Republicans Lack Clear Frontrunner for President

The presidential primaries are a few months away, and Republicans are divided about the contenders, although Rudy Giuliani leads in the national polls. None has really proven to GOP donors and decision-makers that he will run the best campaign against the Democratic presidential hopefuls.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

DEBORAH AMOS, host:

And I'm Deborah Amos.

The first presidential caucus in Iowa is now about 100 days away, the kickoff to primary season. This year, the Democrats have a clear frontrunner in Hillary Clinton, while the Republicans are divided among at least four contenders. That's a role reversal from past campaign cycles.

Joining us to talk about this is NPR news analyst Juan Williams.

Good morning.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Good morning, Deb.

AMOS: Juan, let's set aside the Democrats for now. Let's focus on the GOP. Isn't this about the time that they should be lining up behind a leader?

WILLIAMS: Oh yes. And you must remember that great line from former President Bill Clinton when he was talking about presidential primaries. He said, Democrats want to fall in love with a candidate, Republicans want to fall in line.

There's a lot of truth to that and I mean, in the modern GOP, since FDR has been a minority party in terms of the number of Americans who identify as Republicans versus Democrats.

And as a result, the GOP has always made a virtue of unity. And of course, it puts the political machinery nationwide in gear early behind one candidate. It's that you were a football team choosing the quarterback and making sure that everybody on the team knew exactly who is the leader. So this is an exceptional year in that regard because at the moment, they still are looking for a candidate.

AMOS: But, Juan, the Republicans have a leading candidate and that's Rudy Giuliani. It's just that he doesn't quite fit the classic Republican mold. Is that where the problem is?

WILLIAMS: That's exactly right. I mean, he's consistently led the national polls. Giuliani has not lost the lead to either Fred Thompson or to candidates who've been on the race for some time such as Senator John McCain and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.

Those people have not made a powerful case to the national audience of major Republican donors or Republican decision makers and elected officials. They really also have not made the case that they can defeat any of the frontrunners on the Democratic side. Giuliani makes the case consistently that he runs best against the likes of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama as well as John Edwards.

But getting back to your point that the reason that the party has been slow to embrace him as the frontrunner. He's just so unusual - he supports abortion rights, gay rights, gun control. He doesn't fit the family values-evangelical template for a Republican presidential candidate.

AMOS: And that's the very case that his challenger, Mitt Romney, has been making, which is, I'm the Republican from the Republican wing of the party. It's not working. He's trying to appeal to the party, why not?

WILLIAMS: Well you know, I think Romney has been slow to deal with the fact that he is a Mormon and that this has created some anxiety. In addition, Romney has spent heavily on ads. He's had more than 11,000 on the air - trying to develop a name identity. It has allowed him to take a narrow lead in Iowa and New Hampshire. But he remains an afterthought nationwide.

When you look at, not only Romney, but someone like John McCain, you see that they haven't exactly been able to make the case. And I think in McCain's situation also, he's got very little money at this point and to some, he seems old - not like the natural successive that some thought he was going to be. Then you look at other candidates down the line on the Republican side like Mike Huckabee who has been very effective in the debates. But he has no money. And so he has to fight through his obscurity with very few tools. And that the result is, there is this emerging consensus among party influentials and leaders and those at the White House that maybe it's time to get behind Rudy Giuliani.

AMOS: Thank you very much, Juan.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Deb.

AMOS: NPR news analyst Juan Williams.

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