Friday, April 27, 2007

2008 Republican presidential candidates

Republican Politics, American Style
Published April 26th 2007 in Metro Eireann
By Charles Laffiteau

This week I want to discuss what I believe are the differences between the Republican Presidential candidates as well as their strengths and weaknesses among Republican and national voters. I will begin by summarizing the three main candidate’s very similar positions on the war in Iraq.
Senator McCain was supportive of the invasion of Iraq, but has long been critical of the way the war has been conducted, repeatedly calling for the use of more troops to stabilize the country until the Iraq government is able to sustain itself. He supports the Bush administrations current strategy and truly believes that; “If we walk away from Iraq, we will be back - possibly in the context of a wider war in the world's most volatile region. I believe that those who disagree with this new policy should indicate what they would propose to do if we withdraw and Iraq descends into chaos.”
Rudy Giuliani also strongly supports the decision to invade Iraq and the President’s decision to increase the number of American soldiers fighting there. He underscored his belief that success in the Iraq conflict is essential in the war on terror; “I support what the president asked for support to do and what General Petraeus has asked for support to do, not because there's any guarantee it's going to work. There's never any guarantee at war. But if we can come out with a correct solution or a better solution in Iraq, it's going to make the whole war on terror go better.”
Mitt Romney supported the decision to invade Iraq but, like Senator McCain, faults the Bush administration for the planning and execution of the war. As for continuing to stay the course and increasing the number of US troops in Iraq, he has left himself a bit more wiggle room than his two opponents. His position going forward is best exemplified by this comment; “I believe that so long as there is a reasonable prospect of success, our wisest course is to seek stability in Iraq, with additional troops endeavouring to secure the civilian population.” Note the qualifying phrase “so long as there is a reasonable prospect of success” which allows him to change this position later if the conflict continues without any improvement.
Other Republican candidates mirror the frontrunners support for the President on the Iraq war with the notable exceptions of Tom Tancredo and Senator Chuck Hagel. While I don’t think either has any chance of winning the Republican nomination, Hagel’s views reflect those of an increasing number of other Republicans. He admits invading Iraq was a mistake, has opposed increasing the number of troops in Iraq and agues that; “A new American strategy for Iraq should include moving our troops out of the cities to Iraq's border areas, allowing us to help secure the territorial integrity of Iraq which will be seriously threatened and is critical for the future of Iraq.”
All of the candidates have been courting the religious and social conservatives within the Republican Party because they don’t believe they can win the Republican Party nomination without some level of support from these voters. To that end, Mitt Romney has changed his position on abortion to one opposing it and softened his support of gay rights in an attempt to woo these voters. Some Republicans are also concerned about Mitt Romney’s religious affiliation with the Mormon Church and his attempts to portray himself as a “life long hunter” who strongly supports conservative views opposing gun control legislation.
Many conservatives are also suspicious of Senator McCain’s stated support for their agenda and can hardly be pleased with this recent statement on abortion by Rudy Giuliani; “I think abortion is wrong, but ultimately, I think it is a woman’s right, a woman’s choice. And government should not interfere with it by imposing criminal penalties on people.” They are also concerned that Giuliani has been divorced twice and his current wife has been through three divorces. Newt Gingrich carries similar baggage in addition to his recent admission that he was having an affair at the same time he was calling for the House of Representatives to impeach President Clinton in the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
The only candidates who appear to be “proper conservatives” in the minds of right wing Republican religious and social conservatives are Senator Sam Brownback and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee who, like Iraq war opponents Chuck Hagel and Tom Tancredo, have no chance at winning the Republican nomination in 2008. The end result is that many Republican primary voters are not satisfied with the current field of presidential candidates and are actively looking for alternatives like Newt Gingrich to step forward.
The only alternative to the three front runners that I believe has a chance at winning the Republican nomination is “Law and Order “actor turned Senator, turned actor again, Fred Thompson of Tennessee. He doesn’t carry the polarizing image or marital baggage that Newt Gingrich has and is also deemed acceptable to most Republican Party conservatives. While he is currently weighing a run for the nomination, Fred Thompson probably won’t decide until this summer. I believe he will wait and see if the current candidates are unable to muster a broad enough base of support before he elects to enter the process in an attempt to unify the Republican Party and thus save it from certain disaster in the 2008 elections.
Of the current Republican candidates, only former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has approval ratings of at least 50% within the Republican Party. But his views on abortion and gay rights will alienate a significant segment of conservative Republican primary voters, while his support for the Iraq war will alienate many independent voters in the national election.
On the other hand, Mitt Romney has been much more successful at raising money than he has with raising his name recognition and his approval rating in Republican polls. His Republican approval ratings are well back of those for Giuliani, McCain and even Fred Thompson. While Romney has lagged Democrats Clinton and Obama in raising money thus far, he has still raised significantly more than Giuliani and almost doubled the amount raised by former front runner John McCain. McCain trails Giuliani in the polls by 10-15 percentage points and is even further behind both Romney and Giuliani in terms of fundraising.
Republican Party candidates for Congress and the Presidency are faced with a dilemma, in that their greatest strengths in terms of winning the party’s nomination are also probably their greatest weaknesses in appealing to national voters. Thus a strategy of mobilizing the party’s conservative base is likely to yield diminishing returns in the national election. Strong support for the war in Iraq and a conservative social agenda are stances which will help you win the Republican nomination, but don’t appeal to independent American voters. Thus, Republican prospects in 2008 look increasingly grim to this Republican.

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