Digested: The Republican Presidential Candidates

So far, the Republican presidential race has been characterised by the fact that Mitt Romney is probably going to win, but that many rank-and-file Republicans are desperate for him not to.

Attempts to find a viable Anything But Romney candidate from among the other contenders have failed so far – each time one seems to surge ahead, usually resulting from a strong debate performance, it’s not long before gaffes, negative advertising or private life revelations have knocked them off their perch.

In a field dominated by the Republican hard-right, Romney’s a relative centrist, and the most able to win over middle-of-the-road voters who have become disillusioned with Obama. As far as winning round the rank-and-file is concerned, his Mormonism has drawn hostility from the highly influential evangelical Christian demographic – many evangelicals don’t see Mormons as ‘proper’ Christians – as have his flip-flopping views on issues like abortion and gay marriage. Expect him to continue tacking right as the contest progresses to try and win their support, and, if nominated, choose a notable social conservative as his Vice Presidential candidate to compensate for his lack of right-wing credentials –balancing the ticket’ in US political jargon.

Essentially, of the candidates standing with a realistic chance of winning the nomination, Romney would probably make the least worst Republican President – see below for the alternatives. He’s also the candidate most likely to be able to win against Obama.

Four more years of Obama would be infinitely preferable to any Republican President, and so, ideally, a divisive hard-liner like Rick Santorum or Ron Paul would win the nomination, mightily please their grassroots supporters, but go on to be annihilated in the election proper. As it stands, the best we can hope for is that Gingrich, Paul and Perry hold out until the end, making Romney waste money fighting them off that could otherwise be used to slur Obama.

The Candidates

mitt-romney-1Mitt Romney, 64, governed liberal Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007, then staged an unsuccessful bid to win the Republican presidential nomination in 2008. As governor, he was broadly socially tolerant, but fiscally conservative – he cut spending and raised fees to wipe out a $3bn budget deficit. That said, he also introduced a state system of universal health insurance which would later provide a model for Obama’s nationwide Republican-baiting healthcare reforms. He has since moved Right, reversing his stances on a variety of social issues. As Governor of permissive Massachusetts, Romney was for gay marriage, believed in man-made climate change, and supported women’s right to choose – with his first try at winning over his party’s right-wing rank-and-file to secure the Republican presidential nomination, he suddenly became a pro-life climate change denialist staunchly against gay marriage. Romney won the Iowa Caucus, albeit extremely narrowly, and is currently the Republican front-runner.

Newt_GingrichNewt Gingrich, 68, was the Speaker of the House of Representatives between 1994 and 1998, leading Republicans to a majority in the House for the first time in 40 years. His tenure was marked by hard-line fiscal conservatism – his so-called ‘Contract with America’ aimed to drastically reduce the size of government, encourage lower taxes, promote entrepreneurialism, and cut welfare. His current proposals for tax cuts and budget-balancing strongly echo his policies as House Speaker fourteen years previously. He was a persistent thorn in the side of then-President Bill Clinton, particularly in the latter’s embattled second term when Gingrich attempted to have him impeached over the scandal resulting from his high-profile affair with White House aide Monica Lewinsky. The fact that Gingrich himself was having an affair with a member of his staff at the time, and had previously divorced his cancer-stricken wife while she was in hospital, are things that highly influential Republican social conservatives aren’t likely to forget in a hurry.

ron paulRon Paul, 76, is a cult figure on America’s hard-line libertarian right. Formerly an Air Force surgeon, then an obstetrician, Paul represent Texas’ 14th District in the House of Representatives, and came fourth in the 2008 Presidential Primaries. Viewed as a fringe eccentric by many, he is a free market fundamentalist who supports drastically reduced government spending and the abolition of income tax. He refuses to support any piece of legislation he believes is not authorised by America’s constitution, and proudly states that he has never voted for any measure that would lead to an unbalanced budget. However, his libertarianism means he takes a strikingly different stance on foreign affairs than most of his Republican colleagues. Paul was a vocal opponent of the war in Iraq, and of George W. Bush’s controversial PATRIOT Act, seen to have curbed liberties in the name of anti-terrorism. Among Paul’s more eye-catching policies are the legalisation of heroin, American withdrawal from NATO and the UN, and a pledge to cut $1 trillion from the federal budget in his first year in office. By comparison, Barack Obama has recently signed up to some of the biggest budget cuts in American history that will reduce federal spending to 1950s levels – they aims to cut $1 trn over a decade. Ron Paul came third in Iowa.

rick-santorumRick Santorum, 53, is a former Senator for Pennsylvania. Devoutly Catholic, Santorum is probably the most socially conservative candidate to stand in the 2012 Primaries. Some of his wince-inducing pronouncements on social issues ensure that he won’t be a candidate to win over undecided moderates, either among registered Republicans or the broader electorate. Santorum is not only against gay marriage, but in favour of annulling all existing same-sex marriages. He is on record as blaming child abuse on liberal culture, and suggesting that it is more prevalent in liberal cities like Boston, as well as opposing a Supreme Court decision that prevented the state of Connecticut from outlawing all contraception. In his campaign, he is making much of his experience on Senatorial committees relating to foreign affairs, particularly in relation to Iran – if Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s regime wouldn’t open up its nuclear facilities to international inspectors, Senator Santorum has said, as President he would bomb them. Having campaigned exhaustively in Iowa, hoping his social views would chime with the state’s high concentration of evangelical Christians, Santorum came within seven votes of winning, ultimately having to settle for second place behind Mitt Romney.

rick perryRick Perry, 60, is the current governor of Texas, and the longest-serving in the state’s history. There, he has managed to balance the books in the return for deep cuts to state education. Initially a front-runner, energising grassroots evangelicals with a religious rally attended by 30,000, Perry’s fortunes have fallen rapidly – he got Kim Jong Il’s name wrong, embarrassingly fumbled an answer about what he’d do if told Pakistan had lost one of its nuclear weapons, forgot what he was going to say three times during the same televised debate and revealed that he thought the US voting age was 21, when in fact it was brought down to 18 in 1971. Expect Perry or John Huntsman to be the next candidate to drop out of the race.

jon-huntsman-official-webJohn Huntsman, 51, is a former governor of Utah, served as Ambassador to Singapore under Bill Clinton, and Ambassador to China under Barack Obama. Huntsman shunned Iowa completely to concentrate on making a splash in the more liberal New Hampshire. As such, his campaign has barely made a dent so far, and he is the most likely candidate to drop out next. He is anti-abortion, anti-tax and wants to abolish Medicare, but it says all you need to know about the Republican Party circa 2012 that he’s considered a left-wing moderate. Undeniably pragmatic and out of step with Tea Party era right-wing excess, Huntsman says he wants to see his Party ‘return to sanity someday’. Consider it a Bemolutionary prediction that he won’t last long.

Michele Bachmann, Tea Party favourite and the only female candidate to stand, dropped out after coming last in Iowa – her candidacy was seriously hurt when she claimed that the HPV vaccine, aimed at preventing cervical cancer, caused ‘mental retardation’. Businessman Herman Cain, formerly CEO of the Godfather Pizza restaurant chain, was briefly a front-runner in the earliest stages of the race, but suspended his campaign when former employees emerged accusing him of sexual harassment.