The 2012 GOP Field: What's Going On?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, Jonathan Martin, senior political writer at Politico, analyzes the 2012 Republican presidential field and other political news.

The 'issues' issue

As possible Republican candidates align themselves for a 2012 run, their backgrounds and platforms come into focus. The recently-announced Rick Santorum, for example, is emerging as the social conservative with most appeal to the religious right.

But it's an open question as to whether or not that's enough to carry a campaign. After all, with debts and deficits taking center stage, how much will cultural issues really matter? According to Jonathan Martin, it all depends on the primaries.

The energy right now in the Republican party is over fiscal issues...this fear about America becoming more like Europe in terms of a social welfare state. That said, there are still a lot of conservatives who vote in primaries and participate in caucuses that are driven by a set of cultural issues. In a place like Iowa especially, we're talking about an electorate that is perhaps half or over half self-identified born again evangelical.

The George W. Bush model

One thing's for certain: right now, the GOP field looks thin. Nobody's a clear front-runner, and the party's rock stars (Christie, Boehner, Ryan) are staying put. Most Republican voters can't name a candidate they're excited about, and almost every one has something politically toxic in their past. In short, said Jonathan Martin, the Right is missing their "George W. Bush model."

Recall in 1999 that George W. Bush was the early favorite and remained so...Bush got out there early, collected the support of the establishment, both donors and elected officials, but also grassroots activists. He really united those wings of the party in a way nobody is doing right now.

Rand Paul: Like father, like son

Presenting oneself as electable is the name of the game for most of these Republicans. That's been a problem for Ron Paul, the most libertarian Republican hopeful, who enjoys a strong cult following but isn't seen as a threat on the national stage. He'll still run in 2012, said Martin, but the one to really watch is Ron's son, a freshman Senator from Kentucky named Rand.

I think you're going to have a Paul running every four years for as long as we can see. It's a platform to get their issues out—issues like the Fed, restraint abroad, constitutional issues. The scenario that's likely this time around is Ron gives it one last go, carries the torch into 2012, calls it a career, and then in 2016 or 2020, Rand Paul starts to run. He could be more formidable than his dad; he presents better, but he's also willing to offer their version of libertarianism in a way that's more palatable to the mainstream.

Boehner's balancing act

Whoever wins the nomination, something has to change for the Republican party before next November. Obama's approval ratings are low, but the GOP-led Congress' ratings are even worse. With Paul Ryan now introducing a budget that privatizes Medicare, candidates will almost certainly have to take a stand on the matter that could make or break them.

And in the middle of all these players, said Martin, is House Speaker John Boehner.

Boehner has to balance the demands of his freshman class while trying to accommodate the broader swath of Americans. A lot of Tea Party folks want to push further and further right, and folks in swing districts don't want to go that far. The most vivid example has been the Paul Ryan budget proposal. [Members of Congress] were going home during the recess this past week and getting questions about Medicare, why do you want to end Medicare? This is a third rail; there's a reason why Medicare is not touched, why entitlements are not touched.


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Comments [16]

Edward from NJ

@Hazel, regarding Rand Paul, I had much the same opinion of George W. Bush at one point. How did that pan out?

Apr. 25 2011 10:45 AM


Actually, the average American is better off than he was 2&1/2 years ago... The ten and a half million looking for work, of course, will not agree.

You are selectively un-remembering the precipice that the economy was on the edge of falling into. (Thanks GOP) Without action by Obama and the Democrats there would be no Chrysler, no GM. Without those two consumers of auto parts, the other makers of non-domestic marques - BMW, Honda, VW - would leave the country for lack of parts. Unemployment would have passed 14%.
The stimulus was under-sized to keep Obama's 8% unemployment target (thanks GOP)...and the powers that be are doing just fine (as measured by their P+L's) so who needs more workers? Thus, employments numbers are sticky.

In my view, we were tricked once by the GOP who talk fiscal conservancy and then spend like drunken sailors (mostly to the benefit of the donor-class) when in control of the treasury.

Public campaign financing is the best cure.

Apr. 25 2011 10:26 AM

Rand Paul does not "present" better than his father! He comes off as a complete empty-suited doofus. He has already embarrassed himself by displaying a weak intellect. His presidential future is nil.

Apr. 25 2011 10:24 AM

Sarah Palin is a coward and a quitter who doesn't have the guts to run for President.

Apr. 25 2011 10:20 AM

Characterizing the state of Iowa as 50% "Born Again Evangelical Christians" is flat out ridiculous. I'm from Iowa and it's clear that the guest has rarely been there.

Iowa has a moderate electoral base with a broad representation from Christian faiths.

The state is a valuable gauge of the nation's sentiment because of it's balanced urban / rural populations. The state has chosen the winning president in every election in my lifetime.

Apr. 25 2011 10:20 AM
john from office

I would vote for John Bolton, but he is unelectable. Obama has shown himself to be a middle of the road, practical, intellegent president.

OBAMA 2012!!!

Apr. 25 2011 10:18 AM
jared from brooklyn

whatever happened yo bobby jindal?

Apr. 25 2011 10:17 AM


This segment is far too important for you to indulge in silly stunts that challenge callers to name all 16 candidates.

Apr. 25 2011 10:17 AM
Grunion from Queens

Why can't we make these people wait until 12 months before the election day?! How on earth is anyone supposed to be 'excited' with two years to go?

Apr. 25 2011 10:16 AM
Robert from RBC

Interestingly these folks you played are all losers and THAT is a reason that anyone of them can get the vote. We have become a country of mostly losers. Here we are, I want to know who will be our Gibbons!

Apr. 25 2011 10:14 AM
jcad from NYC

This man has actually declared his candidacy -

Apr. 25 2011 10:14 AM
Robert from NYC

Actually I think we still need a President WE can believe in because as far as I'm concerned this guy has failed. He would have to do an awful lot between now and next November 2012 to gain my confidence again and vote. "Cause he ain't got 'em now!!

Apr. 25 2011 10:11 AM
office from office

The birther issue is what put the nail in the coffin for me. I am a conservative republican and love this nation. There is no Reagan out there and a vocal minority in the republican party cannot accept that Obama is black. You have lost this guy, sorry.

OBAMA 2012 !!

Apr. 25 2011 10:11 AM
Fuva from Harlemworld

Please address why the "birther" issue still persists when reliable evidence of Obama's native birth has been located and verified -- a birth certificate, birth notices, etc.

Apr. 25 2011 10:07 AM

The list of possible candidates that Brian rattled off at the top of the show is the most unimpressive group of politicians imaginable. Obama is more intelligent than all of these nonentities combined.

Apr. 25 2011 10:05 AM
Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan

Please refrain from the usual liberal media silliness of sniping about inconsequentials and undermining the competition......."Tim Pawlenty isn,t very exciting".......Mitch Daniels is too short"......"Bobby Jindal gave a boring speech two years ago"
This is not American's our future.


Are you better off than 2&1/2 years ago, do you have a better job, is the world more stable, is the Mideast closer to peace, are our relations with China and Russia better?
No, no,no, no and no.

Just being black and "historic" won't be enough for Obama this time. We were tricked by that once already.

Apr. 25 2011 10:00 AM

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