Looking Ahead To The 2012 Presidential Campaign

Donald Trump and Sarah Palin might be exciting some voters. But the Republicans often nominate a presidential candidate who appears to be next in line. Who would be favored if that tradition holds?

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

For some analysis on where we stand in the presidential campaign at this very early stage, we turn to NPR's Cokie Roberts, who joins us most Mondays.

Good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS: Hi, Renee.

MONTAGNE: And Donald Trump and Sarah Palin might be exciting some voters, as we've just heard. But the Republicans often nominate a presidential candidate who appears to be what you might call the next-in-line. Who would be favored if that tradition holds?

ROBERTS: Well, that is what they tend to do. This year, they don't really have an obvious next-in-line. They don't have someone who's run before and lost, or have been the vice president, or something like that. I suppose the closest that comes to that is Mitt Romney, and he's having a hard time with that, because on the one hand, being the inevitable candidate is helpful. You know, everybody's - sort of crowns you ahead of time, and that's - that does make it easier in the primaries.

But on the other hand, it doesn't excite anybody, and he wants to be the competent businessman, out-of-state, government outsider. So that is - you know, that's the balancing act that he has to do.

Of course, his big problem is that while he was in state government in Massachusetts, the state passed a health care law that is very similar to the health care law that was passed under the Obama administration nationally. And Romney is having to deal with that, because Republicans don't like it much. But the truth is, the Republicans are not particularly thrilled with their presidential field at the moment or with any of these folks.

MONTAGNE: So what should we be looking for if there's no obvious Republican candidate at the moment, or one that the Republicans are thrilled about?

ROBERTS: Well, you know, it doesn't really matter if you have a standout candidate or not. I mean, think of who they've been. You know, Ted Kennedy was the standout candidate and was never elected president. And you've had many a year when the Democrats have talked about the seven dwarves, or whatever. And somebody gets nominated, and depending on what the economic circumstances are, somebody gets elected, usually, either out of that crowd, or, you know, the other side.

So I don't think it really matters much, but it does have the Republicans grumbling because the president has now launched his own campaign, and they don't really feel like they've got somebody to argue with him.

MONTAGNE: And what about President Obama? He's been playing to the center. I'm wondering how Democrats will respond to this, and would it have any effect on him being re-nominated?

ROBERTS: Well, I don't think he's in any danger, but he's out on the campaign trail this week. He's definitely now launched his bid. And, you know, he gave his big budget speech last week, which was clearly aimed at energizing Democrats who were upset with his cooperation with Republicans in Congress.

And then after his speech, he was at a fundraiser in Chicago, where he was making sort of swaggering comments about how he had faced down Republicans in the budget negotiations, and those were picked up by a microphone. And the White House says, well, we're not at all embarrassed about those remarks. It just shows the president is tough.

So he's out there now, setting a very different tone from the tone that he had been setting here in Washington, where he was trying to talk about being a grown up and keeping the government going with Democrats and Republicans coming together. So, you know, once the campaign starts, that cooperation becomes a lot tougher.

MONTAGNE: And Cokie, as this presidential race does take shape, how will this affect what happens in Congress? There must be several directions it might go.

ROBERTS: Well, the first place we're going to see it is on the debt ceiling, voting to raise the debt ceiling, as Secretary of the Treasury Geithner yesterday said that failure to do that would be, quote, "catastrophic" and send the country back into recession. And he says the Republican leaders understand that, and that they have basically agreed that they will vote to raise the debt ceiling.

They say not so fast, that they're not going to do that without further cuts in the budget. And, of course, the House of Representatives voted for the Republican budget last Friday, all but four Republicans voting for it. And so those fights are still going to be out there, and how the president what the president's tone is in those fights is going to be something very interesting to watch.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Cokie Roberts, thanks very much.

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