Professor analyzes primary season in review, how outcome affects this year’s election
Sanjay Paul

The article appeared in The Etownian, Oct. 17, 2012.

By May 2012, the Republican primary season was largely over. Candidates had come and gone. Mitt Romney had prevailed. He would be the Party’s candidate in November.

The GOP primaries had not been wanting in excitement. Michele Bachmann, after suggesting that vaccines could lead to autism, had to reassure voters that she was not a doctor or a scientist. Doctors and scientists all over the world were relieved. More recently, Bachmann, who sits on the House Intelligence Committee, claimed that an aide to Hillary Clinton was a Muslim Brotherhood spy sent to influence the highest levels of America’s foreign policy. The fact there was no evidence for this charge did not appear to deter her.

Rick Perry said Ben Bernanke would be guilty of treason if he tried to promote economic recovery by cutting interest rates. For good measure, he genially issued a threat to the chairman of the country’s central bank, saying that he would be treated “pretty ugly down in Texas.” But all this truculence would have been forgiven if Perry had not made a hash of the debates. On one occasion, eager to show his anti-Washington cred, he said he would cut three government departments, but could not remember which ones. “Oops,” he said rather inelegantly, as his memory failed him.

Newt Gingrich, the vaunted intellectual of the party, suggested that low-income children were not working hard enough. His solution? Put them to work cleaning toilets in schools. But the man of ideas was not done. He also said that we should establish a colony on the moon. A colony! With houses and people living there and stuff. The cost of such a program was estimated (by brave analysts employing heroic assumptions) to be in the range of several billion to a trillion dollars.

A tax proposal that proved fleetingly popular was advanced by Herman Cain, former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza. Cain said he would replace the existing tax code with a 9-9-9 plan. Easy to remember, the plan would set business taxes, income taxes and sales taxes at 9 percent each. Later it emerged that the plan had been drawn up on a kitchen table by his accountant with scant assistance from tax policy experts. Soon, Cain left the race to focus on a new career, appearing with Stephen Colbert on Comedy Central, and the country was left wondering about what might have been.

Ron Paul, a favorite of college students for his Libertarian stance on marijuana use, bucked the party orthodoxy on foreign affairs, saying that the U.S. should not get drawn into a war with Iran. But his desire to eliminate the Federal Reserve, captured pithily in the title of his book “End the Fed,” appealed to certain elements in his party. Although Paul failed to get his party’s nomination, his son Rand Paul, who shares many of his father’s beliefs, appears set to play a prominent role in national politics for years to come.

Rick Santorum alarmed college admissions directors by suggesting that it was “elitist snobbery” to want students to go to college. Earlier, he had claimed that Satan had invaded colleges in an effort to undermine the great institutions of the country. So it was only fitting that Santorum had adopted his position on college attendance — he was merely trying to prevent impressionable students from falling under the spell of the Devil.

Jon Huntsman, former governor of Utah, turned out to be a moderate on certain issues, which severely curtailed his popularity in the primaries. But his greatest sin turned out to be speaking Mandarin during one of the debates. This kind of familiarity with a foreign language, especially one spoken in the country regarded as a threat to America’s economic supremacy, was simply intolerable.

Romney had some memorable moments of his own. He sang patriotic songs at campaign stops in restaurants (startling people who were just sitting down to breakfast), talked approvingly of the height of trees in the state he happened to be in and offered to make a $10,000 bet with a bemused Perry during a debate.

But Romney has vastly improved his debating skills since then, trouncing President Barack Obama in Denver at their first debate and narrowing Obama’s lead in the polls in the swing states. Few people now remember with any fondness the motley cast of characters that had sought to challenge Romney during the primary season. The lone exception might be late-night comedians who could count on a steady stream of gaffes, missteps and wild ideas to include in their monologues.

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