Jacob Heilbrunn

Should the GOP Move Right?

"I only support Republicans," former New Hampshire Governor John Sununu announced to the Los Angeles Times, when asked about whether or not he would support John Huntsman for the presidency. Strong words. But are they justified? Or is the GOP heading toward the breakdown lane? Conventional wisdom is that the GOP could lurch out of control. Independent voters, so the argument goes, will be turned off by rightwing orthodoxy. Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty are thus making a mistake by discovering their inner conservative. On a host of issues they are jettisoning positions. Pawlenty, for example, now opposes cap and trade, which he once vehemently supported. Now he opposes it. Vehemently. Lots of politicians change their positions during primaries. But the conversions are coming unusually thick and fast this year. But they do not necessarily spell doom. This could be one of those elections where it is more about the president than it is about his opponent. In other words, it is about President Obama's record, which is not looking so hot when it comes to the economy. Obama will try to shift the focus to the Bush era and tie his opponent to it. But Reagan was able successfully to run against Carter-Mondale in 1984 because he could say he had overcome a bad economy. Obama cannot. At least so far. So it may come down to Obama's charisma versus the economy. The actual Republican candidate may be less important. Obama is vulnerable, especially now that his most fervent supporters have seen their enthusiasm dim over his flip-flops.