Americans are probably sick and tired of hearing news about the election, but for the sake of my foreign readers, it may be helpful to see the explanation I wrote four years ago about how the process of electing a president actually works in America.
Additionally, the following summary which I recently wrote for the Christian Voice newsletter may be helpful. (It was written prior to Romney's Super Tuesday victories, most of it still applies.)
Ever since Spring 2011, America has been dominated by the Presidential election. The process of electing a president every four years is complex. However, it boils down to the fact that in November 2012, American voters will have to decide between candidates representing each political party. At the present time in history, this usually always means a choice between a candidate from the Republican party vs. a candidate from the Democrat party.
Since political parties are private organizations, the leadership of both can make up their own rules about how to nominate their candidate. Both groups have decided that this will occur through a preliminary round of elections known either as primaries or caucuses.
This preliminary round of elections is what is going on in America right now. These elections occur state by state and are spread out over a six month period. This period stretches from the first elections in the state of Iowa on January 3, 2012 to the final election in Utah on June 26, 2012.
When the incumbent is seeking to be re-elected, as President Obama is doing this year, he inevitably carries the nomination for his party. Because President Obama is a Democrat, the choice Americans are currently faced with is who will represent the Republican party to run against Obama. After that has been decided, by means of the current Republican elections, then things will really get intense as the Republican candidate runs against the President in the general election.
American presidential elections are typically won by the candidate who can successfully appeal to the centre. This will be almost impossible for Obama to do since he has defined himself as an old-school liberal who thinks the solution to America’s problems is to make the rich pay more taxes. Obama will try to recast himself as a populist and appeal to swing voters. The general concern that Americans feel about the national debt and souring inflation will make this difficult for Obama to do. Many American’s resent his irresponsible spending, his record of class warfare, and the massive deficits he has run up at a time when the economy is already struggling. If Obama is to carry the general election, he will do it by attacking his Republican opponent rather than talking too much about his own policies.
The first debate for the republican primaries occurred on 5th May, 2011. At that point, the number of relevant candidates was ten. As a result of the various campaigns, media pressure, successive debates, and the momentum achieved or lost through the elections that have already taken place in nine of America’s fifty states, the field of relevant candidates has now been narrowed down to four candidates.
Key issues in the Republican primaries have been how to stimulate job growth, how to halt America’s spiralling debt, what to do about Iran, how to cut government spending, and who stands the best chance of defeating President Obama.
All four candidates claim to be pro-life, and each claims to be more conservative than his rivals. Each candidate claims to have a plan that will make America wealthy again.
Following is a breakdown of the four remaining candidates.
- Background: Gingrich was a congressman for Georgia from 1979 to 1999. During some of this time he occupied the position as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. Since his retirement from Government Gingrich has worked as an extremely successful businessman.
- Campaign for President: Support for Mr Gingrich’s presidential campaign began to increase after the former front-runner, Herman Cain, had to drop out of the race following a series of sexual harassment allegations. By December 4, 2011, Gingrich had risen to the top of the national polls, leading to a victory in South Carolina. However, this support began to wane after his opponents ran a series of negative adds against him. His campaign is now in debt and many are expecting him to drop out of the race.
- Religion: Roman Catholic.
- Strengths: Newt is a visionary and a good communicator, in addition to having a lot of experience getting things accomplished in Washington.
- Weaknesses: The republican establishment considers Gingrich to be unpredictable since he occasionally makes extraordinary claims. For example, he promised to arrest federal judges that ignore the constitution and vowed to ignore Supreme Court rulings that he disagreed with. He also promised Florida voters that if he becomes President he would build a base on the moon. He is perceived to have baggage that could easily be exploited by the Obama campaign.
- Background: Ron Paul served in the House of Representatives from 1976-1984 and again from 1996 to the present. In between these periods he worked in an obstetrics practice. He is the author of a number of books, many of which address America’s economic problems from the framework of Austrian economic theory. His political positions are libertarian, based on his belief that nearly all of federal government needs to be eliminated and power returned to the states.
- Campaign for President: As with his campaign four years ago, Ron Paul does not realistically expect to win, but is running out of principle as an opportunity to publicize his anti-Keynesian views.
- Religion: Christian. Ron Paul wrote, “I have accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Savior, and I endeavor every day to follow Him in all I do and in every position I advocate.”
- Strengths: Ron Paul is the most conservative of all the candidates, and arguable the only one who has a realistic plan for cutting America’s national debt. He is also the only candidate who takes serious the need to interpret the constitution (especially the 10th amendment) through the lens of authorial intent.
- Weaknesses: Paul’s libertarian and anti-establishment views, together with his isolationist theories of foreign policy (he is the only candidate who is not willing to have a showdown with Iran), virtually guarantee that he would not be able to win in a race against Obama. Though he has strong popular support and even came in second in Maine, Minnesota and New Hampshire, the media tend to ignore him. (To read some of my articles about Ron Paul, click here.)
- Background: Romney was Governor for the state of Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007. When he was not serving as Governor, Romney worked as an extremely successful businessman.
- Campaign for President: At a time when the #1 concern of the Republican party is defeating Obama, Romney is perceived as being the safe choice. He is the default candidate (what some call “the vanilla option”) if the others mess up, while his campaign has incredible sums at their disposal from Political Action Committees. Until Santorum started unexpectedly winning states, it was assumed that Romney had the election in hand.
- Religion: Mormonism. By and large, American Christians (including the other candidates) have tended to downplay any sense in which Romney’s Mormonism might be a liability. American Christians primarily want a candidate who is conservative and who advocates Christian policies, not someone who is a fellow believer. Since Romney has presented himself as being pro-life and “sternly conservative”, he has been able to win Christian support. What this leaves out of the picture is the important question of whether a Mormon can be trustworthy. As a former Mormon missionary for two years, it is probable that Romney will have been taught to lie about his movement. The culture of lying is deeply embedded in the Mormon church and forms a key component of the missionary training program that Romney will have attended at Brigham Young University. Mormons are literally trained to hide key facts about their sect’s teaching and are taught a variety of techniques to obscure the truth. Do Americans want someone with this background to be President? (To read some of my articles about Mormonism, click here.)
- Strengths: Given his polish and persona of electability, many believe that Mr Romney stands the best chance of defeating Obama. He is able to appeal to swing voters (those who may lean either left or right) while his ability to build a consensus from diverging factions has made him the favoured candidate of the Republican establishment.
- Weaknesses: Some have been suggesting that Romney’s ability to build a consensus from divergent factions could actually be his greatest liability, since it lead him to try to please everyone, and consequently to flip-flop on issues. He avoids answering questions directly and is careful to qualify his remarks, often making it hard to discern what his actual position is. Although he presents himself as a conservative, his record as governor of Massachusetts is actually extremely liberal. He presents himself as being pro-life, but has supported Planned Parenthood fundraisers and said in 1994 that he hopes abortion “would be safe and legal.”
- Background: Santorum served as Senator for the state of Pennsylvania from 1995 to 2007. Since then he has practiced law, worked as a journalist, a member of a conservative think tank and a consultant in Washington DC.
- Campaign for President: Having defined himself by social issues that are important to conservatives on the far right, it was assumed that Santorum would be unable to appeal to moderates. However, he surprised everyone with a series of unexpected victories in the states of Minnesota, Colorado and Missouri. This put the liberal media into a panic, and they have been trying to portray Santorum as a right-wing fanatic because of comments he made back in 2008 when he said, “Satan has his sights on the United States.” His campaign is waning after Romney’s victories in Michigan and Arizona on 29 February.
- Religion: Roman Catholic.
- Strengths: He is the most avidly pro-life of all the candidates. At a time when Americans are feeling more conservative than they have for decades, Santorum may resonate with a majority of American voters.
- Weaknesses: While being able to appeal to the conservative base on moral issues, Santorum’s voting record suggests that he is not as fiscally conservative as he claims. Moreover, it is questionable whether he will be able to win the confidence of moderate conservatives. He lacks the funding that Romney has, and he has received few key endorsements.
This article will be appearing in the monthly magazine of Christian Voice, a UK ministry whose website is http://www.christianvoice.org.uk/. The article is published here with permission of Christian Voice.