To win the 2012 Republican nomination and have a decent chance
against President Barack Obama in November, the eventual candidate
will have to mollify and motivate three factions: the GOP
establishment, the religious right and the tea party.
Though the religious right is a wing of the GOP, the tea party
most insistently is not; the two entities hold one another in mutual
mistrust. But that doesn't mean they are equals in this
relationship: The tea party doesn't need the GOP, but the GOP sure
does need the tea party.
To meld these three fractious factions into a winning coalition,
the eventual candidate will have to provide clear, persuasive
positions on the two issues that deeply divide them: money and
Since we can't hear theology lessons over growling stomachs,
money matters come first.
As in 1992, "it's the economy, stupid," but this time around no
candidate will need to "triangulate" his position: The statistics
are so stark and the real suffering behind them so widespread that
contrasting free-market policies, competently administered (one
hopes), with the Obama administration's ill-conceived and
disastrously handled economic policies should be relatively easy.
Tax rates, deficit spending, and Main Street-versus-Wall Street -
- these are the aspects of economic policy that the broad public
follows and cares about. How would each of the GOP front-runners
fare against Mr. Obama?
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is the most vulnerable.
Democrats have delighted in pointing out that his health care plan
for Massachusetts served as a model for "Obamacare," the federal
takeover of the nation's health care industry that ignited the tea
party movement. "Obamneycare," former candidate Tim Pawlenty
memorably dubbed it -- but that's not an epithet that Mr. Obama or
his apologists can use.
Since GOP conservatives and tea party activists want a candidate
who will repeal Obamacare and curtail the federal government's
overreach in other constitutionally and fiscally important ways, Mr.
Romney has to deliver a cogent defense of his Massachusetts plan. He
can, and must, argue that as the state executive he put together a
plan that would work for the people who elected him -- not
necessarily for Idaho or Alabama. One size does not fit all.
Mr. Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich are both
vulnerable for the "sin" of having made lots of money. Former
Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum deserves praise for his defense of
both men in last week's debate -- arguing that they did well because
they worked hard with the skills they had -- a stark contrast to
sore loser Texas Gov. …