The Public Eye: Republicans Have a Problem. So What?

By Bob Burnett
Tuesday May 31, 2011 - 03:25:00 PM

The Republican brain trust is gearing up for the 2012 Presidential election, stuffing their war chests and deploying an arsenal of dirty tricks. But they’re having trouble finding a suitable Presidential candidate. Why should we care? 

Potentially strong “centrist” GOP candidates, such as Governors Haley Barbour and Mitch Daniels and former Governor Mike Huckabee, have opted out of the race. As result, the remaining Republican Presidential hopefuls can be divided into two groups: crazies and weenies

Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann typifies the crazies. Bachmann, the leader of the “Tea Party” wing of the House Republicans, is a birther, a global climate change denier – she’s anti-science in general, and a skeptic that there will be serious consequences if the US fails to raise its debt limit. Besides Bachman, the crazies group includes Herman Cain, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul, and Sara Palin. In addition to being anti-government and anti-science, they toe the line on conservative Christian orthodoxy, declaring that abortion should be illegal in all circumstances and same-sex marriage should be prohibited. These candidates view the ideal US government as a free-market theocracy, where evangelical Christian orthodoxy guides personal conduct, and the vagaries of the marketplace determine national economic, energy, and environmental policy. 

The second group of Republican candidates is best described as weenies, because, without exception, they’ve been forced to disavow previous positions – rational policies – in order to satisfy the crazy wing of their Party. A prime example is former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney who, in 2006, signed the Massachusetts Health Reform Law that provided near-universal healthcare for state residents. Nonetheless, confronted with adamant Republican opposition to “Obamacare,” Romney has had to back away from his healthcare record. In addition, Romney was once pro-choice but switched to pro-life when it became axiomatic that Republican candidates adhere to socially conservative dogma. 

A recent addition to the weenie crowd is former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich who criticized the portion of the House Republican budget – the “Paul Ryan plan” – that guts Medicare and was immediately forced to back off. Gingrich has changed his positions so often that vacillation has become his trademark. 

The other major weenie candidate is former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty. A Roman-Catholic convert to evangelical Christianity, Pawlenty toes the social conservative line on abortion and same-sex marriage. He’s also adamantly anti-tax. So far he’s been circumspect with regard to his support for the Ryan budget. Nonetheless, Pawlenty merits the weenie label because he’s been forced to disavow his prior acknowledgment of the human contribution to global climate change and his support for a cap and trade system for regulating emissions. 

The only other declared weenie candidate, John Huntsman, former Governor of Utah, has changed his position on Medicare to support the Paul Ryan plan. 

When Republicans hold their Tampa, Florida, convention at the end of August 2012, they will nominate a member of either the crazy or weenie wing of their Party. At the moment, that’s most likely to be Tim Pawlenty. 

Even though this appears to be a weak set of GOP candidates, all sensible Americans should care about this situation, because the ultimate Republican candidate will have pledged allegiance to a series of ultra-conservative principles: 

1. Not to raise taxes under any circumstances. Republicans want to maintain the status quo for corporations and wealthy individuals – the Ryan budget actually lowers these taxes. 

2. Severely limit the role of government. In particular, Republicans believe that government plays no role in job creation; they trust that the “free” market will create the jobs necessary for an equitable economy. 

3. Support the Ryan Budget, passed April 15, that savages Medicare and Medicaid and repeals “Obamacare.” 

4. Support the Defense of Marriage Act and oppose same-sex marriage. 

5. Promote the repeal of Roe v. Wade and nominate judges that will further this objective. 

Saddled with these dogmas, the 2012 Republican nominee will be the most conservative presidential candidate in ninety years, pledged not only to repeal the legislation passed during the Obama era but also the New Deal. The Republican candidate will not only oppose women’s access to reproductive health services but will also strive to roll back ninety years of progress for women. Since the Reagan era, Republican presidential candidates have gotten more and more reactionary. As a consequence, we’re about to see the most conservative Republican candidate since Warren G. Harding. 

The most recent Pew Research poll on political preference indicates that only 11 percent of voters are “staunch conservatives” who support the five ultra-conservative principles. (Another 14 percent are “main street Republicans,” who would support most of the principles but likely not the Ryan budget.) 

Somewhere between 75 and 89 percent of registered voters disagree with the core Republican principles. Nonetheless, the most extreme wing of the GOP is driving the Party. That’s the Republican “problem.’ 

It’s a problem for all Americans because it signifies that a tiny minority is having disproportionate influence on our political process. 

Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. He can be reached at