Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Assessing the Republicans

The good news about next year's presidential race is that President Obama might lose. The bad less than thrilling news is that one of his challengers might win. If you're not depressed about the state of the Republican primary, you're not paying attention. Let's take a quick look at the leading candidates:

Rick Perry

Where to begin? Perry has only been in the race a few days and he's already endorsed a government safety net for corn farmers. As Texas Governor Perry created what amounts to a government-run venture capital firm that is nothing more than a mechanism for pork-dispensing at best and crony capitalism at worst. While running balanced budgets, Perry also took $6 billion in stimulus funds and resorted to some sizable accounting gimmicks to make the numbers work. 

When it comes to bold action on reforming Medicaid, meanwhile, the Texan remains more hat than cattle, and for all the talk of the state's business-friendly policies, the Mercatus Center ranks Texas a middling #27 for its regulatory burden. Disturbingly, state government spending grew more quickly under Perry than it did under his predecessor George W. Bush. 

Ideologically Perry also seems rather...flexible. Originally taking the eminently defensible position that gay marriage and abortion were matters for the states to decide, he quickly flip-flopped into calling for federal amendments banning both. 

A round-up of Perry's weaknesses can be found here

Mitt Romney

Although the Club for Growth's presidential white paper on Romney has some nice things to say, it also has this:
Since Romney left the governor’s mansion, he has taken several notable positions on major spending issues. He was opposed to the Democrats’ stimulus program, but he qualified his opposition by strangely complimenting it. In his book No Apology, he wrote, “The ‘all-Democrat’ stimulus that was passed in early 2009 will accelerate the timing of the start of the recovery, but not as much as it could have had it included genuine tax- and job-generating incentives.”[emphasis added] Such a comment suggests that Romney, on some level, supports discredited Keynesian economics. 
A few months before the financial crisis hit in 2008, Romney was already advocating big government solutions. He supported lowering the down payment requirement for “nonprime” borrowers, allowing the Federal Housing Administration to help them acquire a house. He also supported raising the maximum loan amount eligible for FHA insurance so that more people can be served in high-priced areas.  
Months later, Romney publicly supported the Wall Street bailout, saying, “I believe that it was necessary to prevent a cascade of bank collapses.” When the auto bailout was being considered, Romney stated his opposition in a New York Times op-ed with the headline, “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.” But this is misleading because he wasn’t 100% opposed to government intervention. He wrote, “It is not wrong to ask for government help, but the automakers should come up with a win-win proposition.”  
Romney recently reiterated his continued support for ethanol subsidies. And his 2008 campaign platform advocated a “dramatic” increase in “federal spending on research, development, and demonstration projects that hold promise for diversifying our energy supply and increasing our energy efficiency.” This included research on “fuel technology and materials science and automotive technology” along with “basic research in key technologies like improved energy storage.”
And then of course there's Romneycare, which is basically Obamacare writ small. 

Michelle Bachmann

Bachmann owned a stake in her father-in-law’s farm that received more than $250,000 in federal agriculture subsidies between 1995 and 2008. She says that money all stayed with her in-laws. In Congress, she tried to secure more than $3.7 million in federal earmarks for her district—the kind of pet projects she has blamed for excessive spending. And she railed against Obama’s $800 billion–plus Recovery Act as wasteful, then signed a half-dozen letters seeking stimulus funds for local projects. Her requests in 2009 echoed the arguments Republicans lampooned Obama for using. A bridge project could create nearly 3,000 jobs a year, Bachmann wrote, while a highway project would “promote economic prosperity.”
This from the head of the Tea Party Caucus? Granted, Bachmann's list of economic transgressions is considerably shorter than that of Perry or Romney, but she's also only been in federal office for about 4.5 years. In any case her chances of winning the nomination are rated about 6.7% according to Intrade.

Ron Paul

While superior to the rest of the field, Ron Paul has his blemishes, favoring tax subsidies for natural gas, voting against pretty much every free trade agreement out there (citing sovereignty concerns) even while endorsing free trade in theory, and isn't exactly pristine on the subject of pork barrel spending. Paul also has other problems that go beyond his record on economic issues. Regardless, his chances of winning the nomination are about zero, so i's not worth spending a great deal of time on him anyway.

No wonder there is so much new talk about Paul Ryan entering the race. A good profile of Ryan can be found here.

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