The 2012 GOP Field Is Like a High School Class

The class of Republicans running for president hearkens back to high school characters.

By + More

They're all Republicans to me, the crowd running for president in 2012, but somehow they take us straight back to school. From A for apple polisher to B for bully, and so on.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the GOP hopefuls.]

Tall teacher's pet former Gov. Mitt Romney is programmed so well to do well that he sits in the front row, always has a glib answer ready, and helps to pass out papers and tests because he's always done his B-plus to A-minus homework. A church on Sunday guy. Working up a life plan with his sweetheart Ann, the glowing girl a few doors down on Euclid Avenue. Born to wealth and privilege he wears as lightly as tennis whites. But he was no snob. Anyone can count on a pleasant, but brief, conversation with Mitt, now affable as ever. Yet he still leaves people lukewarm in his native Michigan and Massachusetts, where he was governor, and likely in Iowa too. Lukewarm, then and now.

Devil-may-care Rick Perry, governor of Texas, comes from central casting as just the opposite. He's the handsome, cheeky jock, a lug mighty slow when it comes to book learnin'. He may have cracked his skull out on the football field, as a star quarterback. Football is big in Texas, bigger than evolution. Part of Perry's appeal to people may be how transparent and uncomplicated he is. Heck, he's just a regular guy, compared to our brainy, complex president, Barack Obama, who can be accused of being an intellectual snob. But Rick can't be expected to know every little thing about algebra (or Afghanistan) when he has those plays runnin' through his head. Rick's a big-picture guy, and the teacher makes allowances for that. Rick grew up in small-town Paint Creek—he never lets you forget that. Then and now.

[See who's in and who's out of the 2012 GOP field.]

Jon Huntsman, a former governor of Utah, is the class smart aleck who likes to contradict everyone else on, say, global warming. He knows he's not going to win this thing this time around. Rather, he seems to be aiming at skipping a grade so that he can run once again against a different field. Being a master of substance on our greatest global rival—China—doesn't seem to be taking him places.  Note to Jon: work on those people skills. Then and now.

Rick Santorum, the truculent former senator from Pennsylvania reminds me of the boy who always won at Monopoly at home, with take-no-prisoners tactics, and thought Monopoly was an excellent metaphor for life. He does pretty well at the gaming of primary debates, too, let's give him that. He spent a dozen years in the Senate, so has a wider across-the-board command of issues foreign and domestic than some. Some would say he's too hard right to be a viable candidate in a run-off against President Obama. But Santorum violates a life principle, as well as a high school one. In those spheres, and in American politics, people like to like you as a nice guy that wouldn't cream them at Monopoly, given half a chance. Lighten up a little on the aggressive edge, then and now.

Rep. Michele Bachmann, the only girl in this class tosses her head high, as the only (declared) woman candidate on the field. She's certainly smarter and better-spoken than the other woman who's threatened to run for president lately, and I am strangely grateful to her for keeping Sarah Palin out of this race. The truly empty-headed Palin knows she can't compete with Bachmann, a zealously Christian congressswoman, on the hustings. But who was young Michele in high school in the Midwest? Was she the "perky" song girl or cheerleader who had her smile pinned on despite a world of trouble and hurt at home from a broken family? Some of that is driving her, from a more personal place than the others. She learned to put her game face on at an early age, and how skilled she is at the art—then and now.

[See photos of Michele Bachmann.]

Former Rep. Newt Gingrich, he's the faux history student whose declarations depend upon everyone else knowing nothing about anything prior to 1976. In this way, he first came across as a whiz of some kind. That worked out for a while, but by senior year, it was pretty much history. Same goes for the American people, who remember Newt a bit too well from 1995, when he became House Speaker on the wings of a class of radical Republicans he recruited. That memory cuts a little close to the bone. So with Newt, his history act is history—then and now.

Chris Christie, governor of New Jersey, is the bully we all feared out of the corner of our eyes. Loud and abrasive,Christie walks with a swagger and talks with bravado straight out of The Sopranos. He's a real New Jersey original and that's where he should stay with his mischief, then and now.

[Vote: Should Chris Christie Run for President? ]

As for Ron Paul, he's the guy with the cold eyes you run into at your high school reunion and you realize after a moment's small talk that he hasn't changed one iota. You didn't like him then and you don't like him now.

Herman Cain, he's the new kid in school. Anything could happen, then and now.

  • See photos of 2012 GOP hopefuls on the campaign trail
  • See a slide show of Newt Gingrich's career
  • Vote now: Who is your pick for the 2012 GOP nomination?