“It’s Bachmann! She’s our candidate! Wait! It’s Perry with that Texas swag! Oh, no! Well, now it’s clearly Obama’s antithesis, Herman Cain!” If you compiled and read over all the news articles about the Republican primary race within the last year, you could just sum it up into that one simple phrase. That’s it. For the avid political reader, this statement would be a shock accompanied with the response, “There is substance! All these candidates are different. They have wide-ranging backgrounds and experiences.” True, there is indeed a lot of substance during this primary, just the wrong kind of substance. Electoral primaries and caucuses are always somewhat of a circus show where Republican candidates must tweak their political messages rightwards in order to improve their chance of landing the party’s nomination. The Iowa and Wyoming caucuses as well as the New Hampshire primary are all considered the most important barometers in judging which candidate is “the most Republican”. However, this process of choosing a candidate is severely flawed, especially during times of great political polarization such as in this election cycle.
What the majority of Republican candidates and party adherents forget is that choosing the best man (or woman) representing the party’s ideals is not a direct correlation to success on November 4th. The independent voter’s preferences are drowned in the nonsensical cacophony and unrealistic talking points of Republican candidates trying to become the best Romney alternative, instead of President Obama’s contender. Like most elections (i.e. 2000, 2008), it is the independent voter that will determine whether Obama will spend another four years in the White house, not the votes from the far-right or the extreme-left. Moderate Republican Presidential candidate Jon Huntsman, announced his bid for the nomination this past June, has modeled himself as the “center-right candidate for a center-right country”, sharply criticizing the rest of the candidates positioned on the “fringes of the political spectrum”. His support of civil unions, belief in global warming and teaching of evolution in public schools make the social conservatives grimace but the independents smile. With talk like this from a Republican candidate, appealing to the crucial independent voter could be a serious headache for Obama. Sadly (but not surprisingly), Huntsman barely polls at 2% nationwide, uncertain to “make the cut” at the two upcoming Republican debates in Iowa.
Instead, this Republican primary race has been focused on the extremes of political rhetoric in order attract greater spotlight. Perry made headlines after reviving the Obama “birthright issue”. Also contributing to a quick erosion of his popularity was his rant calling Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s economic policies of quantitative easing equal to treason. In Bachmann’s case, her bizarre belief that the HPV vaccination causes mental retardation or humorously quoting the Bible about feminine submission to their husbands (1 Peter 3:1) also creates a storm of controversy for pundits to dissect and analyze. Even on seemingly more relevant issues like taxation, many candidates replace realist and credible economic substance with policies that are used as campaign talking points aimed to boost a candidate’s exposure. Perhaps the best example is Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 tax plan, which sounds more like a pizza special then a plan (something Cain would understand as the former CEO of Godfather’s pizza chain). The plan calls for a simple 9% tax rate on income, business transactions and federal sales tax. The feasibility of his simple plan has received opposition from economists. For instance, the Tax Policy Center, a non-partisan institution, declared his tax plan would in fact raise taxes for 84% of Americans.
A simple question needs to be asked: After roughly half a year of intense campaigning and media coverage, do we really know the political and economic platform of these candidates? The short-term affections for far-right candidates like Bachmann and Perry have only distracted the party’s simple goal: winning the election. Daily polling data from Real Clear Politics reveals the overall theme of this primary: one-hit wonders.
When Texas Governor Perry officially launched his campaign on August 13, he was polling at a significant average of 18.4% before peaking at 31.8%. Today, he sits at 8%. Michele Bachmann began her campaign on June 13 polling at 4.1%, within a month hit a high 13%, before slowly declining to 4.8% today. The biggest and most visible ascension of the campaign so far is Herman Cain, who began his campaign in May 2011 barely polling at 3% before peaking at an impressive 26% on October 22. However, recent lewd revelations of extramarital affairs and sexual harassment dating as far back as 13 years saw his numbers plummet to 15% along with his presidential ambitions. With less than a year before the 2012 Presidential election, the question in the Republican Party remains who will become the next short-term superstar (current signs point to Newt Gingrich).
However, the confusion within the Republican Party could simply reflect today’s media-laden political realm that seem to place more emphasis on a candidate’s image instead of the substance of their policy. Ultimately, the Republicans desire to win the next election and therefore need to pose a credible threat to President Obama. The GOP could be holding a double-edged sword that best reflects the irony of today’s celebrity-like media coverage, galvanizing the Republican base during primaries, but destroying the Republican ticket on Election Day.