The Osama bin Laden interlude and the false prophecies of Barack Obama’s electoral invincibility are now history. As could have been expected, the narrative of the 2012 elections has pivoted back to the bread-and-butter issue of the faltering US economy.
The joint poll by the Washington Post and ABC news displaying former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney leading President Obama, and a broad majority of Americans blaming the Obama administration for the state of the economy, have reinvigorated the 2012 race.
Governor Romney is a major beneficiary. He is considered competent by most respondents. In 2008, versus the Obamamania juggernaut, that may not have proven enough. This year, with the unemployment rate refusing to subside and the prices of homes in the doldrums, it may suffice, and the major issue for Republicans this year will be who can beat Obama. If Mitt Romney can convince Republican voters that he has the best chance, he may be home free because it means that they do not have to look elsewhere.
This puts the pressure on former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty. Pawlenty has to establish his economic credentials in a hurry and he must create product differentiation with Romney and other contenders.
This brought Pawlenty this week to the University of Chicago in Obama’s hometown and the center of his political organization. At the University, Pawlenty accused Obama of class warfare by attempting to pin responsibility for America’s economic crisis on the rich and by proposing punitive tax brackets for them. Republicans like a candidate who can stick it to the opposition and especially to Obama’s claim that he is a unity figure and a post-partisan president.
Pawlenty broke new ground on economic proposals. He proposed simplifying the federal income tax to two tax brackets. It is axiomatic to most Americans that the tax system is too convoluted for normal people to understand and this idea will resonate with voters.
Pawlenty recaptured the approach of Woodrow Wilson. The Democratic response to Republican ideas about tax-cutting is that the Republicans are always looking out for their well-heeled buddies in Wall Street and corporate America. Pawlenty has been campaigning on the theme of abolishing assistance to special interests irrespective of their political affiliation. He has made a splash in Iowa of opposing subsidies for ethanol, something that would appear to be political bravery or political suicide in an agricultural corn growing state like Iowa.
If Pawlenty miraculously emerges the victor from the primaries and takes the nomination, he will have created a potent synthesis of liberalism and populism with which to challenge Barack Obama and the Democrats at their own game.
That is why his proposals were savagely attacked by the Democrats and allied commentators and aroused interest amongst conservative papers such as the Wall Street Journal. What is important for the candidate is that he has attracted interest that may boost his name recognition and prospects against Romney.
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