- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 29, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The latest Rasmussen Reports poll makes what’s at stake crystal clear for Republicans getting ready to vote in primaries and caucuses: President Obama is beatable. In fact, the only way Barack gets a second term is if the Grand Old Party drops the ball. According to Rasmussen’s presidential matchups survey released Thursday, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney enjoys a commanding 6-point lead over Mr. Obama, 45 percent to 39 percent. Even more impressive, Mr. Romney has a huge 16-point lead among independent voters who have no party affiliation. It’s time for the opposition to unify and work together to drive home a win.

The latest polling data don’t mean that Mr. Romney has the nomination sewn up or that no other Republican can win the White House next year, although he is the only one the numbers show can beat Mr. Obama at this point. Still, as Rasmussen reminds, others have had temporary leads over the president in past polls, including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain, who has since departed the field. The bottom line is Mr. Obama is so unpopular that just about anyone can beat him in 2012 once the Republican nominee is crowned and has all the institutional party support behind him.

However, two dark storm clouds hover overhead that could rain on the elephants’ victory parade. The first is a possible third-party challenge that would eat away at the margins of support from the conservative-libertarian GOP base. On Wednesday, respected two-term former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson announced he was leaving the Republican Party to seek the presidential nomination of the Libertarian Party, giving that second-tier political organization a big boost in credibility. There is also speculation about third-party bids from the right by wildly popular Texas Rep. Ron Paul and businessman superstar Donald Trump. Any of these could be a gamechanger as a third-party candidate only has to nibble off a sliver of the electorate to sway an election, as Green Party leader Ralph Nader proved in 2000 when he took a mere 2.7 percent of the vote nationally but that was enough to cost Democrat Al Gore Florida and the presidency.

The second danger rests in Republican political ineffectuality and the party’s knack for not giving the upset populace the smaller government it wants. Exhibit A was the GOP congressional leadership’s embarrassing performance over the paltry two-month extension of the payroll-tax holiday, which made it look like conservatives aren’t ready to govern. House Speaker John A. Boehner got unfairly smacked around for flip-flopping and ultimately caving on the brief extension but he didn’t have much of a choice once his own party’s Senate leader started reading from the Democratic playbook and beating him up for not jumping on the bandwagon. That Republicans on Capitol Hill worry they could lose a tax debate to left-wing Democrats exposes a lack of confidence in the party’s core conservative principles and reminds of their scary willingness to throw important ideology overboard for perceived (though usually illusory) short-term political expediency.

Voters painfully remember how disappointing Republican control was last time the GOP had the House, Senate and George W. Bush was president. Instead of taking advantage of the opportunity to downsize bureaucracy, they created a new budget-busting prescription-drug entitlement and pursued other government-centric policies. Many Americans look back nostalgically at the Clinton years when divided government had the Democratic president and Republican Congress permanently at loggerheads, thus keeping federal growth in check and the budget balanced. This time around, conservatives need to eschew knee-jerk, inside-the-Beltway bumbling to convince the public they’re responsible enough to have all the keys again.

Who will be the Republican standard-bearer is still up in the air, but the rest of the party needs to get its act together in the mean time. Americans by and large agree with conservative ideals, but they aren’t sold on Republicans. To close the deal in 2012, the GOP has to show the nation it’s serious about bringing real change to Washington for once.

Brett M. Decker is editorial page editor of The Washington Times. He is coauthor of the new book “Bowing to Beijing” (Regnery, 2011).

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