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They're fired (up)

25 Mar 2011 By James Pethokoukis

Fringe U.S. Republican presidential hopefuls could win the ideas race, if not the party’s nomination. The odds are long for real estate magnate and TV reality star Donald Trump or libertarian Rand Paul to get the GOP nod for 2012. But their Tea Party-friendly proposals are generating interest.

To a degree, the attention reflects voter apathy for the leading contenders. With the exception of Sarah Palin, who seems increasingly unlikely to run, none fits well with the grass-roots movement that helped Republicans retake the House last November. Mitt Romney, as Massachusetts governor, created a healthcare plan far too like President Barack Obama’s. Tim Pawlenty, meanwhile, was a committed environmental activist when he ran Minnesota.

By contrast, Trump appeals directly to Tea Party free-trade skepticism when he calls China the enemy and advocates a 25 percent tariff on America’s imports from the Middle Kingdom. The Donald, as he is sometimes known, is no fan of Wall Street, either, despite its role financing and refinancing his real estate deals.

Meanwhile Paul, who campaigned under the Tea Party banner last November, wants to balance the federal budget in just five years. That would mean saying goodbye to the departments of commerce, education, energy and housing – an appealing notion to small-government activists who think GOP leaders in Washington remain too timid on spending cuts.

Though both men are long shots, Paul would probably have the better electoral chance of the two. His father and ideological twin, Ron Paul, has a cult following after a 2008 run for president and consistently gets around 10 percent in GOP preference polls. And the son is more media-savvy.

Trump might be taken somewhat seriously if he’s really willing and able to spend $600 million of his own money, as he claims. If he and Paul ultimately don’t run, Tea Party favorite Michele Bachmann, a likely candidate, may occupy the populist economic niche. Either way, with anti-China and extreme austerity themes resonating, frontrunners like Romney and Pawlenty will surely be tempted to latch onto some version of such ideas. Whatever their merit, at least the GOP contest would then be about something.


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