GOP field is not strong enough 

Texas Gov. Rick Perry had intended to revive his floundering presidential campaign with release Tuesday of a sweeping economic plan, but he undercut his message with comments indulging those who question whether President Barack Obama was born in the United States.

On the same day, Perry’s rival Mitt Romney traveled to an Ohio phone bank to rally Republican activists making calls to support Gov. John Kasich’s reforms curbing the power of government unions. But the calculating Romney refused to take a position on whether he actually supported the measure.

Following their blunders, Perry later came out and said that he had no doubts about Obama’s native citizenship and Romney claimed to fully back Kasich after all.

The surging Herman Cain, meanwhile, who spent much of last week scrambling to explain contradictory statements on abortion, released an avant-garde ad featuring his chief of staff blowing smoke into the camera.

It was just another week on the job for the Republican presidential field.

Throughout the campaign, many pundits have argued that the 2012 Republican presidential field is a weak one. But this has not been self-evidently true to some defenders of the candidates, so the point is worth more elaboration.

A lot of conservatives were disappointed when Republicans ended up nominating Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in 2008. But given President George W. Bush’s unpopularity at the time and the eventual financial crisis, it was a long shot that any GOP candidate could have won that election. In effect, Republicans were nominating a sacrificial lamb who they’d be stuck with for a few months.

This time, the tables have turned. Obama’s Gallup approval rating is mired in the high 30s to low 40s. His policies have failed to get the economy back on track. Forecasts suggest things won’t get noticeably better before next year’s election and could get significantly worse.

Add the highly unpopular health care law, along with the Solyndra and Fast and Furious scandals, and the case against Obama is a slam dunk.

Obama’s vulnerability means a real opportunity to elect a strong conservative. It’s important to get this right, because the eventual GOP nominee could lead the party through at least 2016 and perhaps until 2020.

The next four to eight years will be a defining period in American history. With the nation’s debt reaching crisis levels, Americans have to make a set of hard decisions that will ultimately determine whether the country fully morphs into a European-style social welfare state.  

Everything that needs to be done to prevent this outcome will require courageous leadership at the presidential level. Replacing Obama’s national health care law with a market-based alternative will be a bitter political fight.

But it will only be a warmup act for the war over restructuring the nation’s unsustainable entitlement programs. For decades, Republicans have talked a big game about reining in government, but have never delivered. Now, the nation is paying the price for their acquiescence, and we’re running out of time to change the disastrous trajectory.

It’s true that electability is a basic threshold that a Republican presidential candidate should have to meet. But given the stakes, it’s important that GOP candidates be judged not merely on whether they can beat Obama, but whether they have the qualities that will be required to confront the nation’s challenges and govern effectively if elected president.

Each Republican contender brings some attributes to the table. But together, the candidates are uninspiring, unserious, unprepared, dishonest, unreliable, inexperienced, inconsistent or ideologically malleable. Not one of them seems up to the task at hand.

Philip Klein is a senior editorial writer for The Washington Examiner.

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