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The United States: the Republican Party in search of its lost identity

republicanosusaIf it wants to get back into the White House, the Republican Party must reconnect with American society, which is currently taking a hard hit from the crisis. And the debate regarding how this should be done has already begun.

(Salt Lake City, Utah) THE LAST AMERICAN PRESIDENTIAL elections vaulted President Barack Obama into the upper echelons of both national and international political figures. Among the Democrats, his ascent has been complete enough to dispel any possible doubts concerning his ability to lead. In contrast, the opposite attitude prevails among the Republican ranks. Punished at the polls for the stale image of the Bush administration, the Republicans need to generate new leadership, one that puts an end to the widespread internal dejection and projects an inspiring message during these difficult times. However, the challenge is not slight. How can the party compete with a president who is enjoying a formidable approval rating? How can it eclipse the man who seems to be inspiring the nation masterfully?

In order to get back into the White House, the “Elephant Party” must reconnect with American society, which is currently taking a hard hit from the crisis. And the debate regarding how this should be done has already begun. The social and economic signs outside are discouraging. And there is still no light at the end of the tunnel. Within this framework, it is imperative that the Republican Party adapt and regroup. However, as with every process of internal debate, this will not be a calm and quiet procedure. The long-standing feuds between the distinct currents running through the party are beginning to surface publicly in the media.

Days prior, the statements made by controversial radio personality Rush Limbaugh sparked a chain reaction. On his program, Limbaugh urged the Republican Party to shift decidedly to the right. The impassioned “war cry” was very well received by part of an audience that is as wide as it is conservative. Conversely, in many distinct sectors of the party, members were concerned that American society had opted to stick much closer to the center.

2012 RIGHT AROUND THE CORNER

The next presidential elections will take place in 2012. Nonetheless, the group of viable candidates needs to take part in a serious organizational effort beforehand. This involves identifying the big donors – the “political sponsors” – and getting them to commit in time. Without their contributions, the pre-candidates lack viability. It is also necessary to assemble adequate technical teams: interviewers, analysts, image advisors and the support of important party referents. Likewise, it is necessary to establish political networks to allow the party to make inroads, for the time being, in the states considered to be “key”. For all of these reasons, 2012 is right around the corner. And this is why engines are beginning to start up.

Out of all of the Republican pre-candidates who competed in 2008, former governor Mitt Romney appears to be the one most willing to run again. At 62 years of age, Romney is not afraid of another round of primaries. While visiting Salt Lake City, the successful Mormon businessman said “I’m keeping the door open”. However, he added “I’m just not walking through it”. But what would his viability as a candidate be?

In 2008, Romney adopted a decidedly conservative profile, distancing himself from the positions of the centrists and mediators, which marked his successful period as governor of Massachusetts. Within the context of the current crisis, analysts agree that Romney would be forced to move to the center.

Aside from being extremely articulate, telegenic and having experience in government, Romney is an excellent campaign fund-raiser. If he were to re-run, he would be able to create a highly competitive political machine.

GIULIANI HAS A PRESENCE

Another figure who generates expectations is the former mayer of New York City, Rudolph Giuliani. However, the charismatic Giuliani has conspicuously remained silent. Ever since his lauded appearance at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Giuliani has avoided making both public appearances and political statements. However, it would be premature to throw out the possibility of him running. Despite his resounding failure in the last primaries, the former mayor is very popular among Republican voters, as well as in Democratic and Independent circles.

Besides, Giuliani has demonstrated that he has a strong presence in the media, “entering” American homes as a current and accessible man, one with whom it is very easy to connect.  Giuliani is the pleasant neighbor, if you will, the one you like to say hello to if you run into him on the way back home after work. And as if that weren’t enough, he’s based in New York. It is easy for him to leap onto the national stage from that nearly mythical megacity.

GOVERNORS IN CONFLICT

A very interesting competition can be observed on the state level. Slowly, a trio of Republican governors as pre-candidates is beginning to take shape, each one of them with quite different personal and political characteristics. In Alaska, Sarah Palin is showing clear signs that she has national aspirations. After the presidential campaign (in which she was John McCain’s vice-presidential candidate), Palin immediately retook the reins of her state. She often travels from Anchorage, where her office is, to Washington, maintaining dialog with national negotiators. Likewise, she keeps the national network that she constructed during the marathon electoral battle alive. Both factors could be crucial when it comes to making her candidacy official.

However, Alaskan voters have begun to show a growing uneasiness. They recently stated “we voted for Palin so that she would govern the state”. The magnitude of the current crisis demands that governors be firmly rooted in their present responsibilities. Within this context, where the unemployment rate could reach ten percent at any moment, any externalization of “future political aspirations” generates rejection within the electorate.

At any rate, Palin must be considered a proven potential candidate. Telegenic and young, she survived the brutal punch that resulted from being thrown from a peripheral state to the center of the harsh national scene. What’s more, she stoically withstood the relentless scrutiny to which her only family was subjected, in particular her children. And even if it is true that she lacks credentials in important areas of government (such as security and foreign policy), she could be educated in these matters and once again thrust herself out onto the national stage.

THE SOUTH ALSO EXISTS

All the way at the other end of the country, in the southern state of Louisiana, one of the most promising Republican figures has appeared. And he is rousing the greatest amount of interest among the behind-the-scenes supporters. At 37 years of age, governor Bobby Jindal is a true revelation.

In fact, after last November’s presidential election, word got out that he had been on John McCain’s short list of possible running mates.

Jindal made it to the governor’s office with impeccable management credentials, finishing up in public affairs. At 25 years of age he was the state’s Secretary of Health and Hospitals, and at 28 he successfully presided over the University of Louisiana System. Then would come a period as Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services for Planning and Evaluation, and two terms as a member of the United States House of Representatives from Louisiana’s 1st congressional district. Athletic, articulate and telegenic, he is the first governor of Indian origin in the history of the country, coming from a community that has made big leaps forward in economic and professional terms, but up until now has decided to stay out of active political life.

“Any externalization of future political aspirations generates rejection within the electorate”

Converted to catholicism in his youth, governor Jindal’s profile is so broad that it easily reaches many distinct sectors of voters: young people, religious people, conservatives and minorities. In fact, a comparison with President Obama’s leadership style is almost obligatory.

UTAH, POLITICS AND FAITH

The final member of the trio is the governor of Utah, Jon Huntsman. According to Governing Magazine, Utah is the third best run state in the country, which only says good things about Huntsman’s personal management skills. Currently in his second term in office, he is enjoying a popularity rating of around 68 percent. Mormon, with impeccable conservative credentials, Huntsman has recently adopted political positions that bring him closer to the center, causing conservative figures to attack “the governor’s undeniable presidential aspirations”. Recently, Huntsman weighed in on the legislative debate on same sex couples in a very respectful and inclusive manner, so much so that the gay community in Salt Lake City organized a candlelit vigil in front of the Governor’s Mansion. However, a potential Huntsman candidacy would force him to face up to the suspicion with which the public regards candidates of his faith.

“In the southern state of Louisiana, one of the most promising Republican figures has appeared: governor Bobby Jindal is a true revelation”

And in 2008, Romney himself had to publicly address his membership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as it is officially called, and make it clear that being Mormon is not incompatible with holding the highest political office in the nation, and indeed presents no obstacles to it.