Sunday, October 2, 2011

Change and No Change

Events during the past few days signal both change and no change in the 2012 Republican presidential nominating contest.

Among the candidates, another bubble has burst, another third-tier hopeful is suddenly in the limelight, two major non-candidates are becoming increasingly distant from entering the race, and the long-time frontrunner, recently supplanted by a new face, seems to be back in charge.

Important changes in the nominating procedure, however, have taken place. In particular, Colorado and Florida have apparently decided to move their primaries up, and into the time period set aside by Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, the official earliest GOP voting events. This will cause the aforementioned “official” states to move their primaries/caucus to earlier dates, presumably now beginning in early January instead of early February. The “penalty” for the early states is that they must now split their delegates proportional to the popular vote. States which schedule their voting in April and later may choose to have “winner take-all. allocations of their delegates to the national convention in Tampa in September, 2012.

This new circumstance would seem to benefit former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney whose political strength seems to be in most of the potential “winner-take-all” primaries and caucuses. On the other hand, Texas Governor Rick Perry’s apparent greatest strength lies in those states (mostly Southern states) which will hold their primaries before the deadline.

For some time, two potentially major contestants for the nomination (former Governor Palin and Governor Christie) have been “teasing” the media and their supporters with intimations they might get into the race. To be fair to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, he has said “no” consistently and emphatically. But in U.S. presidential politics,“no” is often interpreted as “maybe,” no matter how emphatically it is uttered. In spite of pleas from supporters to get into the race, however, time is running out, and their candidacies would soon be problematic.

For the time being, Mr. Perry’s “bubble” seems to be losing air fast, although his poll numbers are still high. Close examination of his record and his public statements on some issues, plus a less-than-satisfactory series of debate performances have led to this circumstance, but it would be premature to write the Texas governor off. Businessman Herman Cain did well in a Tea Party Florida straw poll, and his poll numbers have risen since, An articulate man with lots of personality and charm, Mr. Cain is for now more a factor in the campaign.

Another candidate, once a first-tier contestant, but reduced to a lower tier by early gaffes, is making somewhat of a comeback by registering low double digits in some polls. That is former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who has been widely applauded for his performance in all of the debates so far, and he has just introduced a new version of his 1993 Contract With America, the document that had so much to do with the GOP success in 1994, and which elevated him to speaker. The new version addresses most of the concerns of the Tea Party and others in the Republican base, including taxes, spending, defense, government intrusion, immigration and
foreign policy. It’s too soon to measure its impact, but if it resonates, it could make Mr. Gingrich the focus for party conservatives who are looking for an alternative to Mr. Romney, the frontrunner.

Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann has redoubled her efforts to make up significant lost ground in opinion polls following her victory in the Iowa Straw Poll. She is concentrating her efforts with the evangelical segment of the party, a group which had seemed to go to Mr. Perry in recent weeks.

Although some commentators have contended that Mr. Romney is the favorite of the so-called Republican “establishment,” and that he may not be conservative enough, he has shown notable resilience in the campaign so far. For several weeks his frontrunner status was thrown in serious question after Mr Perry entered the race and went almost instantly to the top of the polls. But Mr. Romney’s self-confident and well-prepared debate performances, plus his large number of endorsements by GOP officials across the country and at all levels, has seemed to put him back on top. He does have a long way to go before winning the nomination, but the moving up of the early primary and caucus state votes has probably shortened that time-line and enhanced his chances.

Thus, the GOP campaign has gone through some notable changes, but its essential landscape remains the same. It should be remembered that after Ronald Reagan had secured his 1980 nomination, there were lots of doubts about him expressed by some GOP party activists, and the same phenomenon happened to Bill Clinton in 1992 by some of his party activists when it became clear he would be the Democratic nominee.

Names, faces. and issues change with each presidential election cycle, but it is uncanny how much the basic political psychology remains the same.

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