With so many Republicans dissatisfied with the current lineup of their party's 2012 presidential candidates, the participants in Monday night's primary debate will not be showing off their special talents, but proving they can rise above their greatest weaknesses. Tim Pawlenty has to show he's not boring. Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann have to show they're not airheaded flakes. Newt Gingrich has to prove he's not a vanity candidate after he failed to convince even his own staff that he was serious about his candidacy. And Mitt Romney has to show he's not mortally wounded by health care.
Tim Pawlenty: Not That Nice
The former governor has been criticized as uncharismatic, boring, Mr. Minnesota Nice. Pawlenty's been working on seeming less meek by stepping up his attacks on Mitt Romney. On Sunday, Pawlenty tied President Obama's health care overhaul to the Massachusetts law signed by Romney that inspired it--blending the two bills into a nifty portmanteau: "Obamneycare." Although "Pawlenty is Romney's most formidable competitor," Politico's Alexander Burns and Maggie Haberman explain, "he is not the most eye-catching one--that distinction likely goes to Michele Bachmann or Herman Cain, two camera-ready tea party candidates beloved by the cable news audience." Pawlenty didn't shine in the first Republican debate, so "If another debate comes and goes without Pawlenty putting serious political points on the board, voters--and more importantly, donors--are going to start wondering if he really has what it takes to play at this level."
Mitt Romney: Not Done in By Health Care
Romney skipped the first primary debate in South Carolina, and his appearance Monday night in New Hampshire will give his 2012 rivals a chance to tag-team their attacks on him. The former Massachusetts governor will certainly face pointed questions about Romneycare, which Pawlenty, Bachmann, and Santorum have criticized. NBC's First Read wonders, "Who will come under more fire at tonight’s debate--President Obama or Romney? Early presidential debates rarely include direct attacks or heated exchanges, because the candidates all are trying to make a good first (or second) impression." But this campaign has gotten off to a late start, and the 2008 campaign showed that "the pile-on is the only effective way to stop a front-runner."
Michele Bachmann: Not Sarah Palin
It's hard not to see a little bit of sexism in the fact that Bachmann is constantly compared to Palin, but the Minnesota congresswoman has to fight the impression nonetheless. Her campaign's strategy appears to be portraying Bachmann as someone who's just as "attractive" and Tea Party-friendly as Palin, but smarter. The New Republic's Jonathan Chait points to Bachmann's interview with the Wall Street Journal's Stephen Moore as an example of her "establishing her intellectual bona fides."
Ms. Bachmann is best known for her conservative activism on issues like abortion, but what I want to talk about today is economics. When I ask who she reads on the subject, she responds that she admires the late Milton Friedman as well as Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams. "I'm also an Art Laffer fiend—we're very close," she adds. "And [Ludwig] von Mises. I love von Mises," getting excited and rattling off some of his classics like "Human Action" and "Bureaucracy." "When I go on vacation and I lay on the beach, I bring von Mises."
Chait responds, "You've got some highbrow names to establish gravitas (Friedman, von Mises) along with some disciples of voodoo economics (Laffer, Kemp) to excite a supply-sider like Moore and his audience. That's pretty much a bullseye. ... Bachmann is a potent combination of substantively radical and politically shrewd..."
Newt Gingrich: Not DOA
Gingrich's campaign staff fired him on Thursday, quitting en masse after they realized that Gingrich did not want to commit to the countless hours of grassroots campaigning a presidential campaign typically requires. Politico writes, "Gingrich’s task now is tougher, since everything he does will be interpreted in light of the fact that he’s on the brink of political death. If he goes on the attack, he’ll look cornered and desperate. If he sticks to a careful and newsless script, analysts will simply ignore him. Being forced to give time-limited questions won’t make life any easier for the endlessly talkative Gingrich."