GOP Presidential Hopefuls Reflect The Party’s Move To The Right

Posted on May 31, 2011. Filed under: Uncategorized |

By Carl Chancellor

Like the classic Abbott and Costello routine “Who’s on First,” keeping up to the minute with the ever changing line-up of Republican presidential wannabes will challenge even the most ardent political watcher.

It wasn’t so long ago that Donald Trump was all the political rage. That was, of course, before the human publicity machine “fired” himself and bowed out of the race. Likewise, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, and former Arkansas Gov. and Fox News host Mike Huckabee, all once highly touted as possible Republican nominees, withdrew their names from consideration. While GOP-wish list darlings– New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Jeb Bush, the onetime governor of Florida and the brother of former President George W. Bush, thus far appear to be putting their presidential aspirations on hold at least for the foreseeable future.

At the moment, the still unsettled field seeking the Republican nomination for the right to challenge President Obama in 2012 includes a group of conservatives who reflect the party’s rightward drift— from former Govs. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, Jon Huntsman of Utah and of course, Sarah Palin of Alaska, House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Tea Party favorite Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minnesota). And least we forget, pizza magnate Herman Cain and Rudy Giuliani, the combative ex-mayor of New York, who like Romney failed to win the party nod in 2008, have added their names to the GOP presidential mix as well.

The most recent name to emerge is that of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, he of the proven fundraising track record and solid conservative credentials, who has said he would consider entering the race.

While there will be divergence on specific issues, the ideological divide between these GOP presidential hopefuls is narrow. On the whole, they are more than moderately conservative and come out strongly in support of the established Republican playbook—spending cuts, lower taxes and limited government regulation. Likewise, on the social issues side of the political ledger, they all have gone on record opposing abortion, gun control and gay marriage.

When it comes to handicapping the potential Republican nominees there is only one sure bet: there will be no centrist Republican candidate heading the party’s ticket in 2012, thanks in large measure to the influence of the Tea Party movement. Already, many wannabe GOP nominees have found it necessary to distance themselves from previously held positions that would not now pass the conservative smell test. The Associated Press recently noted that Pawlenty and Romney “have backed away from earlier embraces of regional ‘cap-and-trade’ programs to reduce greenhouse gas pollution” as part of an overall climate policy.

The GOP drift to the right is underscored by a recently released survey conducted by the Pew Research Center.

“The most visible shift in the political landscape is the emergence of a single bloc of across-the-board conservatives…The long-standing divide between economic, pro-business conservatives and social conservatives has blurred,” Pew reports. “Today, Staunch Conservatives take extremely conservative positions on nearly all issues – on the size and role of government, on economics, foreign policy, social issues and moral concerns. Most agree with the Tea Party and even more very strongly disapprove of Barack Obama’s job performance. A second core group of Republicans – Main Street Republicans – also is conservative, but less consistently so.”

Playing to increasingly conservative Republican voters will be crucial to securing the GOP nomination, but will the eventual GOP candidate be able to politically pivot to win independent voters who will again be decisive in the general election?

What the Pew report makes clear is that independent voters, which the researchers broke into three groups, are extremely diverse and have very little in common.

“Libertarians and Post-Moderns are largely white, well-educated and affluent. They also share a relatively secular outlook on some social issues, including homosexuality and abortion,” Pew reports. “But Republican-oriented Libertarians are far more critical of government, less supportive of environmental regulations, and more supportive of business than are Post-Moderns, most of who lean Democratic.

“Disaffecteds, the other main group of independents, are financially stressed and cynical about politics. Most lean to the Republican Party, though they differ from the core Republican groups in their support for increased government aid to the poor,” the report went on to observe.

Again according to AP, the Pew report notes that independents who “played a determinative role in the last three national elections,” will have even more clout in 2012. They comprised 30 percent of the national electorate in 2005, Pew found. They now make up 37 percent.

The challenge for both Republicans and Democrats is appealing to a growing number of Americans choosing not to identify with either party. This should prove a much easier task for President Obama since he is not facing a primary challenge and can concentrate on winning independents. For Republicans, however, it’s a daunting proposition. The eventual GOP presidential nominee will have to win the party’s conservative base while not moving too far right and risk alienating those all important independents.

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