Business Times - 07 Dec 2011
Marathon man up against the short-distance runner
The US Republican contest for presidential nominee seems to be boiling down to a race between Romney and Gingrich
By LEON HADAR
IT does seem that we may be arriving at the end of the Amateur Hour(s) of the Republican Party's presidential primaries. At some point in the coming weeks, the grown-ups will be taking charge of the process that will culminate in the selection of the Republican presidential candidate.
According to many political pundits, the party's presidential nominee would have a better than an even chance to beat President Barack Obama in next year's race for the White House.
It is not surprising that many veteran Republican political hands have been feeling a certain sense of nostalgia for the good old days before the age of the open and democratic presidential primaries in the 1960s, for a time when the 'bosses in the smoke-filled rooms' - the party's elders and funders and not its rank-and-file members - would be making the choice on who would eventually run as the Republican (or Democratic) presidential candidates.
Indeed, it is difficult to imagine that if the bosses were controlling the process of the Republican Party's presidential nominations this year, they would be giving a greenlight to the likes of the pizza business executive Herman Cain to even consider joining the presidential race.
Indeed, that someone who believes that China has yet to develop a nuclear bomb, that the Taliban is vying to take power in Libya, and that people in Cuba speak 'Cuban' was at one point leading as the Republican favourite to win the presidential race, is a testimony to the skewed electoral system that has turned the Republican presidential primaries into the laughing stock of late-night television comedians.
In fact, television comedians such as Jon Stuart are quite depressed now that Mr Cain - in the aftermath of a series of revelations about his infidelity and accusations of sexual abuse - was forced to withdraw from the race.
It was not so long that opinion polls suggested that former Alaska governor Sarah ('I can see Russia from my house') Palin and then casino owner and television show host Donald Trump were the Republicans' top choices for the party's presidential nomination.
The two were later eclipsed by Ohio Representative and Tea Party's favourite Michelle Bachmann who argued that taking a vaccine against cervical cancer could induce one to commit suicide and who pledged that if elected, she would close down the US embassy in Teheran (which had been vacated in 1979).
She, in turn, was later overshadowed by Texas Governor Rick Perry who described the US government retirement insurance programme (Social Security) as a 'Ponzi scheme' and who could not even recall during a televised debate the names of the three federal government agencies he was planning to close down (which was only one of many 'brain freezes' he has experienced).
Ms Bachmann and Mr Perry are not planning to withdraw from the race anytime soon and are scheduled to take part in one of the many televised debates that the Republicans will be holding, including the next one that will be moderated by Mr Trump himself. But no one is expecting either of these two colourful figures to win the nomination.
Instead, it is now the former Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich, who has emerged as the frontrunner in most opinion poll and is followed by former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who most experts predict would eventually be elected as the nominee.
As the Republicans prepare for the first four early tests of the season next month - starting with the caucuses in Iowa and followed by the primaries in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida - the contest seems to be turning into a two-man race between Mr Romney and Mr Gingrich.
That most of the smart money in the Republican party continues to say that Mr Romney will be the one facing President Obama in general election is a reflection of the kind of political common sense that would have guided the party bosses in the past.
After all, Mr Romney has been running for the president since the 2008 race for the White House when he lost the Republican nomination to Arizona Senator John McCain. He has been involved in electoral politics for many years, scoring big when running as a moderate Republican he was elected as the governor of a major Democratic leaning ('blue') state, Massachusetts, in 2002.
Mr Romney who was raised in famed political family - his father was the governor of Michigan and a presidential aspirant - has made a fortune as a successful business executive and has been happily married since 1969. In a way, Mr Romney is the steady and assured long-distance runner in the race, who has been training all his life this exhausting electoral marathon, has a strong organisation and financial support, and who has learnt how to adjust his pace, even if that means adapting his earlier moderate political position to the more conservative views of the Republican conservative rank and file.
Mr Gingrich, on the other hand, seems to do a great job as a short-distance runner. A former history professor, he demonstrated that he has good political instincts and rhetorical skills when he led the Republicans into a historic victory in 1994 when they took control of the House of Representatives and elected him as a Speaker. But Mr Gingrich lacked the steady hand needed for governing. After the failed effort to impeach president Bill Clinton and a series of ethical scandals, Mr Gingrich was forced to resign from his position.
In addition, Mr Gingrich who is now in his third marriage - he had an adulterous affair with his current wife who is 23 years his junior while his second wife was recovering from cancer - is an unabashed self-promoter who tends to put his foot in his mouth quite frequently. Just recently, he proposed revising child labour laws to allow schools to fire janitors and replace them with poor children.
While Mr Gingrich seems to be in a position to win the votes of conservative Tea Partiers who had considered voting for Mr Cain, Ms Bachmann or Mr Perry - which explains why he is currently rising in the opinion polls - he lacks the kind of national organisation and financial resources that provide Mr Romney with a long-term advantage over the former House Speaker in a race that could continue for quite a long time.
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