Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Wide Open and Empty 2012 GOP Field, Budgeting a Week at a Time

2012 - No GOP Favorite, No Candidates Yet
The 2012 Presidential race should prove to be fascinating and the next 12 months will be all about deciding the GOP nomination. In the past 30+ years, I can't recall a GOP nomination fight that is as open as this one. Let's recall the history:
In 1980, Ronald Reagan was the clear front-runner after his previous attempt to unseat Gerald Ford in 1976 fell short and Ford ultimately lost to the unknown Jimmy Carter. He fairly easily disposed of George Herbert-Walker Bush by running to his right.

In 1984, Reagan ran for re-election unopposed.

In 1988, then-Vice-President George Herbert-Walker Bush was an easy front-runner and quickly disposed of a motley field that consisted of no-hopers such as Pat Robertson and uninspiring candidates such as Bob Dole.

In 1992, while then-President George Herbert-Walker Bush faced a primary challenge from Pat Buchanan, who made some headway, fueled by conservative anger at Bush's agreement with congressional Democrats to raise taxes, but ultimately failed to win any contests.

In 1996, GOP iron horse Bob Dole, the next man in line, was offered up as the sacrificial lamb to high popular incumbent Bill Clinton.

In 2000, probably the most open race up until now, name-brand candidate then Texas Governor George Walker Bush disposed of a mostly easy field (remember Alan Keyes and Orrin Hatch?), fending off the only serious challenge from upstart John McCain by running to his right.

In 2004, then-President George Walker Bush faced no serious opposition.

In 2008, next-in-line John McCain overcame early stumbles and lingering conservative anger over the 2000 race and McCain's subsequent vote against the Bush Tax Cuts to sweep through a large field that consisted of Mitt Romney, Rudy Guliani and Mike Huckabee, who all showed strength in some contests, but ultimately fell short.

By the theory of the last 30 years, Mitt Romney should be the prohibitive favorite, being the "next guy in line". This pattern of GOP loyalists getting the nomination in their second run - Reagan in 1980, HW Bush in 1988, Dole in 1996 and McCain in 2008 (George W. Bush being the only first-timer to be nominated.) However, Romney has his challenges:
(1) Romney-Care - it's pretty hard to dispute the fact that the healthcare legislation that has spawned mass anger from the tea-party and other elements of the right-wing of the GOP (just the sort of people that show up for primaries and caucuses) is more or less a carbon copy of Mitt Romney's plan in Massachusetts Romney's attempts to explain this away are downright painful to watch, where he claims that Romney-Care is okay because it's a state program and is consistent with his desire for the states to experiment versus having a federal program.

So....death panels and socialism are okay if they are done at the state level? I hardly think the tea-partiers spewing venom about the health care law are doing so simply on federalist grounds.

(2) Other philosophical inconsistencies
The thing that is particularly damning about Romney-Care, from the perspective of the right-wing, is that it is the latest in a pattern of Romney holding moderate-to-liberal positions while Governor and then attempting to distance himself from them. Abortion and gay rights are two other glaring examples where Romney held a progressive position for years, then conveniently became a born-again conservative when he wanted to run for President.

(3) Mormonism matters
Let's face it, whether it is right or not, Mormons are not part of the evangelical club. The religion is still viewed as fringe in much of the country and if Mitt is actually leading heading into Iowa, don't think for a second that it won't become a campaign issue.

So, this leaves the field wide open...

...wide open and empty. It's mid-March and still no declared candidates. Newt Gingrich is probably running - word is he is set to announce his candidacy in May. Jon Huntsman is flirting with the idea, so are Romney, Huckabee and Palin. Mitch Daniels is talking, but seems undecided. Tim Pawlenty is probably in, but not definitely. Ron Paul is running, like he always does. Rick Santorum and Haley Barbour may try, but are probably no hopers, like Paul.

It's very, very early, but here's how the average of averages of the polls look to-date (5 non-partisan polls I could locate):
Mike Huckabee - 19.8%
Mitt Romney - 18.8%
Sarah Palin - 16.7%
Newt Gingrich - 9.7%
Ron Paul - 5.5%
Tim Pawlenty - 3.3%
Mitch Daniels - 2.8%
Rick Santorum - 1.5%
Haley Barbour - 1.3%
Jon Huntsman - 1.0%
Undecided / Other - 19.7%

So, the front 3 consist of two well-known second-runners (Huckabee and Romney) that represent different wings of the party (Huckabee more the social conservatives, Romney more the corporate conservatives) and the best known member of the Republican Party, the ever present momma grizzly Sarah Palin (who clearly also represents social conservatives). The fact that Newt Gingrich polls at almost 10% even though he has been out of the public eye for basically the last 15 years and didn't necessarily leave on great terms with the party establishment is impressive and probably means that he will be a force to be reckoned with. Ron Paul always draws a sizable minority from the libertarian / anti-neo con wing of the party, but he can't build the critical mass to win. The other candidates don't register at significant levels yet.

It's early, so you expect the better-known candidates to poll better at this stage. But the polls simply punctuate the point that the lesser-known candidates don't have long to get in, if they expect to build the name recognition necessary to have a serious shot at the nomination.

Budget Logjam -- A Few Week at a Time
The Republicans are winning on domestic discretionary spending. As the Republican House and the Democratic Senate and Democratic President don't seem any closer to a deal, yet another continuing resolution is being drafted to bridge the federal government, whose latest continuing resolution (the fifth of this budget year) will expire March 18th, which would shut the government down if not extended.

The GOP got $4B in spending cuts in their first 2 week resolution (the fourth overall, but the first since they took over the House) and there will apparently be $6B in spending cuts in the new 3 week resolution. Continue down this path and they will get the $61B in cuts that they seek eventually.

But budgeting by a string of continuing resolution is a horrible practice. It is incredibly inefficient for government agencies to operate not knowing what their budget will be in 3 weeks. It leads to inefficiency and waste, all the things that both parties love to rail against in government, especially the GOP.

And let's not forget the fact that the domestic discretionary budget isn't where the money is. Domestic discretionary represents a mere 13% of federal government spending. Defense is 23%. Entitlements are 56%. The balance is interest and minor one-time expenditures.

In fact, simply allowing the Bush/Obama tax cuts to lapse, rather than extending them as Obama and the GOP agreed would have very nearly funded the ENTIRE domestic discretionary budget.

Let's talk about the 79% represented by defense and entitlements. At least the GOP is starting to talk about entitlement reform. Reforming Medicare and Medicaid (and less critically, Social Security) along with massive cuts to defense (which no one except Rand Paul, Barney Frank and Bernie Sanders seem to be discussing), are the key to solving the deficit, along with some reasonable tax increases (is it reasonable that half the population doesn't pay income taxes?)

I voted for both President Obama and the GOP House (Jon Runyan, in my case.) I call on them to work together to solve the real problem.

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