Great uncertainty a month before Iowa

In one month, the Republican voters will finally have their say about their party’s presidential candidates. Today, no one can predict with certainty the outcome of that first election in Iowa on January 3.

Panic? Desperation? No. But there is uncertainty and anxiety in the Republican ranks, and dissatisfaction. With a president with and approval rating of only 43 percent, a deep economic crisis and an unemployment rate of 8.6 percent, according to today’s new numbers, Obama should be extremely vulnerable, and the Republicans should have good chances of winning next year.

But this week it is clear that no one knows anything, writes conservative columnist Peggy Noonan in today’s Wall Street Journal.

Charles Krauthammer, another leading conservative columnist, is not happy in today’s Washington Post. He would have wished stronger candidates than the current eight – such as Governor Mitch Daniels (Indiana) and Christchurch Christie (New Jersey) and Congressman Paul Ryan. Instead, the fight is between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, and Krauthammer concludes:

“You play the hand you’re dealt. This is a weak Republican field with two significantly flawed front-runners contesting an immensely important election. If Obama wins, he will take the country to a place from which it will not be able to return (which is precisely his own objective for a second term). Every conservative has thus to ask himself two questions: Who is more likely to prevent that second term? And who, if elected, is less likely to unpleasantly surprise?”

The fundamental question is if Newt Gingrich will last, or if his strong rise in the all the recent polls will prove to be just as temporary as Michele Bachmann’s, Rick Perry’s, and Herman Cain’s were. I still believe that Gingrich’s success is temporary. The vast majority of the Republican voters are still looking for their ideal candidate, a conservative, Christian, Tea party sympathizer. They clearly believe that Romney is not the ideal candidate, languishing, as he is, around 20 percent in the polls. The question is whether Gingrich is such a candidate – the Washington insider with dubious conservative credentials, three marriages and a series of damning flip-flops that may well compete with Romney’s.

The fact is that the Republican voters do not know what Romney and Gingrich really believe and what they really stand for.

Which of these two will have the biggest chance to defeat Obama? According to all opinion polls, Romney comes out on top here. But, asks the political analyst  Stuart Rothenberg in his newsletter, will the Republican voters follow their hearts or their brains?

“The question is whether there are enough true believers to nominate someone other than Romney, thereby putting up a weaker general election candidate against Obama. In other words, is this 1964, when Republicans listened to their heart over their head? That year, of course, President Lyndon Johnson looked unbeatable, so the Republican nomination didn’t have the value it is likely to have next year….Barry Goldwater’s famous 1964 campaign slogan was, ‘In your heart, you know he’s right.’ He went on to lose 44 states. Often, in politics, the head is a better guide than the heart.”

For Obama and the Democrats, that’s also an important question.

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