Independent’s Eye by Joe Gandelman

Back in the 1983, before he ran up a half-million dollars jewelry tab at Tiffany’s, an up and coming Republican politician named Newt Gingrich founded the “Conservative Opportunity Society.” It’s now clear that 2012 could be a conservative opportunity year for Republicans. Will the party seize this opportunity -- or blow it?

R.J. Matson / St. Louis Post-Dispatch (click to view our GOP Debate slideshow)

So much for the conventional wisdom that nailing Osama bin Laden boosts Barack Obama’s re-election chances. The economic recovery stalled, gas prices are high, Europe is in financial disarray, the novelty of Obama’s (spotty) soaring oratory is gone, and political polarization has led to gridlock and partisan polemics overkill. A debt ceiling debacle looms. Meanwhile, the nation is peppered with voters disappointed in Obama’s job performance as they themselves can’t find jobs or find their jobs being deep-sixed.

Another piece of conventional wisdom died Monday in New Hampshire. Democrats dismiss the seven Republican rivals who debated there at their own peril. The debate showed some folks focused on issues who weren’t caricatures even though Tea Party and religious right influences were clear nobody offered a serious job-creation plan.

One winner: Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who showed he could focus on his economic message, avoid talk show political culture rhetorical overkill, inject humor and not sound like he was vomiting up prepared responses.

Still, being a politically nimble “pragmatist” was once a plus but not in today’s GOP climate that demands ideological purity. Romney is a former perceived moderate Republican and contributor to what Gov. Tim Pawlenty once called ““Obamneycare.” His fellow Presidential wannabes held their political fire on him Monday night. This won’t continue. Also: Jon Huntsman will soon be in and, most likely, Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

The second winner: Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, who flawlessly re-introduced herself to a national audience and clearly is trying to expand her support base. She came across as a Tea Partier who did her homework, showed polish and pizzazz, and didn’t talk in Tweets, snark sound bytes, or Facebook entries like you-know-who from Alaska who wasn’t there.

A big loser: Sarah Palin who by her absence again raised the issue of whether she is willing to do even part of the serious traditional prep work required to get a Presidential nomination. Bachmann has now branded herself as a Palin substitute – with substance.

The biggest loser: Pawlenty who skirted questions as he puked up canned talking points and was too timid to repeat comments about Romney. Pawlenty was not ready for prime time – someone who has a great future as a Senator, TV talking head, corporate letterhead name or a hugely forgettable Vice Presidential candidate.

What was most notable about the debate is the Republican field’s virtual repudiation of the two George Bushes. “Compassionate conservatism?” Gone. A “kinder, gentler nation?” Fughettaboudit.

Obama surrogate Robert Gibbs made it clear on CNN that Obama will try and run against George Bush again in 2012. But can it work this time? It will be difficult if the (Obama managed) economy remains stagnant and the GOP puts up a candidate that can appeal to independent voters and not just Rush Limbaugh fans.

Can the Republican Party move outside its bubble and seize this political opportunity to offer a candidate that reaches beyond its base? If it doesn’t, Obama and his probable billion dollar war chest will be ready, willing and -- most assuredly -- able.


Copyright 2011 Joe Gandelman

Joe Gandelman is a veteran journalist who wrote for newspapers overseas and in the United States. He has appeared on cable news show political panels and is Editor-in-Chief of The Moderate Voice, an Internet hub for independents, centrists and moderates. CNN’s John Avlon named him as one of the top 25 Centrists Columnists and Commentators. He can be reached at [email protected] and can be booked to speak at your event at

Follow Joe Gandelman on Twitter @joegandelman.