GOP Field Takes Shape, And Some Don't Like It

May 24, 2011

The Republicans have another presidential candidate — former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty. His formal campaign launch Monday in Des Moines, Iowa, comes after lots of possible GOP candidates decided not to go for it — and that has many in the party grousing about their choices.

Pawlenty's announcement was no surprise. While other potential candidates have been coy or ambivalent, Pawlenty's been all-in for months, visiting the early states to lay the groundwork for a campaign.

In Des Moines, he attacked President Obama, saying the president hasn't told the truth and that his policies had failed. But Pawlenty also echoed the unifying message Obama used when he ran for president in 2008.

"No president deserves to win an election by dividing the American people — picking winners and losers, protecting his own party's spending and cutting only the other guy's," he said. "The truth is, we're all in this together. So we need to work together to get out of this mess."

No 'White Knight'?

Pawlenty opened his bid for the Republican nomination by promising to grow the economy, shrink the government, tell the truth, and unite the country.

He said he's willing say no more bailouts to Wall Street and tell Iowans that subsidies for ethanol have to be phased out. He came out in favor of raising the retirement age for Social Security and means-testing Medicare. But he balked at endorsing the plan by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) to give seniors vouchers for health care.

The Democratic National Committee greeted Pawlenty's announcement with this ad about his record in Minnesota:

"Gov. Pawlenty eliminated the program that provides health care to 33,000 low-income residents," says the announcer. "The governor has systematically been cutting programs for the poor since he took office."

Pawlenty's announcement follows decisions by Mitch Daniels, Haley Barbour, Mike Huckabee, Donald Trump, John Thune and Mike Pence not to run.

Republican strategist Rick Wilson says many dissatisfied Republicans are looking for someone who doesn't exist. "The grumbling comes from the fact that people want perfection," he says. "They always want that white knight."

Wilson says no candidate fires up the social conservative base or unites the Republican establishment.

"The field is becoming set. I think there is still room in the next 30-45 days for a few other people to poke their nose into it. But I don't think there's a lot of interest from anyone who draws the Republican base out as a cheering hoard at this point," he says.

Mitt Romney: The Front-Runner

Most of the dissatisfaction is focused on the candidate who is as close to a front-runner as the GOP has at the moment, Mitt Romney. Wilson says the former Massachusetts governor has charisma and good ideas, and a campaign infrastructure.

"But there's one glaring error, and that is he doubled down on the individual mandate on Romneycare. And Republican base voters know ... that Barack Obama will beat Mitt Romney's head, and on that single issue, destroy the morale of the Republican base, and therefore win the election. That's why a lot of Republicans have dismissed Mitt Romney as a serious candidate," says Wilson.

Republican strategist Rich Galen who used to work for Newt Gingrich, disagrees: "I'm not a Romney supporter by any stretch, but at this point, I think it's fair to say that Gov. Romney is the front-runner until somebody knocks him off."

Galen notes that earlier this month, Romney was able to raise $10 million in one day.

"That speaks volumes to the fact that a lot of people in the Republican Party — maybe not in the 150 people that ... talk about this stuff all day, but to a vast number of Republican primary voters — I think Gov. Romney is perfectly acceptable," says Galen. "And I think if he gets the nomination, he will be a difficult guy for Obama to beat."

That's hardly a consensus view among Republicans. The GOP presidential field may be set, but Republican votes are far from settled. And the desire is still strong for alternatives.

There are several fantasy candidates out there — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, or former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, for example — but not a lot of time for any one of them to become a real-life contender. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit