The early run-up to the Republican primary has shown the breadth of conservatives in America. But there are two things this disparate group of politicians can agree upon: George W. Bush did a bad job as steward of the American economy, and Obama is doing even worse.
Under Bush, taxes were slashed and expenses ran wild — causing our already ugly national debt to skyrocket. George W. Bush’s administration also presided over some of the lax regulations that led to the 2008 financial crisis and resulting recession.
Obama has failed to gain control of the mess, they continue. The unemployment rate is above 9%, consumer and investor confidence is flagging, especially after the August market mayhem. Disagreement over how to reduce the nation’s deficit has many worried that the United States will be up to its eyeballs in debt for generations.
There’s plenty of reasons to criticize Obama, and Republican candidates have wasted no time. But amid all the posturing, would the front-runners really bring anything different to the White House? How would the members of this group actually make a difference in economic policy and put the nation back on track?
Let’s take a look:
- Age: 64
- Claim to Fame: Former Governor of Massachusetts
- Economic Expertise: Harvard MBA and co-founder of Bain Capital
Romney proved his talents in the business world well before taking public office. Romney graduated in the top 5% of his business school class at Harvard, and was a young star of Boston’s management consulting scene after graduation. After a series of successes, he co-founded the private equity investment firm Bain Capital.
Bain Capital funded startups with venture capital, made deals between bigger shops and invested in companies that could grow. And thanks to Romney’s astute stewardship, Bain was a big success. One of its biggest buy-ins was into a little office supply company called Staples (NYSE:SPLS).
Bain Capital thrived under Romney, and he personally shared big-time in the success. A 2007 Washington Post report estimated his net worth at as much as $250 million.
A lot of lip service is paid by politicians to fostering small business growth and growing startups in America. In the private sector, Mitt Romney put his money where his mouth was and made it happen. He talks a lot about creating jobs and building businesses, and has the resume to back up those claims.
- Age: 55
- Claim to Fame: Founder of House Tea Party Caucus
- Economic Expertise: Member of House Financial Services Committee
Michele Bachmann is no stranger to budget battles, both on a federal level and on the household level. As a third-term congresswoman from Minnesota, she serves on House Committee on Financial Services and is a veteran of Congressional spending negotiations. But her experience caring for more than 20 foster children and professional experience with tax law has taught her first hand how to make a family budget work. (Find out how federal spending would look if Uncle Sam followed a family budget).
What changes would Bachmann bring to Washington? Soon after being sworn in to her third term in Congress she introduced legislation to repeal the landmark Dodd-Frank financial reforms that became law in 2010. Bachmann claimed that the new regulations “grossly expanded the federal government beyond its jurisdictional boundaries” and would hurt jobs and corporate profits.
The congresswoman’s bill has been endorsed by such conservative groups as the Club for Growth and Americans for Prosperity for its efforts to roll back governmental interference in business.
As one of the vocal leaders of the small government Tea Party movement, Bachmann has made it clear that she wants to get Washington as far away from the private sector as possible to allow for free market conditions.
- Age: 75
- Claim to Fame: Nearly 15 years in Congress, often railing against the Fed
- Economic Expertise: Nearly 15 years in Congress, often railing against the Fed
Ron Paul is perhaps the best known Fed critic in America and a sharp opponent of government regulation and federal excess. He was even critical of Ronald Reagan because of high deficits at the time of his presidency.
For years, the Texas congressman has been an outsider on the libertarian fringe of the Republican Party. In the boom times, the idea of abolishing the Federal Reserve and returning to the gold standard seemed a quaintly eccentric idea. But as financial turmoil descended on the world in the wake of the sub-prime crisis, more folks began to take a serious look at Paul’s ideas. (Find out 5 myths and 5 ugly truths about the Fed).
If Congressman Paul was in the White House, you can bet there would be some serious changes. To hear him tell it, ending the Fed would eliminate inflation and squash the old boom-and-bust cycle we’ve become used to. Income inequality and trade imbalances will work themselves out faster, and the growth of government will screech to a halt.
Of course, there are many prestigious policymakers and economists who argue that such an effort would amount to economic chaos and that Paul’s “cure” is worse than the sickness. But make no bones about it — Ron Paul would be a sharp change from both George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
Some voters may think that would be a good thing.
- Age: 51
- Claim to Fame: Former Governor of Utah and U.S. ambassador
- Economic Expertise: Globe-trotting trade expert with experience in Asia
Jon Huntsman, Jr. served as a Mormon missionary in Taiwan for two years when he was a teenager, long before he started climbing the rungs of the political ladder. Then, in his late 20s, Huntsman and his family lived and worked in Chinese Taipei. The son of the founder of Huntsman Corp. (NYSE:HUN), he was no stranger to travel abroad to emerging markets.
Upon returning to the states, Huntsman focused his energies on politics — but this involvement in international affairs was always a hallmark of his career. In the 1990s, he served as ambassador to Singapore and was Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce to George H.W. Bush. And just before he declared his candidacy for the presidency, he was serving as U.S. ambassador to China.
This long political reach beyond the Beltway is what sets Huntsman apart from his fellow candidates. While many Republican nominees have economic experience or favorable qualities, Huntsman’s real-world experience building global trade deals is crucial to America.
President Obama himself has stressed the need for America to export more goods and tap into the growth of emerging markets. And if the incumbent can’t achieve progress on those goals by November 2012, you can bet Jon Huntsman, Jr. will have a few ideas on how to get things done.
- Age: 65
- Claim to Fame: Former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza
- Economic Expertise: Former chairman and director of a regional Federal Reserve Bank
If you want better customer service from Washington, you’d be hard pressed to find a politician with more links to consumer-driven businesses than Herman Cain.
Cain’s resume includes a stint as an analyst for Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO), vice president of Pillsbury, an executive position at Burger King and CEO of Godfather’s Pizza. He dabbled in government, joining the National Restaurant Association lobbying group as CEO in the late 1990s and serving on the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas, before pursuing politics full-time about a decade ago.
So what would Cain do to fix the economy? Lower the top corporate tax rate, lower the top income tax rate, cut the capital gains to zero, suspend taxes on “repatriated” profits made abroad — and make those changes as permanent as they can be to inspire confidence in the private sector.
Critics would say that this is an awfully top-heavy approach, meant to put more money in the hands of folks who already have plenty. But Cain clearly is proven in the world of business and is using his experience in corporate America as a foundation for his argument. If these moves would have helped the businesses he helped run in his early career, they could help all businesses now at a time when the economy direly needs help.
- Age: 61
- Claim to Fame: Current Texas governor
- Economic Expertise: Big job creation in one of America’s biggest states
Though it’s hard for some to believe, Texan Rick Perry has been the governor of Texas since 2000 when he took the reins of the Lone Star State from George W. Bush. And after months of speculation now that his third term is drawing to a close, Perry has at last thrown his hat into the ring for the Republican presidential nomination.
Perry has been stumping hard since his formal announcement of his candidacy on Aug. 13, mostly by touting his experience helping the Texas economy thrive and create new jobs. Specifically, the governor talks up the fact that almost 40% of the nation’s new jobs since June 2009 have been created in his home state of Texas. The reasons? Perry claims low taxes and few regulations – including right-to-work laws and so called “tort reform” to reduce the impact of lawsuits against corporations – enticed employers to add new positions here and not elsewhere in the U.S.
This record surely will connect with some. But for others, the claim that Perry “put Texas to work” is way off base. Texas disproportionately employs folks in the energy sector, and comparatively high crude oil and natural gas prices are surely a factor to consider. And as some critics have pointed out, the median household income in Texas has fallen to 47th in the nation and employment numbers fail to account for the massive number of “underemployed” folks who can’t make ends meet at minimum wage.
Furthermore, the fact Perry was handed the baton from George W. Bush in 2000 – and indeed served as his lieutenant governor before then – could against him in the general election.
All that said, jobs are clearly the focus right now and Perry’s “Texas miracle” could be tough to top on the campaign trail as Americans look to GOP candidates for solutions to our current unemployment woes.