Over the past six months, an array of Republican hopefuls have shown interest in the party’s nomination, but outside of a couple of exploratory committees, none have declared. As a result, celebrity candidates such as Michele Bachmann and Donald Trump have filled the vacuum and are currently dominating the headlines, pushing more serious candidates into the background and making otherwise promising potential candidates hesitate about their prospects.
Bachmann is the leading social conservative and Tea Party candidate, and is raking in the donations. As a result, she is a leading candidate in the all-important Iowa caucus and should be very competitive in the South Carolina primary. But the Republican leadership in Congress is growing uncomfortable with her prospects. Her controversial statements have made her a serious contender within the party base, but not with electorate outside the GOP.
Trump, on the other hand, is commanding national attention and has chosen the birth certificate issue as his means to confront Obama. In a short matter of weeks, Trump has taken the lead among Republican primary voters at 19 per cent. His pomposity, high profile, and penchant for publicity have made him a formidable challenger and one who will continue to capture headlines until he decides whether or not he’ll make a real run at the nomination.
The Republican establishment is obviously upset and concerned at the prospect of a Trump candidacy. Former George W. Bush operative Karl Rove, a leading fundraiser for the party, has shifted his criticism of Sarah Palin to Donald Trump calling him a “joke candidate.” Influential columnist George Will has also be very critical. Republicans who feel Obama is vulnerable and the White House is within reach are concerned by this turn of events.
But serious candidates such as Mitt Romney seem unable to break through the clutter. Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels seems interested, but cannot compete against the Trump publicity juggernaut. Tim Pawlenty, Minnesota’s former governor, looks like a serious potential candidate but cannot make inroads in the media. Meantime, Trump is able to make it onto the news shows anytime he wishes and still has his weekly reality show.
The Obama campaign has benefited from what has become a political sideshow. Even though he may not be a candidate in the end, Trump is putting a damper on everyone else’s campaign. The GOP did well in 2010 at the mid-terms, but a presidential campaign must appeal to a wider range of the electorate. The angry rhetoric of Bachmann and the perceived silliness of Trump are distractions. If the Republicans hope to be competitive in 2012, they will have to get serious.