The Monday Fix

Among the GOP's 2012 contenders, nobody's perfect

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By Chris Cillizza
Monday, January 31, 2011

Mitt Romney can't win the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.

As governor of Massachusetts, he signed health-care legislation that has considerable similarities to the proposal President Obama championed - the one Republicans have fought tooth and nail.

That's an emerging bit of conventional wisdom about the slow-forming GOP race. And it's right - except that it omits one very important fact: All - that's A-L-L - of the Republicans considering runs for the nomination carry at least one major flaw that could keep them from victory.

"So far, the Republican field looks conventional and flawed," said Mark McKinnon, who was an adviser to President George W. Bush. "To beat Obama, the GOP is going to have to come up with a ticket that is fresh, exciting, unconventional and free of major flaws."

Let's take a look at the Achilles' heel of some of the best-known candidates:

l Haley Barbour: The Mississippi governor virtually invented lobbying - not exactly the ideal background in a very anti-Washington Republican electorate. And his Southern roots - and the gaffe he committed late last year when he seemed to suggest that the civil rights movement wasn't a big deal where he grew up - might not play well in the Iowa caucuses or the New Hampshire primary, the first two nominating contests of 2012.

l Mitch Daniels: The Indiana governor drew widespread criticism among the party base when he suggested that the next president would need to call a "truce" on social issues until the country moved beyond its current economic woes. Social conservatives dominate the Iowa caucuses and the South Carolina primary - and they won't forget Daniels's truce talk anytime soon.

l John Thune: The senator from South Dakota - like many of his Republican Senate colleagues - voted for the Troubled Assets Relief Program in late 2008. Many conservatives view the vote as a sort of scarlet letter, a massive government bailout that is anathema to their limited-government philosophy.

l Newt Gingrich: The former House speaker's appeals to social conservatives in places such as Iowa and South Carolina could be complicated by his very public personal life: He has been married three times.

l Sarah Palin: The former Alaska governor has done next to nothing to build a national political organization or demonstate the ability - or willingness - to grow beyond her committed social conservative base.

l Jon Huntsman: His serving in the Obama administration - albeit as the ambassador to China - won't go down well with many Republican primary voters who detest the current occupant of the White House. And Huntsman's public endorsement of cap-and-trade legislation puts him out of step with most in his party.

l Tim Pawlenty: The former Minnesota governor's biggest problem is a lack of pizazz. Can a candidate who is relatively unknown outside his home state of Minnesota and whose best trait is his "niceness" rise to the top of such a crowded field?

l Mike Huckabee: Huckabee's record as governor of Arkansas - particularly his decision to commute the sentence of Maurice Clemmons, who went on to murder four police offers in Washington state - is ripe for a deep opposition-research dive. And Huckabee's record on taxes as governor isn't likely to look much better in the eyes of many Republicans.

Curt Anderson, a GOP consultant who worked with Romney in 2008 but is now unaligned, argued that the candidates' pasts won't win or lose them the nomination.

"The answer to the riddle lies in the future, not the past," he said. "Who can capture the imagination of Republican primary voters? That is the question."


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