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Republican primary

Ryan Williams | Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Tomorrow night, eight of the candidates vying for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination will take the stage at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif. in a debate that will seek to determine who among them is best-suited to take on President Barack Obama in next year’s election. The event is noteworthy because it is the first debate that will include Texas governor Rick Perry, who recently announced his candidacy for president and has since risen to the top of several national polls.

Perry is known for his sharp intellect, as evidenced by the academic prowess he displayed while a student at Texas A&M University (he received a C in gym and a D in principles of economics), so this debate should be quite the discourse in substantive policy ideas. Seriously though folks, this debate is important because each day it is looking more and more likely that one of these candidates could become the next President of the United States.

I say that because each day it becomes more apparent that the re-election campaign of President Obama is in serious trouble. With an unemployment rate above nine percent (and likely to stay there for the foreseeable future) and several highly unpopular policy initiatives including the 2009 stimulus act and the health care reform bill, the President has seen his standing among independent voters deteriorate in almost every key swing state. In addition, President Obama’s failure to wind down the nation’s involvement in the Afghan and Iraq wars, as well as his perceived inability to stand firm in the face of determined Republican opposition, has left his liberal base highly disillusioned, suggesting that it may be difficult for the President to motivate voters to turn out in the same record levels that propelled him to victory in 2008.

The combined effect of these two factors can be seen in the President’s standing in the Gallup Daily Poll, which tracks the percentage of Americans who approve or disapprove of the job President Obama is doing in office. Last week the President hit an all-time low of just 38 percent approval, against 55 percent who disapprove. In the past 50 years, no president has been reelected with approval numbers that low this late into his first term, so the President is without doubt vulnerable. The question then becomes, can Republicans produce a candidate who can take advantage of that weakness and win? And therein lies the problem.

The current field of Republican candidates is composed of a mixture of individuals who are either not serious about running for President or are not capable of holding the office. The three candidates who are performing the best in most polls of the race, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and Mitt Romney, each have glaring weaknesses that will certainly be exploited by the Obama campaign team and which make them largely unpalatable to moderate and independent voters.

Michele Bachmann is an ultra-conservative religious fanatic whose husband once ran a vile and repulsive clinic designed to “cure” gay men and women of their homosexuality. In addition, Congresswoman Bachmann actually advocated back in July that the United States default on its debt, refusing to raise the debt ceiling under any circumstance even though it was generally acknowledged that such a move would have plunged the entire global economy into a catastrophic depression. She also often talks about how she would like to see the minimum wage eliminated so that the U.S. can compete with countries like Vietnam for low wage jobs.

Rick Perry is much the same: a far-right wing governor who holds public prayer rallies (to do what, I’m not exactly sure) and who once allowed an innocent man to be executed for a crime he almost certainly didn’t commit. When asked about this event during a focus group session, one Texas citizen replied, “I like that. It takes balls to execute an innocent man.” This merely highlights another of Perry’s incredible failures — the Texas education system, which ranks at the bottom of the country in just about every subject and whose budget Perry has proposed cutting drastically. One has to wonder how a man who only a year ago openly advocated Texas’ seceding from the United States can suddenly become so enamored with that same country that he now wants to be its leader. Oh yeah, and Rick Perry doesn’t believe in evolution. Now I really feel good about him.

Then there’s Mitt Romney, who lacks the courage to stand up for what he truly believes and thus is forced to constantly beat back charges that he has flip-flopped on numerous issues in order to make himself more acceptable to the conservative Republican base. Romney used to be a reasonable guy (back when he ran for the U.S. Senate against Ted Kennedy in Massachusetts in 1994), but since then his views on the environment, abortion and gay rights have shifted significantly towards those found in Saudi Arabia. Romney rightly touts his successful business career as a unique strength over President Obama, but until he decides to stop blowing with the wind and to fight for what he believes in, he will come across as stiff and uncomfortable on the campaign trail.

Despite the weakness of the Republican field, President Obama remains beatable, as evidenced by the fact that even the three candidates mentioned here are polling competitively against him right now. However, once the national media and the Obama campaign team turn their attention towards exposing these candidates’ records of failure and extremist rhetoric, expect the all-important independent voters to flee in droves. Few candidates lose when they run against crazy people (though the 2010 midterm elections may have disproved that just a bit). Unless a real leader like Jon Huntsman starts to gain some traction in the race, one who isn’t afraid to take unpopular positions on issues he truly believes in, or unless Republicans can convince New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to run as one of them, the GOP may be jeopardizing its chances of defeating President Obama in next year’s election.

The views expressed in this column are those of the authors and not necessarily that of The Observer.

Ryan Williams is a junior. He can be reached at twilli15@nd.edu