As the GOP field thins out during primary season, British conservatives with an interest in American politics have been forced to re-examine their preferred candidate. The rapid rise and fall of many “flavours of the month” has made it increasingly difficult to follow from across the Atlantic. Mainstream media tends to present the nominees as caricatures of themselves, while the liberal media delights in picking out quotes to make candidates seem more extreme.
Britain’s secular nature attempts to extract religion from elections. Tony Blair has been involved in a number of faith-based initiatives since leaving office, but he rarely mentioned his religion while serving as Prime Minister. Current Prime Minister David Cameron skirts around the issue, worried about offending anyone by talking about his faith. The secular nature of our society leads to a very different type of politics. Social issues such as abortion and gay marriage are rarely, if ever, debated in parliament. Nadine Doories (pictured right), a Conservative Member of Parliament, recently suggested that pregnant women should be able to receive advice from faith-based groups before having an abortion. She was immediately denigrated by the liberal media and even her own party. Most elections in the UK are therefore fought over fiscal issues such as tax and government spending rather than social issues.
Bearing this in mind, what do the British make of the GOP candidates so far?
Initially the bombastic, no-nonsense approach of Herman Cain resonated on this side of the Atlantic. Think tanks such as the Taxpayers’ Alliance and the Centre for Policy Studies have campaigned for a flat tax in recent years, and the possibility of Cain’s 9-9-9 plan piqued their interest. As the salacious rumours about his personal life came up, Brits were baffled at how rapidly his ratings declined. After Bill Clinton, it seemed surprising that a candidate could be destroyed so quickly by rumours such as this. We are used to our fair share of scandal in British politics, so little shocks us.
Rick Perry had appeared to be George W. Bush, mark two, an unpopular idea considering his reputation when he left office. Bush was painted as a prize idiot in England for his entire presidency, so Perry’s complete inability to stay awake or remember his policies (see below) during debates simply served to reinforce these suspicions.
There is a growing libertarian movement in Britain. Ron Paul has a lot of young fans over here, but the same thing that stops him from getting the nomination in America stops him from attracting widespread support here. On domestic issues, conservatives admire the low tax, low regulation, small, states’ rights approach to government which Paul espouses, but his foreign policy is considered crazy. Radical cuts in defense spending and an isolationist approach to humanitarian issues such as Libya are viewed as short sighted and dangerous.
As a nation we are proud of the special relationship between America and Britain, best shown during the era of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher . There are many differences between our nations, but for Atlanticists like myself, our relationship with America has always been the most important for us globally.
On a visit to Congress last year, I got the chance to ask Ron Paul what he thought of the special relationship. He replied that all countries should be treated the same, as potential allies and trading partners. I asked him if meant treating Iran the same as Britain; he confirmed. After Barack Obama sent the bust of Winston Churchill back to Britain in a much-derided show of contempt, I could never support a presidential candidate who does not appreciate the connection between our countries.
Newt Gingrich has received relatively little coverage on this side of the Atlantic, his time in the spotlight ending before it had really started. His recent adverts attacking Romney’s capitalist history have only served to give Obama ammunition for the fight ahead.
The recent surge of Rick Santorum has placed him on the forefront of British media for the first time. His stance on gay marriage, abortion, contraception and other faith-based issues make him a soft target for a media that has a poor understanding of American politics. Even so, it is hard to imagine him attracting the floating voters that any GOP candidate will need to beat Obama later this year.
Finally, there’s Mitt Romney. The GOP spent the last year desperately trying to find anyone else, but it looks like he’s going to be the last one standing. Ironically, his political priorities are probably the most attractive to British conservatives. His focus on the economy, jobs, and growth has mass appeal. The liberal media will still try and cast him as a typical Republican, but recent polls indicate that he could potentially be the only candidate who can really take on Obama.
Left-Wing politicians in England tried to use Obama’s stimulus plan as an excuse for higher public spending and tax increases, but those policies have been burdensome and ineffective. An American president supporting the free markets and scaling back the size of the government could show the way to other Western economies in dire need of urgent fiscal reform.
The GOP should choose their candidate as soon as possible, before infighting damages reputations any further. In my opinion, a smart pick for Vice President regardless of the nominee would be Marco Rubio; he could make all the difference when it comes to November. Whoever is on the ticket, the most important task is to get Barack Obama as far away from the White House as possible before he completely destroys American exceptionalism and further damages relations with the UK, an important strategic ally in Europe.