Repub­li­can field has its own ‘change’ ideas

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY SETH MCLAUGH­LIN

The GOP base may not be overly ex­cited about its early crop of White House hope­fuls, but with one call­ing for an end to the Fed­eral Re­serve, some open to the le­gal­iza­tion of mar­i­juana and oth­ers push­ing to scrap the tax code, it’s hard to say they aren’t de­liv­er­ing in spades for those crav­ing real change in Wash­ing­ton.

While the early con­tenders for the 2012 Repub­li­can Party’s nom­i­na­tion all seem to be em­ploy­ing some ver­sion of the “change” mantra that helped pro­pel Pres­i­dent Obama into of­fice, it’s the peo­ple al­ready writ­ten off by the Repub­li­can es­tab­lish­ment who’ve truly em­bod­ied the mes­sage. That quirky pack in­cludes a cou­ple of lib­er­tar­ian-minded icon­o­clasts, Rep. Ron Paul and for­mer New Mex­ico Gov. Gary E. John­son, and a re­al­ity-TV star, Don­ald Trump.

Mr. Paul’s long to-do list in­cludes get­ting rid of the Fed­eral Re­serve, yank­ing the troops out of Afghanistan and end­ing for­eign aid. The Texas Repub­li­can also wants to bar the fed­eral gov­ern­ment from defin­ing mar­riage or get­ting in­volved in a state’s abil­ity to le­gal­ize pros­ti­tu­tion or hard drugs, in­clud­ing co­caine and heroin.

Mr. John­son also wants to bring the troops home now and is turn­ing heads for his qual­i­fied pro-choice stance on abor­tion, while scor­ing ku­dos from mar­i­juana ad­vo­cates for talk­ing openly about his mar­i­juana use and ar­gu­ing that states should be able to tax and reg­u­late the sale of the drug.

And Mr. Trump, who has yet to take part in a de­bate, claims that China should face taxes on im­ports un­til it stops ma­nip­u­lat­ing its cur­rency and that the U.S. should seize Iraq’s oil fields to pay it­self back for the cost of the war.

Oth­ers, in­clud­ing Rep. Michele Bach­mann, of Min­nesota, and Her­man Cain, for­mer God­fa­ther’s Pizza CEO and ra­dio talk-show host, want to wipe away the cur­rent tax sys­tem and re­place it with a na­tional sales tax, known as a “Fair Tax.”

Though some of the ideas ap­pear to fall out­side the main­stream of the Repub­li­can Party, many share the com­mon goal of push­ing back against the per­ceived over­reach of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, a no­tion that helped the GOP seize con­trol of the House and gain six Se­nate seats in last fall’s elec­tion.

“The ideas do demon­strate how strong the anti-gov­ern­ment sen­ti­ment is within the Repub­li­can Party,” said Dar­rell M. West, di­rec­tor of gov­er­nance stud­ies at the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion. “Many mem­bers of the party don’t want the gov­ern­ment in­ter­ven­ing in any as­pect of peo­ple’s lives.”

But it’s un­clear just how long these ideas can sur­vive in a pres­i­den­tial pri­mary, par­tic­u­larly when most peo­ple are fo­cused on broader no­tions of re­duc­ing the tril­lion-dol­lar deficit, the $14.3 tril­lion na­tional debt and the high un­em­ploy­ment rate.

“There is a gen­eral con­sen- sus that not many cre­ative or com­mon-sense so­lu­tions have come out of the de­bates,” said Ron Bon­jean, a GOP con­sul­tant. “Much more must be done to grab the at­ten­tion of vot­ers.”

Asked about some of the pro­pos­als that have been floated, re­cently re­tired Sen. Judd Gregg, New Hamp­shire Repub­li­can, said it’s not un­usual for the Gran­ite State’s first-in-the-nation pri­mary to at­tract a large field of prospec­tive can­di­dates. “Many of them have been fairly far out,” he said.

“What you have is a bunch of fringe can­di­dates with wacky ideas mak­ing pre­sen­ta­tions and hav­ing the fo­rum to do that be­cause you haven’t had many of the strong, ra­tio­nal and more sub­stan­tive peo­ple to for­mally en­gage and de­clare yet,” said Mr. Gregg, adding that it’s easy to sep­a­rate those ideas that have legs from those that don’t.

For in­stance, he said, few peo­ple are tak­ing Mr. Trump se­ri­ously, and Mr. John­son’s po- ten­tial bid shows how some­one “can par­tic­i­pate for a while, at least un­til they’re elim­i­nated by the elec­torate, which will un­ques­tion­ably hap­pen in his case.”

At the same time, Mr. Gregg and oth­ers say the push to re­place the in­come-tax sys­tem with a na­tional sales tax could con­tinue to be part of the na­tional con­ver­sa­tion, be­cause tax re­form is a hot topic on Capi­tol Hill, where lawmakers are search­ing for ways to sim­plify the sys­tem, re­duce tax rates and broaden the tax base. In fact, two iden­ti­cal bills have been in­tro­duced to re­peal the in­come tax and en­act a 23 per­cent na­tional sales tax.

“I think it comes down to peo­ple are tired of the same old, same old,” said Corey Le­wandowski, the New Hamp­shire di­rec­tor of Amer­i­cans for Pros­per­ity. “I think the peo­ple are say­ing, ‘Look, we have to come up with some­thing dif­fer­ent. The cur­rent sys­tem isn’t work­ing.’ ”

Mr. Le­wandowski also de­fended sev­eral of the ideas be­ing floated, in­clud­ing Mr. Paul’s be­lief that states should be able to le­gal­ize drugs if they choose and his plan to cut gov­ern­ment spend­ing by 50 per­cent, ar­gu­ing it shouldn’t be cast aside as too far out­side the main­stream.

“Po­ten­tially, peo­ple think of those can­di­dates as fringe be­cause they are so for­ward-think­ing,” he said. “When we were go­ing to be the first man on the moon, I bet you a whole bunch of peo­ple never thought it could be done.”

Anti-gov­ern­ment GOP tide ris­ing: Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Rep. Ron Paul of Texas has ad­vo­cated abo­li­tion of the Fed­eral Re­serve Board.

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