Wednesday night’s Republican presidential debate was a big night for the GOP, as all of the major Republican candidates gathered for the first time. It also marked the first time Texas Governor Rick Perry went toe-to-toe with his competition.
The GOP race is jam packed with candidates, but essentially it is a two-man race — between Perry and former Massachusettes Governor Mitt Romney. For the betterment of the party, the second- and third-tier candidates should step aside and allow those who have a shot at winning take over. Lower tier candidates should go back to focusing on their congressional duties, book sales, or, in Ron Paul’s case, look to run as a third party candidate. The lower tier candidates have and will continue to muddle up the GOP primaries as long as they are part of the discussion. Continued fighting will only divide the party.
Top-tier candidates Perry and Romney have distanced themselves from the pack. According to a recent Gallup poll both are above 70% favorable rating. They have captivated the GOP audience, garnering the most media attention and taking in millions in fundraising revenue. They are in it to win it. They have the resources, the votes, and the stature to take on the president in a general election.
Second-tier candidates like Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and Ron Paul (R-Texas) are clinging to the coattails of the top two. Recently, Paul has been garnering momentum, as he continues to poll better and win debates. But Paul would be better served to run as a third party candidate. His policies are too radical for the Republican base. He should take his chances as a Libertarian party candidate, where he won’t have to tone down his rhetoric to cater to the classic Republican agenda. Getting out of the GOP circus would allow more time to entertain his base, and he could focus his energy on the general election, instead of warding off attacks from a mob of terrified run-of-the-mill Republicans.
Bachmann, on the other hand, has begun to lose her shine. Since her win in the Ames Straw Poll, her stature has shifted from top-tier candidate to dead woman walking. In the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll her polling numbers have fallen drastically from 12% in July to 6% this week. The entrance of Perry into the race has no doubt taken the wind out of her sails, as she can no longer claim to be the Tea Party candidate as Perry bests her on just about every Tea Party talking point. Battling Perry for Tea Party votes will only divide the important sect, splitting the base over minimal differences. Bachmann is seeing that her chances are fading and is already pulling a desperate move by focusing almost exclusively on Iowa despite having stops elsewhere, a move that if not successful in revitalizing her campaign will surely kill it.
The third-tier candidates like former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain, former Senator Rick Santorum, and Jon Huntsman should cut their loses. Gingrich’s continued involvement only shows his dying need to make money by selling more copies of his book. Cain and Santorum continue to spin their wheels as if they were stuck in mud. According to the latest CNN poll former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, who has not participated in a debate and has received little news coverage, is polling better than Santorum and is tied with Cain. Huntsman provides an interesting case. He has the credibility and record to garner votes but his lack of name recognition and moderate views have hurt his polling numbers. His attacks on just about every candidate do nothing to strengthen his case. Instead they highlight flaws in candidates that Obama could use as fire power come 2012.
Romney and Perry could really give Obama a run for his money come 2012. But in order to do so, the GOP infighting needs to be diminished greatly. Giving and receiving unnecessary fire from fading candidates does nothing to improve their chances in 2012. The two front-runners need to shine. Lower-tier candidates muddle up the process by taking away necessary news media and distracting front-runners from the real prize — the White House.
Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore