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Obama in 2012: Who can challenge him?

Newsweek/Daily Beast columnist Jack W. Germond says Republicans don't have anyone yet who can challenge Barack Obama for the 2012 presidency.

June 10, 2011

Can Mitt Romney, shown here meeting with entrepreneurs at Bizdom U in Detroit, Mich., June 9, 2011, beat Barack Obama in the 2012 election?

Carlos Osorio/AP

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By Jack W. Germond

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Newsweek/DailyBeast

Democrats might be forgiven if they believe the sky has been falling since June arrived. The economic numbers are almost all wretched. And so is the situation in the Middle East. The pressure to quit Afghanistan is rising. Nobody seems very happy with President Obama.

But another of those many First Rules of Politics holds that you can’t beat somebody with nobody. And, at this point, there is no Republican out there who seems capable of enlisting enthusiastic support across the party’s ideological spectrum.

This doesn’t suggest there is no candidate in the GOP field who could be a credible president of the United States. The requirements are not that stringent. After all, the republic survived eight years of George W. Bush.

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But the Republican Party today has no clear structure and no established leaders with the influence to control its direction. There are traditional Republicans who stand for lower taxes, a strong national defense, and what they like to call “American values.” But there is the significant influence of religious fundamentalists who are generally hostile to such things as abortion rights and gay marriage.

And most important this time around, there is the Tea Party. Many Republicans believe the election of 2010 has given them a mandate—a moral calling in their eyes—to have their way on everything from the federal deficit to the price of gasoline.

Except for a few minor players willing to buy the whole package of extremes, Republican candidates are being bent out of shape trying to reconcile the Tea Party with the independents they know are essential to winning an election.

Mitt Romney is the putative frontrunner, largely because he was the last man standing against John McCain in the 2008 contest. But his standing in opinion polls is puny, and he has been targeted by Sarah Palin. His sin, as Palin explains it, is that his promulgation of a state health-care plan as governor of Massachusetts shows he is willing to “grow government,” a mortal sin to the Tea Party Republicans.

In dealing with this issue, Romney has not exactly shown himself to be a sure-footed candidate. He has been awkward and defensive trying to reconcile criticism of Obama’s health-care program with his own history.

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