Senator John McCain, the Republican presidential nominee who lost to Barack Obama in 2008, made a bold gesture last week by visiting Benghazi, the capital of the Libyan rebels. Meanwhile, a certain Republican governor by the name of Mitch Daniels launched an assault of his own on the "new red menace" in a high-profile speech at a conservative conference. Daniels, a possible contender for the Republican nomination in 2012, was referring not to the communists but to the color of the U.S. budget deficit, which continues to balloon America's national debt. But is he the answer the Republicans are looking for? Or is it Sarah Palin? Or Donald Trump?
The cheerful month of May
On May 5, the first debate between conservative politicians seeking the Republican nomination will be held in South Carolina. Meanwhile, Barack Obama's re-election campaign is already underway. But the Republicans have cause for hope. The Republican sweep of the midterm Congressional elections last November showed that the electorate is not satisfied with Obama and his Democratic allies. While the Democrats retain a slim majority in the Senate, Congress is essentially controlled by the Republicans. The question now is whether there is a strong enough candidate on the Republican side to retake the presidency as well.
During George W. Bush's two terms in office, it seemed that Washington was dominated by Republicans. Now it seems that there are no prominent Republicans left. No matter how badly the Democrats are faring in the polls, there is not necessarily a Republican figure capable of wresting power from their feeble hands. The Republicans simply do not have any acceptable candidates. A cartoon in the Washington Post (http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/toles?hpid=z4) depicts the party as an elephant with two tails and no head (i.e. no "frontrunner" in the nomination race).
Age is their first problem. "Old" and "new" Republican leaders alike are - with the notable exception of former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin - grey-haired men. However, Palin has been mercilessly ridiculed as the embodiment of the second Republican problem - ignorance and savage populism.
Conservatism need not be an ideology reserved for old ignoramuses. Jokes about the American education system are legion, but that only partly explains the Republicans' problem. Until quite recently, the Republican electorate included wealthy, educated middle-aged white professionals from big cities. Sarah may be good for small town America but not for the two-storey houses around New York City or L.A.
A Trump card?
The Republicans have several prominent figures from the "Old Guard," like McCain, Newt Gingrich or Mitt Romney, but they have an aura of old clowns from the pre-Bush era. But there is one new, huge personality seeking the Republican nomination - billionaire Donald Trump.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg called Trump an icon of the city. This is understandable, as Trump's "towers" - including the Trump World Towers across from the UN building on the East River - have made an indelible mark on the city.
However, it turns out that Trump has little to offer voters. At one time he supported abortion rights and high taxes on the wealthy but later changed his views. Apparently, his platform consists entirely of the wild claim that Obama is an illegitimate president because he was born in Kenya, not Hawaii as claimed by Obama (and his birth certificate).
This conspiracy theory is on Sarah Palin's intellectual level, and it's telling that some 47% of Republican voters believe it. But you can't build a successful presidential campaign with the support of savages alone. Orange County Republican Party official Marilyn Davenport sent an email this past weekend with an image depicting President Obama as the child in a family of chimpanzees, with the caption, "Now you know why there's no birth certificate!" The email caused a huge scandal on the scale of the press secretary for Russia's immigration service who recently shared his thoughts about the purity of the white race.
However, Obama's birth certificate is real, contrary to Trump's allegations. And the Republican party bosses are not happy about the image of the party he is creating.
Fiscal conservatism to the rescue
So, what image do the party bosses want to project? This is where Mitch Daniels comes into play. Daniels, the relatively obscure governor of Indiana, is a true fiscal conservative. He has put forward a budget plan that is even tougher than the proposal recently put forth by House Budget Committee Chairman Republican Paul Ryan, which has become the center of the political debate in America. Daniels is merciless on Obama's plan to increase spending on healthcare and he has a good command of the numbers.
McCain is signing the same tune - competence - although he isn't seeking the nomination this time around. During his trip to Benghazi he not only called the rebels "my heroes" (to their delight, I'm sure), he also made the point that hoping for the best is no strategy, and that the right thing to do is recognize the government in Benghazi and arm the rebels. Who cares what the UN says? This is a typical Republican attitude.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of the nascent Republican election campaign is the total absence of a foreign policy. There are too many urgent domestic issues. On this point even the Democrats agree. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently said in an interview with Charlie Rose that America's biggest foreign policy challenge is to "get its own house in order." The next president will have to be an expert in home repair.
The views expressed in this article are the author's and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.