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A primer on primaries: American politics for the everyman

Have a hard time following conversations about the American primaries? Have no fear. Sean and Nick discuss and debate American politics for the everyman, so even your cat can follow along! Soon you, too, will be able to name-drop in drunken conversations with PoliSci students. Stay smart, stay informed.



By Nick Ubels and Sean EvansEmail

Print Edition: January 25, 2012

Have a hard time following conversations about the American primaries? Have no fear. Sean and Nick discuss and debate American politics for the everyman, so even your cat can follow along! Soon you, too, will be able to name-drop in drunken conversations with PoliSci students. Stay smart, stay informed. It might be the USA but it affects us Canadian kids too.

Sean: First off, a tip of my hat to Jon Huntsman. Why? Because he stuck to his guns. In a political atmosphere that calls for you to be either a staunch conservative or a staunch democrat, Huntsman occupied no-man’s land. As the ambassador to China under Obama, Huntsman knew that he needed to distance himself from the administration and woo the hard-line conservative base — perhaps calling Obama a commie, or ranting about the need to build a giant wall on the border with Mexico would’ve helped. Yet he did none of this — he stuck to his personal beliefs and views, even though they didn’t perfectly match the Republican platform — refreshing, in light of some of the other candidates (cough Mitt Romney cough cough Newt Gingrich cough). Huntsman was, and is, clearly a fiscal conservative, yet on social issues he is much closer to center than most conservatives would be comfortable with. In fact, Huntsman is difficult to pin down, and his support was muddied at best. In the end, it was hard for anyone to get excited about Jon Huntsman because he didn’t distinguish himself as a moderate, fiscal conservative. Had this fact been better shown to the GOP, who knows what would’ve happened? Having a nominee that is closer to center could’ve been helpful in a general election, but these are the primaries. If you don’t own a gun and don’t make comments about bombing Iran and how homosexuality is wrong, it appears as though you have no chance at winning the nomination. In the end, the loss of Jon Huntsman is not surprising, but just indicative of the polarized nature of the game.

Nick: I find it more than a little disheartening that Jon Huntsman was unable to gain any real traction in the GOP primaries. One of the Republican Party’s most electable candidates in a national contest, Huntsman’s measured, reasonable persona in the early campaign would have made for some truly compelling debates with Democrat incumbent Barack Obama during the fall election cycle. His pragmatic, center-right position on most issues; widely-praised track record as Governor of Utah, where he left office with a remarkably high 80 per cent job approval rating and the highest job growth rate in the country (the PEW Centre on the States named Utah the best fiscally governed state in the country during his tenure); willingness and ability to work closely with both Republican and Democratic administrations; and foreign policy experience as ambassador to China make Huntsman ideally suited to the position of U.S. President. It says a lot about the current political atmosphere that Huntsman’s fluency in Mandarin (sure to be a huge asset in the new global economy and dealings with the People’s Republic) was targeted by GOP opponents as evidence that Huntsman might be a so-called Manchurian candidate backed by the Chinese government. This politics of fear is not only damaging to public participation in the democratic process, but detrimental to those candidates who employ such campaign tactics. Another attack ad launched by the Newt Gingrich campaign called out Mitt Romney for speaking French. Is it just me, or does speaking another language not make one a more effective statesman? Whether Huntsman is tapped as Romney’s running-mate should the former Massachusetts governor win the GOP ticket or bides his time for a stronger campaign in 2016, I do not think this is the last we have seen of him in Presidential politics.

What do you make of Rick Perry’s announcement that he is also dropping out of the race? Where will his supporters turn – the similarly socially conservative Rick Santorum, moderate Mitt Romney, or libertarian Ron Paul?

Sean: I wasn’t surprised to hear of Rick Perry dropping out of the race—it was about time. As for where his supporters will turn, I am not too sure. In one sense, it is very possible that Ron Paul could see many of those who supported Perry turn to him because of geographic reasons, since Perry and Paul are both from the great state of Texas. That said, those who followed Perry as a pro-life, anti-gay marriage, social conservative may turn to Rick Santorum. In reality, Perry’s support was so marginal that it is unlikely to drastically change the outcome of these primaries. I was particularly glad to see just four candidates take part in the CNN debate this past week. As the campaigns have progressed it has been good to see fewer take part the in the debates—individuals are able to speak more and we’re getting a closer look at their takes on the issues.

Speaking of the debates, what I’ve seen has really, really made me think much less of the Republican Party and those in the audience. Here are two examples: first, in last week’s debate, Newt Gingrich was questioned on the accusation that he requested his ex-wife for an ‘open marriage’. In his response, Gingrich turned it around and lambasted the media and the moderator for asking such a “despicable” question in a presidential debate. The crowd responded by cheering and giving a standing ovation as Gingrich ripped into the liberal media. I find cheating on his wife, who was sick with cancer at the time, much more despicable than being asked a question in a debate. Ironically, Newt blamed the media for the fact that nobody decent ever runs for office anymore (i.e. Newt Gingrich).

In any case, I found it revolting that the crowd would support Gingrich as he clearly avoided answering the accusation and simply blamed the liberal media. Now, I must acknowledge that the question had little to do with the issues at hand, considering the affair occurred over a decade ago — however, it is still not a completely irrelevant issue, especially for social conservatives and the evangelical base of the party.

The second example came later in the debate. Ron Paul explained his foreign policy ‘golden rule’ — do unto other nations as you would have them do unto you. His belief is that if this had been done in the Middle East, things would be much different. Logical, right? Apparently not, as much of the audience erupted into booing. How can you boo the golden rule? Moments like that convince me that the Republican Party has completely lost touch with the world around them.

What do you think about Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney? What is the difference between the two? How does the fact that both are multi-millionaires who have gotten rich while others have faced economic troubles affect their chances at election? Newt is inextricably linked to Freddie Mac and Mitt is known as a business man—how does this impact their hopes of election in the midst of a year that was gripped by the Occupy movement?

Nick: In an unbelievably strange turn, recent polls coming out of South Carolina after Gingrich’s so-called fiery retort to CNN moderator John King’s question about his ex-wife’s “open marriage” comment have put him far ahead of one-time frontrunner Mitt Romney. Usually, this sort of scandal is the thing to kill electoral bids, not revive stagnating ones. A couple days ago, when we started this dialogue, it seemed like only a matter of time before Gingrich pulled out of the race. For whatever reason, Gingrich’s public outrage at a question that, while perhaps not the most relevant to policy discussion, was certainly an object of public debate. As a journalist and debate moderator, was it not John King’s obligation to communicate the concerns of the public? And Gingrich’s high-minded rhetoric about preserving the sanctity of marriage would certainly appear at the very least hypocritical after these recent allegations.

What surprises me the most is how quickly Gingrich was able to turn a potentially catastrophic blow against his campaign into a sort of underdog narrative where he has managed to paint himself as unfairly targeted by the quote “liberal” media. And for much of the Republican base, it seems like his surliness has been equated with a kind of righteous indignation that they feel will be necessary to defeat Obama in the general election.

I think that both Gingrich and Romney would have a really hard time finding much support among the general population for the very issues you pointed out, especially considering Obama’s newfound focus on economic justice as a major theme of his campaign this year. With Gingrich poised to win South Carolina, it seems like Rick Santorum will soon be the one on the outside looking in. The big question is whether Ron Paul can weather the bitter back and forth between Gingrich and Romney and emerge as a strong national candidate. While he does seem to be having a hard time courting some hard-line conservatives because of his anti-war stance, he is polling fairly well against Obama in national surveys.

Partisan strategy aside, I always kind of hope for a close contest: a tough decision between the two best candidates for leader. And I think that a contest between Barack Obama and Ron Paul would provide the American people with as close to such an ideal as possible this year.

Next week: Nick and Sean delve into Ron Paul (Texan doctor turned libertarian poster boy), Super PACs (not super heroes), and campaign financing (who’s actually paying for this whole three-ring circus??). Stay tuned!

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  1. Jason

    January 27, 2012 at 6:45 pm

    The two of you leave Newt alone. Newt is an exemplary American and an even more exemplary Republican. Money is not what matters in America, in the sense that it should not be bad to have some or in case of the two main contenders a large amount. It should also not matter if they where poor and had great ideas. The way Newt got his money was his great ideas. Gingrich’s business have earned him millions, “Center for Health Transformation,” “Gingrich Productions,” “Gingrich Communications,” and others are examples of the man’s ability to make fiscal decisions that we all can be proud of. In 1995 “Time Magazine” named Newt it’s Man of the Year, for his role in ending 40 years of Democrat stranglehold, If elected I am confident Newt can remove those Communists from power and place it back in the hands of the People and their Republican Party. There is a lot of strife in the Republican party on faith based lines, and this is where Newt excels. As a man for a Christian America who has been an active member of Lutheran, Southern Baptist and currently the Catholic Faith, he is a man that understands the issues dividing brothers and I am sure will be a voice of reason to bring these groups together. This quote from Newt’s own website truly underline the reasons people should give him their vote, here in 2012:
    “Under Newt’s leadership, Congress passed the first balanced budget in a generation, leading to the repayment of over $400 billion in debt. Congress also cut taxes for the first time in sixteen years and reformed welfare, leading to over sixty percent of welfare recipients either getting a job or going to school. In addition, the Congress restored funding to strengthen our defense and intelligence capabilities, an action later lauded by the bipartisan 9/11 Commission.”

    Ron Paul want you to listen to his wind bag speeches on what he will do if elected, while Newt has a proven track record in taking on our debt. He also stands a true patriot, in the defense our nation against enemy combatants. Ron Paul on the other hand want to let these enemy combatants get away with the murder of American citizens. Paul claims some golden rule, while they already showed us how they want to be treated, we are just serving just deserts.

    Space is the next frontier, Newt has a plan for that. I am sure Dr. Paul would much rather us go back to being puritans and farming fields, being blacksmiths.

    For a man a vision vote Newt

  2. Nick Ubels

    January 28, 2012 at 1:13 am

    Hi Jason,

    Thanks for your comment! We’ll be discussing Mr. Gingrich in detail in next week’s column.

    – Nick

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