadda. That, essentially, is what Pawlenty and Romney did. No, he had to craft some really searing talking points for the present and future benefit of the Democrats that will be played back endlessly between now and November 2012. Another twist of the kaleidoscope, please! Oh, oh. It just turned completely black.

But let's look at the bright side. The GOP primary is beginning to congeal, that is, get real. Mike Huckabee's departure will solidify Tim Pawlenty's standing with social conservatives unless there is a mass (no pun intended) conversion to Catholicism among the GOP electorate and a miraculous movement toward Rick Santorum. Haley Barbour's bowing out frees up more big money for Mitt Romney and puts many established party leaders in play for all the contenders.

Pawlenty is baggage-free, not the case for Romney. The former governor of Massachusetts is a) father of Romneycare, the model for Obamacare which, by the way, Newt Gingrich both opposes and supports, and b) open to the charge of flip-flopping on abortion. In addition, Pawlenty is an anti-tax budget-balancer who thrived politically in Minnesota, a state generally described as "liberal." However, Mitt Romney is probably the one candidate, along with Santorum, who does talk about defense and foreign policy.

Mitch Daniels certainly has a following among the GOP establishment and has done outstanding work making conservative Indiana more consistently and intelligently conservative in terms of budget and overall governance. However, he has caused consternation among social conservatives given his gaffe on the Reagan-era Mexico City policy against funding abortions overseas and his rather strange idea about a "truce" on social issues notwithstanding the near certainty that it would amount to unilateral disarmament by conservatives with little impact on social liberals. He will also have to explain his role in or resistance to blowing out the budget during the Bush administration while he ran the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in the White House. More twists of the kaleidoscope.

As to Congresswoman Bachmann and Governor Sarah Palin, is there really any chance that they can win their party's nomination much less the general election? The answer is to the first question is "maybe." The answer to the second is "unlikely."

Since my day job is not political punditry, I am going to let it all ride and offer my assessment, not an endorsement mind you, that, absent Jeb Bush or Chris Christie throwing their respective hats in the ring, the race comes down to Governor Pawlenty versus Governor Romney. Twist, twist. If Governor Daniels actually enters the race, he will be a strong contender but in third place. Twist.

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About the Author

G. Tracy Mehan III served at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the administrations of both Presidents Bush. He is a consultant in Arlington, Virginia, and an adjunct professor at George Mason University School of Law.