Earlier this week, I focused on what I personally don't like about each of the candidates.
Today, with the race rapidly consolidating into a three man race, it is time to have a very frank conversation about each of the candidate's objective problems. The calendar is collapsing in on them. The fundraising period before the start of the actual race is shrinking. There is limited time, limited talent, and limited treasure left on the road to the White House.
With Herman Cain battling it out for second place, trying to push to the lead, Perry has some thinking to do, Romney some planning, and Herman Cain is in for the biggest public examination of his life. The rest of the field is struggling to stay relevant, but coming up from behind Newt Gingrich has some momentum.
We'll get into it all in this week's horserace.
Michele Bachmann's biggest problem right now is relevance. Herman Cain is in payback mode, sucking the oxygen and money out of her race in the same way she did to him a few months ago. She collapsed in the spotlight, got hit with an unflattering media narrative, and then played right into it with the HPV "mental retardation" issue.
She'll have a few more debates to sort things out, but her fundraising does not seem to be spectacular and she is going to have a harder and harder time staying relevant as Herman Cain steals more and more spotlight.
Herman Cain is resurgent. Back on a path to victory, the media is laying a mine field for him he is going to have to carefully navigate. This is the moment where his lack of campaign experience could be a singular anchor or a great sail depending on how he handles himself. And if past performance is the best indicator of future success, his record is mixed.
Cain's first problem is also his strength right now — 999.
He is going to have to answer serious questions now, as a serious candidate, on a plan a lot of people do not take seriously. The biggest question is also the hardest. Let me ask it to you all.
Given the Republican Party has a unparalleled history of being unable or unwilling to truly scale back the size and scope of the federal government and its creeping socialism, do we really want the Republican Party to be the party to introduce a national sales tax or VAT tax without first repealing the income tax?
Herman's plan posits there would be a 9% income tax, a 9% corporate tax, and a 9% national sales tax that sounds like it'll be structured as a VAT. The campaign says that the American people will keep the pressure on Congress to avoid raising any of those taxes and likewise to repeal the 16th Amendment on the way to enacting the Fair Tax.
But do you really believe that? When the Democrats took back control of the White House and Congress they defied the vast majority of Americans who opposed Obamacare and passed it anyway. And if Herman Cain wins, history shows us that the party controlling the White House typically loses seats in the next off year election, which means the GOP could scale back control of Congress in 2014 or potentially lose it. The odds of repealing the income tax, which would require a two-thirds vote of both houses of Congress and three quarters of the states, will be difficult if not impossible.
Were Cain to get 999 enacted and then fail to get rid of the 16th Amendment, he and the GOP would have placed a brand new tax burden on the American people for the first time since the early 1900's. Does the GOP want to be the party of new forms of federal taxation — a taxation that would realistically have to see the IRS expand, not contract, to enforce collections?
And that's just one problem.
He's going to also have to deal with his health. A lot of reporters in Washington on both sides of the aisle were friends of Tony Snow. And they remember he too was cured of colon cancer only to have it come back fatally. Herman is going to have to withstand the scrutiny of a press corp that saw a White House press secretary die of that which Herman fought off from stage 4 once.
Then there is a silly, silly story. A Daily Beast writer, in passing reference, noted Herman was recently at the Four Seasons in Atlanta drinking a morning glass of white wine. It was so irrelevant to the rest of the story the author never brought it up again. But it sure has raised eyebrows with reporters. Who drinks white wine in the morning?
Additionally, Herman is going to have to withstanding the scrutiny of his campaign apparatus. He has lost a number of staffers in recent weeks, including his highly respected communications director and her deputy. Does he have what it takes to wage a caucus ground game in Iowa and then pivot to primaries?
Lastly, Herman must make a strategic determination — does he now focus his attacks on Mitt Romney or does he fight Rick Perry. Fighting Rick Perry secures his second place spot. But second place does not win. Herman, however, is friends with Mitt Romney and might not want to go after his friend. If he doesn't, he risks being seen by conservatives as a spoiler for Romney instead of an alternative to Romney.
This is what happens when a rise is so rapid the eyes of the Media turn and, like the Eye of Sauron, begin a singular, burning fixation on one candidate.
Gingrich has some momentum in the polls. His debating performances are paying off. But, and it is repetitive, Gingrich's problems have never been debates. They've been everything else. He is going to have to find the money and the ground game to win in the early states where he still is not polling well. Money is key for Gingrich right now and until his fundraising numbers start trickling out, there is no evidence he has found a path to victory.
Jon Huntsman has a funny problem. He is disliked by conservatives and loved by the media. It creates a feedback loop he cannot break out of. And he may be going up in New Hampshire polling, but that seems to be the only place. That hurts Romney more than it helps Jon Huntsman. Huntsman's biggest problem is Jon Huntsman (and John Weaver isn't helping).
Ron Paul's biggest problem is his mouth. He may relish speaking painful truths to people — or things he sees as truth, whether or not you agree — but it hurts him because it rallies to him a lot of people who are best left at the fringes.
I am reminded of the two people who cheered him on at the CNN debate in Tampa, FL for wanting to let the hypothetical 26 year old die. The headline was "crowd cheers to let man die." It was two people. They were Ron Paul supporters. They, and he with his unwillingness to tone down his hyperbole and bluntness, taint the rest of us.
He will not be the nominee.
Rick Perry's problem is not money. He raised more in 49 days than Mitt Romney did last quarter and has a ridiculously slow burn rate. That is good. But money can be a salve covering up festering wounds. And Perry has a few.
First, it is really apparent now even to those who originally dismissed it that Rick Perry really and truly did jump in to the race without a lot of pre-planning. His denials earlier in the year were real. And it shows.
He has yet to hire a healthcare policy expert and that issue is going to come to the forefront soon.
His key staff is so Texas heavy, they need to remember that past slights and insults from the press or others were about a Texas campaign, not a national campaign. Old enemies may be useful allies, or at least neutral on a national stage.
Likewise, they are incredibly slow to respond. Take the immigration issue. Perry has a reasonable argument. But no one knows it because the campaign has been so slow to get it out there. The economic debate will be October 11th and Perry still does not have an economic plan. Then there is the rock story — a story in which the Perry campaign could have tried to undermine the Washington Post's credibility with its own interviews of the eye witnesses, even if orchestrated through a third party. They didn't.
A lot of what the Perry camp seems to be going through is growing pains, but they need to grow more quickly. Additionally, they need to remember again that this is not a continuation of an old campaign. This is a new campaign on a whole new field. Many of the fights they won in Texas must be refought. They cannot assume that just because they won in Texas the facts will get out there or they will win the fight again.
Perry needs to kick the hiring and media pushback into a higher gear with a more national, less Texas, focus. If he can't break out from the "regionalism" stigma, he can't break into the hearts and minds of independents.
And I won't even get into the need to improve his debate performances.
Mitt Romney's problem is the easiest to write about.
78% of the Republican electorate wants someone other than him. Certainly you could make that argument about any of the other candidates, and right now the anti-X number would be higher. But it is rather undisputed that this GOP primary is about Mitt Romney vs. Not Mitt Romney. The other candidates are only alternatives to each other in the sense that they all want to be the person to take on Mitt Romney, not the person to take on Cain, Perry, Gingrich, or the rest. And this dynamic existed even when Mitt Romney fell into second place behind Perry, before creeping back up to first place in the polling.
The race has been and remains all about finding an alternative to Romney.
With Palin and Christie out, perhaps he can begin consolidating. But Perry's money and Cain's voice means he will have a hard time doing it now. Perry's money buys Perry time. Cain's voice buys Cain favorable media attention from right-wing opinion leaders.
Romney is deploying the McCain strategy successfully, but we should remember the big issue in 2008 was the continuation of the War on Terror — which is why Giuliani and McCain were the two top candidates in late 2007. Conservatives were willing to go with Giuliani because of national security issues over John McCain who they did not like. When Rudy imploded, it left McCain and everyone else.
This time, the field is about jobs and the economy. We've got two businessmen in Romney and Cain who both have a private sector record. And we have Rick Perry who steered Texas against the odds in the Obama economy to create jobs. That makes it more difficult for consolidation.
Also, the Romney team needs to be worried about the latest Barna Group Survey, which has not received the attention it should receive. Evangelicals do not like Mitt Romney at all. They will be a huge factor in Iowa and South Carolina. If Cain or Perry collapse and consolidation of the anti-Romney vote happens, Romney is in huge trouble.
In fact, it is telling that the evangelic vote, which will be the largest block in the GOP primary, does not like Romney and secularists, who will be an influential block of independents in the general election, also do not like Romney.
The dislike among evangelicals has nothing to do with Mitt Romney's religion. It has everything to do with his wife giving money to Planned Parenthood and Romney proudly declaring himself pro-choice and seemingly hostile to the Reagan-Bush era until he decided he wanted to be the GOP Presidential nominee.
Evangelicals do not trust Mitt Romney because of his ongoing changing on fundamental social issues.
Romney's other problem is his 57 point economic plan. Cain can sum his up with 999. Even Huntsman has a catchy way of talking about his. Romney? "I have 57 ideas, let me explain them to you in the one minute I have on stage." He needs some pizazz to sell it and he needs with withstand the coming deeper exam on the plan.
Santorum's biggest problem is money. He doesn't have a lot, is overshadowed by better candidates, and he comes across as too many. Likewise he cannot win his home state of Pennsylvania in the primary — a key swing state.
Santorum will not be the nominee.