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The GOP Debate and the President’s Political Weakness

Friday, May 6, 2011  |  posted by Hugh Hewitt
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Townhall’s Guy Benson says Tim Pawlenty won.

Politico’s Ben Smith says Mitt Romney won by not showing up.

Frank Luntz’s focus group crowned Herman Cain the winner.

Rick Santorum impressed most observers, while Ron Paul did what Ron Paul does and so his supporters cheered wildly.

The declared GOP contenders in the first tier (Gingrich, Pawlenty and Romney) are well advised to stay clear of any setting that asks for a “show of hands” on any question, as such questions are the very definition of media-driven narratives. “Waterboarding” as an up-or-down question? Really?

But that is the nature of televised events. Theater sneaks in. The GOP doesn’t need any theater against President Obama. The issue remains incompetence and economic incoherence at home and fecklessness abroad.

Yes, we can still say the president is committed to “leading from behind,” even after the killing of bin Laden. The president made one right call, and it was a very good one, but that is the minimum level of competence, and the minimum hasn’t done much good in Iran, Lebanon, Libya or Syria and the jury is out and leaning the wrong way on Egypt. This theme emerged last night from Governor Pawlenty and hopefully all the GOP hopefuls will be willing to make the argument because it is one with which most Americans will agree.

The key to 2012 will be the argument over America’s economic present and future, and everyone should read Jay Cost’s disturbing analysis of the weakness of the economic recovery at The Weekly Standard. Cost’s bottom line:

On a political level, the blame for the recovery goes entirely to President Obama. Indeed, looking at the polls on his handling of the economy, you can see that he is already taking the heat.

And so, we can lay down the following marker: if the economic recovery does not begin to show substantial improvement, the likes of which we have not really seen in the last two years, and if the GOP nominates a reasonably acceptable alternative, this president is going to lose in 2012, and the final result will not be close. Nobody gets reelected with employment way down, real income way down, and 14 percent of his fellow citizens on food stamps. Nobody.

This is why the GOP needs to rethink its debate schedule and why the RNC should take over the operation of the debates and exile Cain, Johnson and Paul as well as every other candidate without a prayer of winning. (Santorum is a long shot, but he has a realistic though small chance of winning the nomination, while the others do not.) The seriousness of the fiscal crisis requires the GOP and its candidates to act seriously, and allowing marginal candidates to eat up time and distract from the enormous problems facing the country is not serious.

Gingrich and Romney sensed this and wisely avoided this event. Governor Pawlenty who needs to build name ID and a donor base probably has no choice but to attend them all.

But Chairman Preibus should intervene to avoid more such non-events which trivialize the times in which we live by mistaking enthusiasm for seriousness.

Study the charts in the Cost piece. We remain in deep trouble, though physically safer with bin Laden dead and an intelligence trove captured.

Our national security depends on our economy and its ability to pay for the SEALs and the rest of the amazing American military. Far from doing anything at all to help the struggling private sector, the president’s appointees at the National Labor Relations Board are going after private sector employers like Boeing, as I discussed with Mark Steyn in yesterday’s interview (the transcript of which is here.) Team Obama remains far to the left of the American mainstream, momentarily celebrating with the majority of the country the end of a villain, but deeply rooted in an ideology that is crippling the country’s future.

When the first tier of GOP candidates gather to discuss how to begin to fix the mess we are in, the voters deserve to hear the problems and the solutions fairly and fully talked through, and done without the interruption of the 1%ers with agendas unrelated to defeating President Obama in November, 2012.

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