Republican Party of America: Tear Down Your Wall!

On June 12th in 1987, Ronald Reagan told Mr. Gorbachev to ‘tear down this wall’. By June 12th 2012, the Republican Party must have torn down its own walls, so that a ‘non-traditional’ candidate can triumph against Obama in November.

GOP hopefulls will go head-to-head again tonight.
On 11 October 2011 14:54

On this day in 1986, US President Ronald Reagan met with Mikhail Gorbachev in Reykjavik, Iceland. This wasn’t Reagan’s ‘tear down this wall’ moment – but an important precursor to the fall of the Soviet Union.

It is fitting therefore that tonight will not provide the Berlin Wall moment for any GOP candidates either. Once again, the Republican primary debate will be an opportunity to gain (or lose) further ground incrementally, chip away at opponents and recalibrate the dynamics of each candidate’s campaign.

They all need it.

What I’ll be on the look out for tonight is talk on religion or even race, though the latter will be particularly tricky to raise with only one black candidate on the stage.

With Mitt Romney still relatively solid in the polls, it may well come to desperate measures from the Rick Perry camp to try and undermine the bookies’ favourite for the GOP nod. 

Some say that the Perry supporter who called Mormonism a cult recently may not have thought of those words all by himself. Who knows?

Yesterday I read with intrigue Tim Stanley’s piece in the Telegraph about Mitt Romney and the potential for his Mormon faith to become a boon in the GOP primaries and subsequent Presidential election next year.

Tim later tweeted at me, “I'm hoping he'll play it like Kennedy did his Catholicism." I’m sorry to say that won’t work.

The public, at the end of the Eisenhower administration were ready for a change. Of course it was a close election between Kennedy and Nixon, with JFK winning by 0.1% of the popular vote, or 303 electoral colleges to Nixon’s 219. 

But consider that Eisenhower was the oldest President to have served at that time, and while his average approval rating surpasses most other modern Presidents, there was also the ‘Nixon-factor’ – yes he was young, but Kennedy was younger. Yes he was formidable on the international stage, but Kennedy showed the incumbents up over the US-Russia ‘missile-gap’. Eisenhower didn't even chime in for Nixon until late in the day, either.

The Catholic card fitted well into this narrative and Kennedy effectively neutralised whatever Nixon bolstered in terms of Protestant votes with his own Catholic ones. If we are to believe the figures Tim Stanley cites, Romney doesn’t quite benefit from this – with twenty-two percent of Mormons saying they wouldn’t vote for a Mormon. Odd.

It seems that America is now ready for change again. Obama’s poll ratings are low and the economy is in a slump. But for whatever reason, the GOP candidates are struggling to come across as fresh-faced. Bar Herman Cain, it seems to the average voter like they’ve all been around the block and that they’re not the change the United States wants.

Now, I’m not saying that Romney will struggle because of his Mormonism. I’m just arguing that it will be as much help as it will be a hindrance – it’s nullified. For the GOP, religion is a zero-sum game right now. 

The only way a candidate could remotely stand to benefit from someone pounding the religious drum is if (and when) the American public sees that discourse from an opponent as bigoted and archaic.

Perry and Bachmann may well suffer from this amongst the moderates, libertarians and independents they would need to win over in a race for the nomination and the White House. We’re not talking about the reliigous right, in this instance.

On June 12th in 1987, Ronald Reagan told Mr. Gorbachev to ‘tear down this wall’. By June 12th 2012, the Republican Party must have torn down its own walls, so that a ‘non-traditional’ candidate can triumph against Obama in November.   

Raheem Kassam is the Executive Editor of The Commentator and Campaigns Director for The Henry Jackson Society. He tweets at @RaheemJKassam. 

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