For a long time Republicans have been flexing their muscles around Obama’s approval rating, saying that the low numbers all but hand them the next presidential election; but here it is March of the election year and there is still no strong leader. There isn’t even a strong second place finisher, because there are way too many candidates jockeying for first place. In the last election, Obama and Clinton went head to head until June. And Obama came out the victor. Will this long primary help or hurt the Republicans this November?
I think the main difference between this year’s primary and the last round with Clinton and Obama is that it illustrates such huge divisions of belief within the Republican party. The differences between Clinton and Obama were essentially ones of style and history. Their actual congressional voting records were practically identical. Their ideologies were from the same playbook, although they had different nuances. But that isn’t what we are seeing from the Republican party. What we are seeing from the Republicans is a party divided on belief.
The groupings are not surprising, you have old-school moneyed small government spokesman Mitt Romney, who is leading, but has yet to really rally the crowd, showing who the powers that be in the Republican party would like to see lead the way. Romney is a great face for the Republican party as a middle of the road party. This is exactly what a lot of Republicans do NOT want, and thus the race is getting a bit bloody.
Ron Paul reflects the libertarian aspects of the Republican party. To these party members, Romney represents big government and Paul represents the hands-off ideal they want to see from a leader. He also probably scares the pants off of a lot of more traditional Republicans and his approach would cause issues with the religionists.
Santorum represents the Christian right side of the party, running on the importance of his faith and its incorporation into the government of our nation. This is also something which might be divisive to other factions of the Republican party and might outweigh the idea of small government depending on the legislation.
Newt Gingrich is a bit of a free-for-all. He some how manages to represent the non-traditional candidate, while at the same time being the one with the longest inbred relationship to Washington of the bunch. Gingrich has probably managed to offend pretty much everyone in the history of his career and I am sure a lot of people would struggle to support him in power.
So with four different candidates, four different factions of the party, the question remains: can any one candidate unite all of the Republicans beneath them? Could a strong Christian right member get behind Gingrich? Could a libertarian strongly support Mitt Romney?
I imagine when push comes to shove, the winning Republican candidate will certainly get a large percentage of Republican votes – until then, though, they are certainly doing the work of the Democrats by tearing each other to shreds.
What do Republicans have to lose?
Right now Obama is not responding to Republican debates because they are doing all of the work for him. He hasn’t had to address any of the specific candidates on the issues yet. This is valuable because it gives him a chance to get to know his opponents’ beliefs and arguments before the next debate.
The Republicans risk dividing their party even further and alienating member groups as the debates continue. There is also the risk that one of the losing candidates runs on their own ticket and further divides the party.
The question remains: if the Republicans can be one strong party, or if they will splinter and fall into several parties with different ideologies.