USA: More Republican Debates

The process of campaigning for winning the right to represent the Republican Party in the 2012 presidential elections continued with two more televised debates.

On September 12, a debate organized by – and focused on – the Tea Party movement, with questions from Tea Party members; the media sponsor of the debate was, somewhat unexpectedly, CNN. You can watch the first part of the debate here:

On September 22, a debate organized by FoxNews, in Florida, featuring a new candidate -Gary Johnson, the libertarian-leaning former governor of New Mexico. You can watch the entire debate here:

At this point the field looks as follows:

Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, is somewhat of an establishment candidate. A very rich businessman, he represents the ruling trends in the Republican mainstream, and has a knack at adapting to the discourse of the moment. His performances in this year’s debates are much more polished, secure, and balanced than the ones when he was running against McCain in the primaries for the 2008 elections. Given Barack Obama’s relative lack of popularity, he might look like a feasible alternative to the independents or the undecided Democrats. Someone said (very well) that he seems to be the only one running a general election campaign, in these primaries (adopting a tone that addresses more than just the narrow party base).

Rick Perry, the governor of Texas, used to be until about a month ago the darling of the Tea Party-ers and of Evangelicals. But – and this is how fast things move in American politics – his lackluster performance in the primary debates have seriously eroded that status (you can see a very embarrassing example of that in the last debate, when he managed to ruin a perfect opportunity to attack Romney for his “flip-flopping” – his documented ability to radically change positions, as the political context demands it). Right now, the focus of the competition seems to be on the rivalry between Perry and Romney.

Ron Paul, the libertarian candidate, has been a steady participant in Republican primaries for quite a number of years, using this platform to push for the whole orthodox libertarian program, including the return to the gold standard, free circulation of goods and services, nationally and internationally, the gradual elimination of the Federal Reserve Board and eventual closing down of several departments of the executive etc. He has a devoted following, and it is undisputed that the ideas he represents have made an impact over time, especially as picked up and transmitted more recently by the Tea Party.

Michele Bachmann, who, before Rick Perry’s entry into the race, was the pick of the Evangelicals and of the Tea Party (broadly speaking). A stay-home mom from Minnesota, and then a congresswoman from the same state, she has a very polished political machine backing her up, and has been steadily building her national stature for years. Her discourse is somewhat at the intersection of Tea Party talking points with traditional Republican mainstream positions (including some neo-conservative ones from the Bush era).

Rick Santorum could be considered the representative of the Bush-era Republican party, or, “the neo-conservative candidate.” Nowhere is this more evident than in his rhetoric on foreign affairs, where he is a staunch supporter of an indefinite presence in Iraq and Afghanistan – positions which does not resonate well with the most active (and, nowadays, influential) section of the Republican Party, the Tea Party movement. He has performed better and better, but his positions simply do not fit the mainstream of the Republican voting base – not anymore. As an aside, it is not for nothing that very often his main adversary on the stage seems to be Ron Paul, who is not in fact a threat for Santorum’s potential electorate, but who represents positions that are at the exact opposite end of the ideological spectrum from Perry’s neo-conservative ones (within the Republican ideological arch, if there be such a thing).

Newt Gingrich is a former Speaker of the House of Representatives  (and of the most powerful ones in history), the leader of what was then the Republican Revolution of 1994, and the person who brought intransigence back in Washington, but who has become more politically savvy since then (probably as a result of his demise, which was linked to that intransigence). Since the early 2000s, he has become one of the intellectual-ideological powerhouses in the Republican Party (especially in Washington DC), a very influential and well-connected political operator, and has created himself a mini-media empire, producing books, films, and communication through a variety of new social media. During the summer his campaign seems to have ground to a halt, as at a certain point most of the top, experienced political advisers on his staff resigned en masse. He went on and right now he seems to have recover from that, but also to be running not for the presidency, but for the position  of Vice-President. His tone has become mostly conciliatory towards the fellow contestants, and is directed almost exclusively against the outsiders (against the Democratic Party), emphasizing the Republican common front; this is certainly not a way to stand out within the Republican pool of competitors and win the candidacy.

Herman Cain, an African-American businessman from Georgia, who has worked in executive positions for Coca-Cola and other major companies, represents in a way the anti-Washington, anti-establishment line, although his rhetoric is not aggressively along those lines. His image is that of the person with business know-how, who wants to come to Washington and “take care of business,” “fix things,” get concrete results – a tune very pleasant to Tea Party ears, and not only. He has been picking up significantly in the recent polls, especially as a result of Rick Perry’s descent in polls, and of Cain’s “999 plan” to institute flat taxes across the board.

Jon Huntsman is the former governor of Utah – and a very successful governor; who then became a diplomat – and was very successful at that, as well. This previous success might be part of his undoing, as he worked for the Obama administration as an US ambassador to China.  His debate presence is also less than poignant, and the middle-of-the-road discourse that he is trying to promote does not really work in the primary process, when appeals to later chances of success in the (general) presidential election usually fall on deaf ears. Mitt Romney is much better, at the moment, at using a language that does resonate with the most activist Republicans, while also not going too far and alienating potential general election voters.

As mentioned above, Gary Johnson is a candidate who was “accepted” only recently to the media circus of the televised primary debates. He stands very much on similar grounds with Ron Paul, and he could theoretically have the advantage of having been the governor of a large state, and of applying some of these libertarian principles (often considered  unrealistic) in the act of governing. His relative newness to the conventions and demands of these nationally televised debates are evident in the last debate. His positions, however, can but resonate with the most activist Tea Party-ers and with the Libertarians.

A good resource to follow the events of the primaries, in the run-up to the presidential elections (besides the US-related links at the bottom of this page), is the website 2012 ELECTION CENTRAL. Enjoy!


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