With January finally here, Americans are increasingly turning their attention toward the presidential race. Until now, many of us watched the GOP primary out of the corner of our eye, vaguely aware of the waxing and waning of Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and Herman Cain. Late in the year, the omnipresent Newt Gingrich entered the race with great fanfare, only to fall short of being the game-changer he no doubt planned to be.
It still seems very much like Mitt Romney’s race to lose. Unlike the aforementioned names, he seems to cruise along consistently beneath the surface, never peaking too high or sinking too low. His organization, if less visible, is extensive and well-financed. He doesn’t make big mistakes. His strategy seems to be the “last man standing.”
The only question in my mind is whether Ron Paul has the ability to push the Republican Party in the direction of a generational realignment. All of the other non-Romney candidates are, to one degree or another, basically the same. Paul is not.
For one thing, the GOP congressman hasn’t always been a Republican. In 1988, he ran for president as a Libertarian. He’s on record opposing both Republican and Democratic initiatives to expand the reach of the federal government. He was a critic of President Bush’s foreign policy and deployment of troops overseas following the 9-11 attacks. He’s probably the most consistent advocate of limited government in either party.
At the end of the day, I suspect Romney will hold on and secure the GOP nomination. But traditional Republican candidates like Romney are finding it increasingly difficult to appeal to a new generation of young voters.
And lest Democrats find that cause for celebration, polls consistently show young voters are rejecting them, too. If you’re under 35, odds are pretty good you identify with “none of the above.”
There’s a lot going on here, but my sense is that the economic crisis has focused Americans on the most significant issues — not the frivolous issues promoted by both parties in election years.
People want assurance that the federal government isn’t spending money at an unsustainable clip. They want to know that national debt won’t become a millstone that drags the American Dream underwater. They aren’t interested in social engineering from the right or the left, and increasingly view dogmatism as a dangerous waste of time. We don’t have the luxury for partisan silliness at a time like this.
Can Ron Paul tap that sentiment?
Rob Witwer is a former member of the Colorado House of Representatives and co-author of the book “The Blueprint: How Democrats Won Colorado and Why Republicans Everywhere Should Care.”