A CBS poll taken in early November showed that only 43 percent of Americans approve of Barack Obama’s performance as President.  Obama’s approval rating was even lower on the economy, with 34 percent of Americans approving and 60 percent disapproving.  An overwhelming 86 percent said that the economy was in bad shape, and 32 percent expected it to get even worse.  These numbers are not surprising.  Unemployment is over nine percent, with millions more underemployed.  The stimulus package President Obama sent to Congress did little more than shower money on Democratic constituencies, and he will have managed to increase the national debt by some 50 percent by the end of his first term, thanks to successive annual federal deficits exceeding one trillion dollars.  Perhaps even more significant politically, Obama largely ignored joblessness while the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress, focusing instead on securing the passage of an unpopular healthcare bill.  In the process, the President has alienated tens of millions of mostly white Middle Americans—the same Americans who, as Obama told a San Francisco fundraising audience in a memorable display of condescension, were bitterly clinging “to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment.”  Yet the same polls that show Obama’s approval rating tanking also show him tied with or leading his possible Republican challengers.  There is only one explanation for this anomaly: The Stupid Party has struck again.

Unimpressive Republican candidates for president are not a new phenomenon.  Just think back to Bob Dole, who was last seen hawking Viagra on television, or John Mc­Cain, who recently warned Vladimir Putin to heed the fate of Muammar Qaddafi, or George W. Bush, who did enormous damage to America during his two terms as president.  But even those who sang the praises of Bush and McCain and Dole have noticed the deficiencies of the current crop of Republican candidates.  The putative front runner (as of this writing), Mitt Romney, told the Log Cabin Republicans in 1994 that he would be a stronger advocate for homosexuals than Ted Kennedy, and in 2002 Romney opposed a Massachusetts constitutional amendment that would have prohibited homosexual “marriage” because it also would have prohibited domestic partnerships.  Romney’s 2002 platform stated that “The choice to have an abortion is a deeply personal one.  Women should be free to choose based on their own beliefs, not the government’s.”  Today, of course, Romney presents himself to Republican primary voters as a solid social conservative.  As Jon Huntsman, Sr., the father of Romney’s Mormon rival Jon Huntsman, Jr., told the New York Times, “I’ve worked for three different Romneys.  One time he was a liberal, in running for the Senate in 1994 . . . the next time he was a moderate running for governor in 2002, and now he is a conservative in seeking the presidency.”

The thinness of Romney’s conservative credentials and credibility has caused Republican primary voters to search for an alternative.  But as the spotlight has focused in turn on each of Romney’s rivals, it has revealed more glaring problems with the Republican field.  Texas Gov. Rick Perry surged to the lead in the polls after he announced his candidacy, largely because Texas has done better than the rest of the country at creating new jobs.  This record was something of a mirage: The Center for Immigration Studies determined that 81 percent of all jobs created in Texas since 2007 went to immigrants, both legal and illegal.  Republican voters began souring on Perry after he defended (in a debate) Texas’ policy of granting in-state tuition at Texas colleges to illegal immigrants, declaring “if you say that we should not educate children for no other reason than they’ve been brought there by no fault of their own, I don’t think you have a heart.”  More recently, voters have begun to suspect that Perry had more in common with the Scarecrow than the Tin Man, when (in another debate), after announcing he would eliminate three federal departments, he proved incapable of naming which three he had in mind.

Perry’s successor as the heartthrob du jour for conservatives was Herman Cain.  The Cain boomlet had a pathetic element, since a large part of Cain’s appeal has undoubtedly been the fact that he is black.  GOP voters, tired of having opposition to Obama dismissed as “racist,” felt that no one could call them racists if they supported Herman Cain.  But anyone who thinks that the GOP could insulate itself from the charge of racism by nominating a black man does not understand what that charge means in contemporary politics.  Leftists did not stop charging the GOP with racism after Clarence Thomas was nominated to the Supreme Court, nor after Colin Powell became the first black secretary of state, nor after Condoleezza Rice became the second black secretary of state.  Contemporary accusations of racism have little to do with genuine racial animus and much to do with silencing opposition to leftist social engineering.  Such accusations will disappear only when conservatives stop being cowed by them.  But Cain’s star has begun to fade, as his public statements make it increasingly clear that he is simply not qualified to be president.  Perhaps the most egregious of Cain’s many miscues came when he told an interviewer that the Chinese are “a military threat.  They’ve indicated that they’re trying to develop nuclear capability and they want to develop more aircraft carriers like we have.”  China tested nuclear weapons back in 1964, under a leader who famously boasted that China could afford to lose tens of millions of people in a nuclear war.

The latest candidate to surge in the polls as voters search for an alternative to Romney is Newt Gingrich, a sure sign of desperation.  Even in a profession crowded with egomaniacs, Newt’s enormous self-regard stands out.  Newt’s arrogance helped rescue Bill Clinton’s presidency, and there is little to indicate that Gingrich has learned from past mistakes.  A man less arrogant than Gingrich would be deterred from running for president by the fact that he has been divorced two times and later made the woman with whom he was having an affair during his second marriage wife number three.  But Gingrich simply has no shame.  Even though he has called for Barney Frank and Chris Dodd to go to jail for their role in inflating the housing bubble, Gingrich was paid some $1.6 to $1.8 million by Freddie Mac over an eight-year period, in part for advising Freddie Mac on how to sell policies that contributed to the housing bubble to Republicans.

Then there is Ron Paul.  Despite largely being ignored by the media, Paul has quietly run an effective campaign, and a recent Bloomberg poll put him in a four-way tie in Iowa, together with Romney, Cain, and Gingrich.  There is no doubt that Paul is the most principled Republican contender.  Unfortunately, Paul’s libertarian principles are not always sound.  He defended legalizing heroin to a debate audience in South Carolina—not on the grounds that the regulation of drugs is a matter the Constitution leaves to the states, but on the grounds that “It is amazing that we want freedom to pick our future in a spiritual way, but not when it comes to our personal habits.”  Paul then scoffed at the notion that legalizing heroin would have any impact on its use: “How many people here would use heroin if it were legal?  I doubt anyone would.”

More significantly, as VDare.com pointed out at the end of April, Paul has begun showing the instinctive libertarian aversion to national borders.  In his recent book Liberty Defined, Paul wrote, “With free markets and private property, a need for immigrant labor becomes obvious.  Make it legal and easy with a generous visitor work program.”  Restricting immigration to protect the wages of citizens or even preserve the character of a nation counts for nothing next to the demands of “free markets and private property.”  In addition to wanting immigration to be “legal and easy,” Paul opposes any effort to require businesses to verify that the employees they hire are American citizens:

Don’t punish third parties for not being keen to act as law enforcement agents in regard to illegal immigrants.  Blaming American employers and fining them for hiring an individual . . . with counterfeit identification strikes me as compulsory servitude not permitted under the constitution.

The E-Verify program would make it easy for employers to determine whether a job applicant has counterfeit identification, but Paul has also opposed expanding the use of E-Verify.  Small wonder that the immigration-reform group Numbers USA now gives Paul an “F” on its immigration report card, scarcely better than Obama’s “F minus.”

The problems of the individual Republican candidates are compounded by the GOP’s unwillingness to take on issues where Obama is vulnerable.  One of these issues is trade.  When Obama was facing a stiff primary challenge from Hillary Clinton in Ohio, he said that he wanted to renegotiate NAFTA, the disastrous free-trade agreement that gutted both American industry and Mexico’s peasant agriculture, causing millions of Mexicans to cross the Rio Grande.  Obama economic advisor Austan Goolsbee soon put out word that Obama’s words were an empty campaign gesture, as indeed they proved to be, and President Obama has been a staunch supporter of free trade.  Recently, Obama signed new free trade agreements with Panama, Colombia, and South Korea.  Given how many manufacturing jobs have migrated abroad, particularly to China, trade could become a huge issue in 2012.  Steve Sailer’s review of Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs noted that Apple contracts with companies that have 700,000 factory workers in China, and that Apple employs 30,000 engineers there.  This is comparable to the employment profile of one of the Big Three auto companies in their heyday, with the vital difference that those manufacturing jobs were in America, while Apple’s are in China.

But Obama is being given a pass on this issue by most of the Republicans.  Although Romney is beginning to sound the alarm about how China manipulates her currency to the detriment of U.S. manufacturers, he again faces a credibility problem, since he was a strong proponent of outsourcing when he worked for Bain Capital.  Economist Ian Fletcher recently wrote that the only Republican candidate who credibly opposes free-trade orthodoxy is former Louisiana governor Buddy Roemer, and even most political junkies don’t know he is running for president.  From the standpoint of winning the White House, this makes no sense.  As Scott P. Richert pointed out in these pages in January 2005 (“Bleeding Red, Feeling Blue,” The Rockford Files),

Unless the Republican Party stops wrapping its pandering to multinational corporations in the high-sounding rhetoric of an ideological commitment to free trade and truly begins to address the continuing economic devastation of the industrial Midwest (and, by extension, the rest of the country), future presidential election maps are likely to look pretty much the same as they did [in 2004]—only a little more Blue.

Indeed, no Republican has ever won the White House without winning Ohio, and one of the easiest ways for Republicans to take Ohio (where Obama currently enjoys a narrow lead in the polls) would be by going after Obama on trade.  But the GOP seems morbidly predisposed not to champion the interests of the Middle Americans who actually vote for it.

Immigration represents another major issue where Obama is vulnerable.  As Jim Antle pointed out in the November issue of Chronicles (“A Kinder, Gentler Amnesty,” News), the Obama administration is doing all it can to implement an amnesty for illegal aliens by administrative fiat.  Amnesty is hugely unpopular, given how many Americans are unemployed and underemployed.  But Republicans, beholden to corporate money and afraid of being called racist, are unwilling to make immigration a central issue, and most of the candidates, with the exception of Michele Bachmann, score little better than Ron Paul on Numbers USA’s immigration report card.  The GOP’s unwillingness to tackle immigration is simply suicidal in the long run.  A Pew poll from early November showed Romney leading Obama by 56 percent to 40 percent among white Mainline Protestants, by 57 percent to 41 percent among white Catholics, and by an astonishing 75 percent to 20 percent among white evangelical Protestants.  In the America of 1960 or even 1980, these numbers would translate into a GOP landslide.  But thanks in large part to the demographic changes brought about by mass immigration, that same Pew poll showed Romney and Obama tied at 48 percent.  As Pat Buchanan notes in Suicide of a Superpower, “Through its support of mass immigration, its paralysis in power in preventing 12-20 million illegal aliens from entering and staying in this country, and its failure to address the ‘anchor-baby’ issue, the Republican Party has birthed a new electorate that will send it the way of the Whigs.”

Then there are the issues where the Republicans have shown how little they have learned from the disastrous Bush years.  With the honorable exception of Ron Paul, most Republican candidates appear eager to go to war to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons.  As Romney declared in a recent debate, “If we re-elect Barack Obama, Iran will have a nuclear weapon.  And if you elect Mitt Romney, Iran will not have a nuclear weapon.”  In a speech at The Citadel, he added that “God did not create this country to be a nation of followers. . . . America must lead the world, or someone else will.”  Romney appears not to have reflected on the enormous costs to America from our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Deterrence worked to prevent two of the greatest mass murderers in history from using nuclear weapons, but apparently another bloody and expensive war in the Middle East is all that stands between us and Iran’s use of nuclear weapons.

Obama’s profligacy has given the Republicans credibility as the party to deal with the long-term threat to the economy posed by mounting debt, but Republicans remain vulnerable on other economic issues.  Their prescriptions for reviving the economy in the short term are no more convincing than Obama’s, and the candidates appear not to appreciate the role Wall Street played in triggering the recession.  As William Quirk has patiently documented in these pages, financial deregulation, particularly the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act and the decision not to regulate derivatives, played a crucial role in turning something that would have been manageable without financial deregulation—the collapse of the subprime-mortgage market—into something that nearly brought down the U.S. economy.  Although most Americans are disgusted by the antics of the would-be hippies occupying Wall Street, Americans also have become increasingly wary of the fruits of a finance capitalism that is focused no longer on providing capital to productive enterprises but instead on making money by manipulating increasingly esoteric financial instruments that provide no benefit to the productive economy—and, indeed, may even threaten that economy.  An early November NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found that 67 percent of Americans agree that “The current economic structure of the country is out of balance, and favors a very small proportion of the rich over the rest of the country,” with a substantial 60 percent telling pollsters that they strongly agree with this sentiment.  If Republicans do not find a way of responding to this discontent, Obama may well win a reelection that he does not deserve and that the country can ill afford.