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BOB FRANKEN

FOR RELEASE TUESDAY, MARCH 8, 2011

THE GOP PRESIDENTIAL ENTERTAINERS: BEATING THE HUMDRUM

BY BOB FRANKEN

This column has nothing to do with Charlie Sheen or anything he's said. In fact, his name is here only as a shameless attention-getter for the search engines. Other than that, who needs him? We have Newt Gingrich and others in the GOP who are flirting with a presidential run. Some of them are outright groping the idea.

Newt's at it again, and he's still able to get a huge amount of attention simply by taking a preliminary step before the preliminary step before the big step into full-fledged candidacy. When it comes to name recognition, the good news for Gingrich is that everyone knows who he is and what he stands for. The bad news for him is that everyone knows who he is and what he stands for, which is fundamentally anything that:

A. Trashes Democrats (“the party of food stamps”), President Barack Obama (a “Kenyan anti-colonialist,” which a lot of us are still trying to understand), liberals (“part of a secular socialist machine ... that represents as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union”) and/or Muslims (excuse me, “radical Islamists”).

B. Keeps his name out there.

It seems to work, despite a lot of baggage: Even if he succeeds in overcoming all the questions about his personal morality (two divorces, an affair with the woman who became his present wife), he also has a mixed public record. On the one hand, he has a reputation as a really smart guy. After all, he led the 1994 charge of Republicans who wrenched control of the House from the Democrats, who had held it for 40 years. But he also was forced to step down as speaker in 1999, as ethics charges swirled around him and after the forces he led in Congress got the blame for a government shutdown.

Now he's trying to fall up, and become one of his party's wild things. He'll need to pass the one who really makes the hearts of the faithful sing. That, of course, would be Sarah Palin, whose comments about anything and everything have become the stuff of legend, and satire.


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Let us not overlook another flamethrower, Mike Huckabee, the passive-aggressive one. He didn't really mean to disparage pregnant and unmarried Academy Award winner Natalie Portman when he said she “glamorizes the idea of having children out of wedlock.” And when he described Obama as “having grown up in Kenya,” he simply “misspoke.” But was this misspeaking designed to inflame the faithful who are so enraged about “Obamacare” that they don't care about “Obamafacts”? It seems to be working. A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll puts him at the top of the list, with 25 percent of GOP voters saying he's the first choice to be their nominee.

Then there are those in the Tame Bunch, the likes of Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Tim Pawlenty, Mitch Daniels -- the ones who are adrenaline-challenged. Romney is trying to contrive a passionately sensible image (or sensibly passionate -- it doesn't matter), trashing Obama at every opportunity, even about the health care law, which inconveniently is largely modeled after the Massachusetts plan, established when the state's governor was Mitt Romney.

As result, he's not just the leader of the bland, but second in the poll, with 21 percent. Interestingly, Gingrich and Palin are at 13 percent and 12 percent respectively, so they're down the list. The fact that they're even on the list is a worry to many experienced Republicans. Right now, they see a choice between boorish and boring. They also believe Obama is eminently beatable, if only they can find someone who brings more, uh, sheen to their ticket.

© 2011 Bob Franken

Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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