(NOTE: This is intended to be a living document. If you spot an error or just want to quibble about something I said or left out, let me know in the comments.)
One of my friends asked me for “an intelligent rundown” on the Republican candidates for the 2012 presidential election. Here is my attempt with a blog post for the public, including the candidates’ experience, links to their wiki and campaign sites, the age they would be as President, their fact-checked score on campaign statements by the [mostly] non-partisan Politifact, and my opinions of their pros and cons and a summary of their campaign thus far.
Here are the 2012 GOP Presidential candidates, in roughly reverse order of their current poll standings. This guide isn’t perfect, but neither are any of these candidates… (UPDATED 1/21/12) (Bias disclaimer: This guide may be too mean to Gingrich, not nice enough to Santorum, and too nice to Paul and Roemer)
5. Buddy Roemer (wiki) (campaign)
Presidential Age: 69-73
Cred: Congress House (’81-’88), Louisiana Go. (’88-’92)
Pros: Good record as governor. Does not accept campaign donations over $100.
Cons: Don’t know enough about him yet to know.
Abortion: Co-sponsored bills in House to restrict federal funds for abortions, but also vetoed bills as governor that were “unconstitutionally restrictive.”
Politifact Statement Score: 0 True / Mostly True vs. 0 False/ Pants on Fire
Sum: There are always a lot of candidates vying for the party nomination that don’t get much media attention, despite the experience they may have (Ron Paul started out that way in 2008). Roemer has recently emerged as the undisputable leader among candidates who have not been allowed into a debate, going from 0.00025% in Iowa to 0.4% in New Hampshire. He wants to get money out of politics and has begun resonating with at least a few people.
4. Ron Paul (wiki) (campaign)
Presidential Age: 77-81
Cred: Congress House (’97-’11)
Pros: Has integrity matched by few other long-time politicians, if any. Opposes most taxes, wars, government intrusions on personal freedom, and anything he doesn’t think is authorized by the Constitution even if he’s the only one of the 535 members of Congress voting No. You actually believe he believes what he says he believes.
Cons: Has never won an election outside his little Texas district. Some of the things he believes about the Federal Reserve hint at weird conspiracies about controlling the world, and I’m skeptical that his monetary policies would work in a global economy (not that Congress would allow him to do anything too crazy).
Abortion: “Unshakeable foe of abortion.” Has made statements about preferring abortion to be handled at the state level but also introduced a bill to define life as beginning at conception.
PolitiFact Statement Score: 14 True / Mostly True vs. 8 False / Pants on Fire
Home Value: $263,000
Sum: Paul is the only guy besides Romney returning from 2008, and thanks in part perhaps to the Tea Party, he started polling 6-10% instead of 1-3% of the voters this time around, reawakening a pure anti-government libertarian streak in the Republican party. He’s now up to about 13% and continues to defy “peak Paul” claims that he’s reaching a ceiling. He’s pretty dogmatic and uncompromising about his positions, but in general I think he’s more right than wrong – and he’s the only candidate over 1% who’s saying anything about opposing SOPA and NDAA and all of the other continually creeping attacks on our individual freedoms.
3. Rick Santorum (wiki) (campaign)
Presidential Age: 54-58
Cred: Congress House (’91-95′) and Senate (’95-’07)
Pros: Solid conservative values and stuff
Cons: Seems like a good old Republican concerned with promoting conservative views via government involvement in same-sex marriage, intelligent design, combating Islamic terrorism, and stuff like that, but doesn’t seem that excited about cutting government spending or reducing its overall involvement in our lives. Also has some controversies about corruption in his past.
Abortion: Opposed, though some pro-lifers are mad at him for supporting a pro-choice Republican in his state who then switched to the Democrats and enabled the health care bill to pass.
Politifact Statement Score: 3 True / Mostly True vs. 4 False / Pants on Fire
Home Value: $1.3 million
Sum: Rick Santorum used to just be somewhat famous for ticking off homosexuals who conspired to make up a dirty definition for his last name and get it to show up when you Google his name. If you loved people like Bush and Huccabee, maybe you’ll like him too, but I don’t see him attracting conservatives with fiscal policy concerns, much less independents – and he doesn’t have the bonus experience of governing a state, either. The social conservatives started to coalesce around him after Perry and Bachmann faded, but he couldn’t get 10% of the vote in New Hampshire following a virtual first-place tie with Romney in Iowa. Nationally he’s essentially tied with Gingrich now at 16% as they both try to catch Romney.
2. Newt Gingrich (wiki) (campaign)
Presidential Age: 69-73
Cred: Congress House (’79-’99) including Speaker (’95-’99)
Pros: Lots of experience running the GOP establishment back in the 90’s.
Cons: Lots of experience running the GOP establishment back in the 90’s. Has a sketchy history of having affairs and leaving one wife to marry another in the same year (twice!). He’s got more flip-flop problems than Romney and maybe as much arrogance as Obama.
Abortion: Seems to think it “should not be legal.”
Politifact Statement Score: 7 True / Mostly True vs 17 False / Pants on Fire
Home Value: $1.3 million
Sum: The Newt led the Republican takeover of Congress in the 90’s and has a mostly decent record of both opposing and working with Clinton to balance things and get things done. Then his star faded (perhaps due to the whole having-an-affair-while-impeaching-Clinton thing) and he left to write books and fund conservative organizations. Now he’s back. He projected himself as the reasonable, experienced alternative to the other non-Romneys and finally got his turn in the spotlight, just in time for the media to tell us that he earned $1 million “advising” Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac back in the day. Oh, Newt… he’s trying to say all the right things now, but will voters believe he hasn’t been corrupted by his three decades of sketchy government involvement? He has since fallen from his first-place perch, but unlike the previous bubble-and-crash candidates he’s still holding on to a fanbase at 16%.
1. Mitt Romney (wiki) (campaign)
Presidential Age: 65-69
Cred: Massachusetts Gov. (’03-’07)
Pros: Seems like a slick politician who is prepared for anything. Has executive experience in both government and business.
Cons: Seems like a slick politician who is prepared for anything. Mormon (if that bothers you). Created an individual-mandate health care system in Massachusetts and now spends most of his time in debates explaining why “Romneycare” was good but “Obamacare” is bad.
Abortion: Previously pro-choice, now says “abortion is the wrong choice except in cases of incest, rape, and to save the life of the mother.”
Politifact Statement Score: 37 True / Mostly True vs. 25 False / Pants on Fire
Home Value: $9.6 million
Sum: The only frontrunner to come back around after being rejected last time, Romney seems like the guy the Republican establishment wants you to pick (I mean, if you had to pick one of these candidates to play Generic President in an action movie, wouldn’t you pick the guy in that picture?). But a lot of people doubt his conservative credentials on things like healthcare or his changed positions on things like abortion. There’s no huge scandals or terrible controversies in his record or positions, but there’s not much to love, either. The story is that no one’s excited about Romney and everyone keeps trying to find someone exciting to replace him so they don’t have to settle for a guy who’s still technically better than Obama but not really what they had in mind… because after all, with his big corporate donors can we even trust him to be any better than Obama?
For the sake of reference, here is Barack Obama’s Politifact Statement Score: 155 True / Mostly True vs. 56 False / Pants on Fire
There have been a lot of debates so far, and I’m starting to think that debates are more useful for getting a feel for the current state of the party than for picking an individual candidate’s best rehearsed lines (Does anybody remember anything about what Obama promised to do in his debates?).
But Scott over at Expected Optimism has done a great job watching all the debates and creating bullet-pointed summaries of the things the candidates have said, with a personal opinion of (+1) or (-1) scores for each bullet point. I tend to agree with his scoring about 90% of the time. Feel free to browse any of these to get more of a feel for the candidates:
- First Debate* (SC – 5/5)
- Second Debate (NH – 7/13)
- Third Debate (IA – 8/11)
- Fourth Debate (CA – 9/7)
- Fifth Debate (FL – 9/12)
- Sixth Debate* (FL – 9/22)
- Seventh Debate (NH – 10/11)
- Eighth Debate (NV – 10/18)
- Ninth Debate (MI)
- Tenth Debate (SC)
- Eleventh Debate (D.C. – 11/22)
- Twelfth Debate (IA)
- Thirteenth Debate (IA – 12/16)
*Debates including Gary Johnson
5. Rick Perry (wiki) (campaign)
Presidential Age: 62-66
Cred: Texas Gov. (’00-’11)
Pros: Executive experience governing a big conservative state for a long time. Whether it’s all his doing or not, Texas’ job stats right now are even better than they look on first glance. Seems like a nice, exciting conservative.
Cons: Mandated an HPV vaccine for schoolgirls that casts some doubt on his “I-won’t-let-government-make-decisions-for-you” credentials. Accused of hypocrisy for opposing government stuff like federal stimulus money but using it to balance his state’s budget, which was in more trouble without it the next year.
Abortion: Opposed, perhaps with exceptions for rape, incest, or threat to mother’s life.
Politifact Statement Score: 27 True / Mostly True vs. 35 False / Pants on Fire
Home Value: $869.000
Sum: Perry burst onto the scene with the 2nd non-Rom surge after Bachmann, and then faded a bit as people learned more about him and moved on to the next guy. He did poorly in debates, and he capped off his decline by forgetting 1 of the 3 federal departments he says he wants to eliminate (cuing lots of punditry about whether that’s a reasonable, human imperfection or a fundamental flaw). He hung around 5% for awhile, trying to convince voters that he was better than Obama and that other guy we used to have with a Texas accent, but performed poorly in both Iowa and New Hampshire and finally dropped out and endorsed Gingrich.
6. Jon Huntsman (wiki) (campaign)
Presidential Age: 52-56
Cred: Utah Gov. (’05-’09), Ambassador to Singapore (’92-’93) and China (’09-’11)
Pros: Solid credentials in both leadership and foreign policy. His Utah record includes creating jobs and cutting taxes – though still a lot of spending increases.
Cons: Mormon (if that bothers you). Has supported trying to cap greenhouse gases.
Abortion: Signed bills restricting abortion as governor, including banning second-trimester abortions.
Politifact Statement Score: 6 True / Mostly True vs. 2 False/ Pants on Fire
Home Value: $3.3 million
Sum: For awhile it seemed like the media was hoping people would pick this guy as a reasonable, moderate, intelligent Republican (hey look! he supports civil unions and being nice to the environment!), but he hadn’t captured much more than 1-3% for most of the race until he rocketed to a third-place finish in New Hampshire. But that surge didn’t translate to any more national support, and Huntsman bowed out.
Herman Cain (wiki) (campaign)
Presidential Age: 67-71
Cred: Godfather’s Pizza CEO (’86-’96)
Pros: Sense of humor. Definitely not part of the Republican establishment elite. Proves Republicans aren’t all racist.
Cons: While Bachmann says anything to pander to voters, Cain just seems like a loose cannon that will say anything, and has been caught blatantly contradicting himself trying to backtrack and smooth things over. His “9-9-9” tax plan that brought him fame has not been well-received by pretty much any economist regardless of political flavor (though the idea of severely simplifying things is very attractive and has many strengths).
Abortion: “Life begins at conception, period.”
Politifact Statement Score: 3 True / Mostly True vs. 12 False / Pants on Fire
Sum: Cain had the 3rd non-Rom surge with his ambitious plans and fiery personality. Attacks on the “9-9-9” plan didn’t hurt them. Then the sexual harassment claims started coming. The conventional wisdom is that it wasn’t the claims that hurt Cain so much as his response, which involved some more firing-and-backtracking, but by the time the unresolved claims left the headlines with hardly any proof appearing, the damage was done. Cain dropped out of his brief commanding lead. Then claims appeared of an actual affair, and Cain fired off some more awkward responses, and while still hanging on around 14%, he announced the first weekend of December that he was bowing out.
Gary Johnson (wiki) (campaign)
Presidential Age: 60-64
Cred: New Mexico Gov. (’95-’03)
Pros: Climbed Mount Everest with a broken leg (really). Solid record running a business and then slashing size of government as governor, leaving the state with a surplus, all in a way that left him popular in a Democratic state. Seems to have a common-sense approach to most of his positions. Defense budget example: “I’ve lived my entire life thinking we don’t need to blow up the world 10 times over… Maybe six times will do.”
Cons: Nothing really to my knowledge; hasn’t gotten enough attention to reveal any hypocrisies, corruption, scandals, or gaffes.
Abortion: Mostly pro-life but allegedly believes “abortion should be legal up until the fetus is viable.”
Politifact Statement Score: 1 True / Mostly True vs. 1 False / Pants on Fire
Sum: Johnson doesn’t show up in most polls and has only been invited to two of the many debates so far, but he’s the “reasonable version of Ron Paul” favored this time around by all the libertarian bloggers. And no one else, apparently. It’s a shame he’s not viewed more legitimately when he’s won two elections in an entire state and seems to have a real sense of leadership skills and personal discipline and integrity. (I’ve written about him here.) But with a month to go and no momentum in sight, he’s hinting at realistic future plans. [UPDATE: Now openly seeking the Libertarian nomination]
Michele Bachmann (wiki) (campaign)
Presidential Age: 56-60
Cred: Congress House (’07-’11)
Pros: Tea Party darling with an advanced law degree who sometimes comes across as a more intelligent version of Sarah Palin.
Cons: Seems very reactive and very dogmatic about it, looking hard for “gotchas” to attack Obama (or her GOP competitors) that sometimes turn out not to be true, like claiming the Obama administration had only approved one new drilling permit when the actual number was hundreds. In line with her reactive dogma, she seems to say anything to pander to voters, like promising to bring gas down to $2 a gallon, and she should be smart enough to know Presidents don’t have the power to guarantee things like that.
Abortion: “100% pro-life.”
PolitiFact Statement Score: 6 True / Mostly True vs. 27 False / Pants on Fire
Sum: Bachmann was the first not-Romney candidate to surge in the polls and the first to fade, probably after saying some reactively dogmatic stuff about a vaccine that got Rick Perry in trouble. I didn’t think she deserved everything about the media pouncing on every little thing she said, but I think she asked for a lot of it, too. She faded to 5% or so and kept trying to make shocking claims to get back in the headlines, and eventually dropped out after a poor showing at the Iowa caucus.