Saturday, June 4, 2011 | 2:01 a.m.
Republicans will have difficulty fielding a presidential nominee in the next year, and it’s not just because it will take a score card to keep all of the candidates straight. The issue for Republicans will be whether they field a candidate with a pure conservative record or one who can get elected.
This week, Mitt Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts, officially entered the race — after unofficially running for the past two years. Romney is viewed as the favorite, but he will have trouble during a primary campaign because of his time as governor and his support for a state health care plan that is similar to what Republicans scornfully call “Obamacare.”
There are any number of politicians who have either announced a run or are considering a bid for the Republican nomination, from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich to former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain.
But so far, the Republican Party’s base isn’t terribly excited about any of its prospects, according to recent polls. As a result, the Republicans who identify with the Tea Party are trying to bring one of their own into the race.
South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, a harsh Obama critic and Tea Party supporter, recently said he was considering a run after several requests. Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, the founder of the House Tea Party Caucus, has been actively considering a run and is planning to be at a debate in New Hampshire later this month. Then there’s Sarah Palin, the former GOP vice presidential nominee turned Fox News commentator. Although Palin has been coy about a run, she recently launched a campaign-style bus tour to visit some of the country’s historic sights and talk with voters.
Although it’s early, Bachmann and Palin are putting some buzz into Republican circles. Consider Romney’s official announcement this week. He declared that Democratic President Barack Obama had “failed America.” As strong as that may have been, it hardly made a ripple.
Meanwhile, Palin’s tour, complete with a stop to see Donald Trump in New York, generated excitement among the conservative faithful. His visit with Trump was notable because of the Tea Party support he garnered earlier this year as he toyed with a presidential campaign. He made headlines when he raised a stink over Obama’s birth certificate, winning the plaudits of the Tea Party and the so-called “birthers” who don’t believe the president was born in the United States.
Trump dropped out of the race after the president released yet another official copy of his birth certificate, but don’t expect that to silence the carnival barkers in the Republican Party. The Tea Party will likely play a key role this election year, and candidates will want to win its support.
That will swing the debate to the far right. As with Romney, it will be difficult for many candidates to meet a strict conservative litmus test because of issues they supported or positions they took while they were in an elective office doing their jobs.
For that matter, if the far right drives the debate in the GOP primaries, it could end up alienating moderate Republicans and independents — key swing voters. It sounds like a winning strategy ... for the Democrats.