The GOP presidential field is firming up, and all the major White House hopefuls have something in common besides a desire to defeat President Obama: Each has on his resume a violation of conservative orthodoxy certain to anger primary voters.
Whether it’s backing state health care, approving tax increases or supporting initiatives driven by climate change, the top candidates have baggage that will have some Republicans swallowing hard in the voting booth.
“Every candidate in the field has a question that has to be answered with the Republican primary voters, and how each of them answers that question that pertains to them in the mind of voters is going to be very important,” said GOP strategist Ed Gillespie, a former Republican National Committee chairman. “That is part of the testing process. That’s part of what forges winning candidates.”
The field is defined as much by who has passed on a run as by who is in or still considering it.
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels announced Sunday that he would forgo a bid, following in the footsteps of Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Rep. Mike Pence and billionaire businessman Donald Trump.
That leaves a field where it seems the bigger the name, the more questions there are.
Many Republican voters want to know why former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who announced his bid last week, criticized on national TV the House GOP’s plan to reshape Medicare and why former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., another potential contender, was willing to represent the Obama administration for nearly two years as U.S. ambassador to China.
Meanwhile, Mitt Romney, who has formed an exploratory committee, is dogged by the universal health care program he signed into law as governor of Massachusetts, and c, who officially kicked off his campaign Monday, has been criticized for supporting a regional “cap-and-trade” program on greenhouse gases as governor of Minnesota.
Orthodoxy concerns dog others already in the race or considering a run, including the call by Rep. Ron Paul of Texas for retrenchment of troops involved in military operations overseas and support for states interested in legalizing marijuana; former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson’s pro-choice stand on abortion, albeit with restrictions; former corporate executive Herman Cain’s lack of a political track record; and Rep. Michele Bachmann’s habit of shooting rhetorical bombs from the hip.
Former Virginia Republican Party Chairman Jeffrey Frederick said the crop of candidates has left many grass-roots activists “wanting for somebody who hasn’t come around yet.”
“Nobody is excited about anybody,” Mr. Frederick said. “They are still looking, and it’s pretty bad when there are plenty of candidates out there to choose from.”
Mr. Gillespie shrugged off the criticism of the field and said that whoever the nominee is will be capable of defeating Mr. Obama.
“Everybody always wants more choices, but I think the choices are before us, and I think the choices are good,” he said.
Meanwhile, some of the candidates have offered explanations - even apologies - in an attempt to diminish the blemishes on their records that threaten to undermine their 2012 candidacies.
For instance, Mr. Romney delivered an entire speech May 12 designed to answer questions about the universal health care law he signed as governor of Massachusetts, saying it was a constitutionally acceptable policy experiment by a state, while casting Mr. Obama’s health care overhaul as an unconstitutional power grab by Washington.
Conservative pundits said the speech may have backfired, with Mr. Romney’s defense of the individual mandate serving chiefly to bolster Mr. Obama’s plan.
Mr. Gingrich has had to apologize profusely for his criticism of House Republicans’ plans to overhaul Medicare. He has gone so far as to say that his words shouldn’t be used in attack ads against the GOP. Undeterred by the warning, Democrats have gleefully repeated the former speaker’s attacks.
Mr. Pawlenty has employed a “nobody is perfect” defense of his previous stance on cap-and-trade, telling audiences and interviewers that everybody running or considering a bid for president has “a few clunkers” on their records, and that his are fewer and less severe than most.
“If anybody is perfect, come on up here and stand by this podium, because we’d like that person to be running for president,” Mr. Pawlenty said at the first presidential debate in South Carolina.
Chris Chocola, president of the Club for Growth, said that “the term of the campaign may be ‘clunkers.’ “
“They all have clunkers,” the former congressman from Indiana said. “I guess the question is whether they own up to them or not, and whether they learn from them or not.”