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SPOTLIGHT
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GOP firebrands want to set Romney agenda

Published on -5/3/2012, 8:48 AM

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Republican lawmakers have declared war on the presidency. Not so odd, perhaps, given their recent record. But the leader they're targeting this time is Mitt Romney.

The former Massachusetts governor is clearly going to be the party's candidate. Traditionally, the nominee sets the agenda for the party in the fall elections. Not this time, according to several Republican firebrands.

"We're not a cheerleading squad," said Rep. Jeff Landry, a freshman from Louisiana. "We're the conductor. We're supposed to drive the train."

"We have led and will continue to lead," said Rep. Lou Barletta, a Pennsylvania Republican.

Their bottom line seems to be that Romney can say anything he wants so long as he supports lower taxes on the rich, the evisceration of food stamps and other programs that benefit the poor, and the inflation of a military budget that already looks as though it's on steroids.

Basically Republicans don't want a president. They want a potted plant.

And judging from his performance so far, Romney might be willing to accommodate them. He's already reversed himself on pretty much every issue that would make a tea party fanatic frown.

I keep wondering how in the world Republicans expect to win the election on a platform that would benefit -- at most -- 10 percent of the population at the expense of the other 90 percent.

I suppose they're going to rely heavily on negative campaigning. Romney certainly did in destroying his primary opponents.

And thanks to the Supreme Court's lamentable Citizens United ruling, they will have virtually unlimited resources to hurl exaggerations, misrepresentations, and outright lies at President Barack Obama.

We're going to revisit Obama the Muslim, Obama the foreigner, and Obama the hate-filled black radical, as well as Obama the socialist and Obama the dictator.

I doubt that any of those hysterical charges will stick with anyone who isn't a Rush Limbaugh fan, but who knows?

When the Republicans took over the House of Representatives in the 2010 election, they claimed a national mandate to return to the 18th century.

That mandate has very little validity. In that election, Republican candidates scored a total of 30,799,391 votes. Two years earlier in the presidential election, Obama received 69,498,215 -- more than twice as many. That's a mandate.

Unfortunately, he hasn't been able to exercise it much over the past two years because of Republican intransigence. Our system of government invites gridlock, and Republican members of Congress have done everything in their power to accept that invitation.

When Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said in October 2010 that the "single most important thing" that Republicans "want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president," he wasn't kidding. He and his Republican colleagues have spent the past two years throwing sand into the gears of government.

Beating Obama will be harder for the GOP than it was to clench a robust majority of House seats and narrow the Democratic Party's Senate majority two years ago. Despite the Republicans' best efforts to paint him as an extreme liberal, Obama has governed as a moderate. He's certainly too moderate for some of his supporters.

He's helped drag us back from the brink of insolvency, save the auto industry, and cut our trade deficit. He's even managed to oversee an increase in our oil production, making us less dependent on foreign sources of energy.

All of this with the Republicans leaving heel marks all the way.

Had the voters kept the Democratic Party in control of Congress in 2010, or had more reasonable Republicans been calling their party's shots, our economic recovery might be several years further along by now.

The Republicans will argue that none of that is true, of course, that the Obama administration has been a failure in every regard. Maybe they can sell that. They've certainly got enough money to give it a try. However, they have no competing narrative that makes sense to anyone but people who are interested in nothing but low taxes for the rich.

There's a saying in politics that you can't beat somebody with nobody. This election will test that premise.

Donald Kaul, Ann Arbor, Mich., is a retired Washington columnist for the Des Moines Register. He covered the capital for 29 years. dkaul1@verizon.net

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