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For GOP, nowhere to go but up

Updated: September 1, 2011 12:18AM

In the hot-house world of presidential politics, these are the best of times for Democrats and the worst of times for Republicans. Still, the times that count come in November of 2012, a year and a half away — an eternity in politics.

Democrats are riding high with an engaging, charismatic president whom the vast majority of Americans instinctively like even as many grow uncomfortable with his policies.

President Barack Obama basks in the glow of having notched his commander-in-chief gun with Osama bin Laden. He’s on track to end unpopular wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He will claim he saved the American auto industry with his bailouts of GM and Chrysler.

For Republicans, disarray is the word most often used to describe their plight. No franchise front-runner captivates the party faithful. Quite the contrary, the rank and file are unhappy with the choices they see. Pundits, usually of the liberal persuasion but not without reason, see a chasm between the socially conservative and the fiscally conservative branches of the party with the potential to drain enthusiasm for the eventual nominee if one side is too disappointed. Democrats salivate at the possibility that anti-abortion absolutists or no-compromise Tea Partiers in the Iowa caucuses could give an early boost to the front ranks to an unelectable candidate such as Sarah Palin or Atlanta businessman Herman Cain.

Yet, if these are the worst of times for the GOP, then its fortunes have no place to go but up. In fact, one could argue the rebound has started. The flash-in-the-pan, ego-driven “Saturday Night Live” skit that was Donald Trump’s faux campaign drained the birther nonsense from the public stage. Newt Gingrich did the party a favor by imploding in the first week of his candidacy. Libertarian idol Ron Paul has taken the plunge again but is in danger of becoming the next Harold Stassen.

The spotlight is shifting to former governors with records of coping at the state level with fiscal issues not unlike those threatening the nation’s long-term economic health.

Tim Pawlenty, who declared his candidacy this week, won two terms in blue state Minnesota and earned plaudits for wrestling with a Democratic legislature to cut spending, lower taxes and achieve education and health-care reforms. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney raised a dazzling $10 million in one day, demonstrating that Obama is not the only one with fund-raising prowess. Jon Huntsman, the former governor of Utah, is a fresh face in national politics who impresses many voters with his gravitas in discussing the key issues of the day.

And there’s still time for other candidates to jump in if GOP voters continue to register dissatisfaction with their choices. High on the list is New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a YouTube sensation thanks to his willingness to confront public employee unions demanding a gold credit card from the taxpayers. The conservative commentariat sees U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as a leader on fiscal issues who can explain in plain language the entitlement iceberg facing the nation while Democrats recklessly steer the Titanic ship of state full steam ahead. Christie and Ryan thus far are firmly resisting a draft, but who knows what may happen in this unpredictable political season?

For all his popularity, Obama has failed to create an economic environment fertile to job growth. He has no solution to falling home values. His reflex to wring more taxes from job creators and investors condemns more Americans to long-term unemployment. His dreams of green energy block exploitation of America’s fossil fuel wealth that could be the basis for economic rebound. Obama and his Democratic allies in Congress entangle business and finance in a vast web of new regulation. And he is spending the nation into bankruptcy.

By Election Day, the voters may decide the times require a different kind of president.

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