Candidate Profiles Archive

This is the archive for the Candidate Profiles page for the 2012 Republican presidential primary.

The following is an analysis of each candidate and his best strategy for winning the nomination. Republican primary voters are most interested in three attributes: conservatism, electability, and rhetorical skill. Rhetorical skill chiefly deals with a candidate's ability to communicate and control a debate, interview, or townhall appearance; the ability to deliver a good speech is also useful. A diligent candidate may be able to increase his perceived possession of these attributes, but it is difficult.

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Paul, Romney

Withdrawn/Declined to Run:
Bachmann, Barbour, Cain, Christie, Daniels, Gingrich, Huckabee, Huntsman, Palin, Pawlenty, Perry, Santorum, Trump

  • Paul is a symbol of the libertarian movement. His followers are loyal and enthusiastic, and they have donated generously to him in the past.
  • Paul's view on foreign policy (either "non-interventionist" or "isolationist," depending upon whom you ask) enables him to appeal to a group not reached by the other candidates.
  • Paul is viewed by many voters as, at worst, a joke or party-crasher, and at best, not a serious candidate. Even many Paul supporters believe his purpose is to influence the debate rather than win the nomination.
  • Though many Republicans are skeptical of America's role as "policeman of the world," Paul won many enemies during his 2008 campaign by suggesting that American foreign policy was to blame for the September 11th attacks.
  • Paul is in his mid-70s. He would be the oldest man ever to win--or lose--a presidential election.
  • Paul's unusual speaking style generally does more to hinder, rather than help, his cause.
Paul must convince voters that he is a serious candidate and has a real chance to win. It is unlikely that he could do anything to create that impression other than winning both Iowa and New Hampshire.

Paul may take advantage of growing dissatisfaction with American intervention in the Middle East, but he must take care to avoid the perception of "blaming America first." He must also avoid any reference to "fringe" policies. He should emphasize his perennial efforts to reduce government, suggesting that he is leading the Tea Party movement while others are just tagging along because it's now popular.

Paul's best hope for winning primaries is to bring in new voters and hope that the vote in early contests is divided among many different candidates.

  • Often viewed as the "next in line" for the nomination, Romney has name recognition and the support of the Republican establishment. The Republican party has a history of nominating the candidate whose "turn" it is, based on the previous election's primary.
  • Romney looks and sounds like a president. He appears intelligent and well-informed. He is disciplined and is not known for making gaffes.
  • Realizing that the economy is likely to be of prime concern in 2012, and with a long career in business, Romney has successfully made himself into the designated "economics guy" of the field.
  • The Romney family's prominence in the Mormon community dates back to the early years of the religion. Many Mormons believe the election of a Mormon president would be a unique opportunity to raise awareness and acceptance of their faith. Mormon voters supported Romney overwhelmingly in the 2008 primary and gave him a landslide victory in Nevada.
  • If the past is any indication, Romney's campaign is likely to be well-organized and well-financed. Romney is extremely wealthy and has shown a willingness to spend millions of his own dollars for his campaign.
  • Romneycare. As governor of Massachusetts, Romney instituted healthcare reform. Both conservatives and liberals have suggested Romneycare bears many similarities to Obamacare. It includes an individual mandate (a law requiring citizens to buy health insurance or face penalties), the most well-known and hated component of Obamacare. Obamacare's individual mandate (though a federal law rather than a state law like Romneycare) has been ruled unconstitutional. The question of Obamacare's constitutionality will work its way through the court system during the primaries, guaranteeing Romneycare will be discussed continually.
  • Many voters have serious questions about Romney's sincerity and conservatism. While running in 2008, Romney took much more conservative positions than he did as governor of Massachusetts. Though he has been consistent since then, conservatives are wary of "moderates in conservative's clothing," to say the least.
  • Romney's campaign in 2008 revealed a tendency to rely on attack ads. This, combined with perceived elitism on the part of Romney and his campaign staffers, made many enemies among Romney's opponents. Obviously Romney must defeat all his opponents to win. But a primary with many candidates benefits those who can gain support from competitors as they drop out.
  • Many evangelical Christians fear, just as many Mormons hope, that the election of a Mormon president would raise the stature of Mormonism throughout the world. They may not be absolutely opposed to electing a Mormon, but would prefer to avoid it. Others find tenants of the Mormon faith baffling or offensive.
Romney has a good deal of control over his own fate. His strategy will have a greater influence on the result, and he has many options from which to choose. Consequently, this section will be much more lengthy and involved than it is for the other candidates.

Handling the Romneycare issue is 80% of Romney's challenge. His best strategy is to admit his mistake as quickly, completely, and sincerely as possible early on, hoping that the issue becomes a dead horse. Romney's current strategy is a failure: It is not possible to work around the problem by distinguishing Romneycare from a federal law or by saying it had both good and bad points. Primary voters will never be convinced that a healthcare system with an individual mandate is anything less than a terrible idea.

First, Romney must detail conservative motives for why he attempted healthcare reform, explaining that it was based on relatable problems with health insurance costs, not a desire for greater government control. Next, Romney must specifically explain why Romneycare was a failure. This will convey the sincerity and understanding that are necessary for any successful apology. Romney may point out good aspects of Romneycare, as long as he is specific enough: It must be part of a post-mortem on why Romneycare failed rather than an explanation for why Romneycare isn't that bad. Finally, Romney must assure voters that he would never try something like Romneycare again. This is best accomplished by explaining what he would do instead, offering a list of the Republican alternatives to Obamacare (e.g. allowing health insurance to be sold across state lines).

A full and complete divorce from Romneycare also allows Romney to criticize Obamacare. Romney may respond to charges of hypocrisy by saying, "I admitted Romneycare was a failure, so why can't Democrats admit Obamacare was a failure?" Romney then becomes the expert on why Obamacare failed. "As someone who attempted a similar reform in Massachusetts, let me tell you why it doesn't work...Rather than learning from my mistakes, as I have, Obama doubled down on them and made something even worse."

It is essential for Romney to do better in the early primaries than he did in 2008. Romney is expected to win New Hampshire, and he must do so. The situation in Iowa is more flexible. Since he is not expected to win Iowa, it is actually not important than he improve upon his 2008 performance, when he took second there. As long as Romney wins New Hampshire, he will be given a pass for doing worse in Iowa this time around. Indeed, his campaign may be given praise for being more strategic and learning from its past mistakes.

Nevertheless, it may be possible for Romney to win Iowa. Early polling in Iowa suggests that he still retains a constituency there, though some of it may simply be name recognition in an early poll. If Iowa remains splintered among various candidates and does not coalesce behind one, Romney's constituency may be large enough to win.

If Romney were to win Iowa, the resulting momentum and media narrative would guarantee success in New Hampshire, which would then result in total victory for Romney. However, committing resources to Iowa is still a risky strategy: Romney loses nothing by losing Iowa and loses everything by losing New Hampshire. Committing too many resources to Iowa would also make an otherwise acceptable loss look worse. Furthermore, a "knock-out punch" is not necessary for Romney; a protracted campaign favors candidates with money and name recognition.

On the other hand, Romney's nightmare scenario is for one opponent to win both Iowa and South Carolina. Romney fares poorly in South Carolina and has little control over its result. If one opponent is doing well in both (e.g. Gingrich), Romney must concentrate on attacking that opponent in Iowa, even if he cannot win Iowa himself, in order to create a split.

Withdrawn/Declined to Run

The following candidates have withdrawn from the race or declined to run, but their profile information is preserved here for posterity:

  • Voters consider Bachmann a solid conservative across the board. She is a key representative of the Tea Party in Congress.
  • Despite her relative junior status in Congress, Bachmann has found it easy to draw attention and TV time.
  • Bachmann is considered an unconventional, unelectable candidate by most outside her base.
  • While Bachmann speaks passionately to her supporters, her rhetorical capabilities have not enabled her to reach beyond her base. She is gaffe-prone, and the liberal media delight in highlighting each one.
  •  Bachmann's liberal enemies view her more as a laughingstock than a serious opponent. This attitude does not inspire confidence in Bachmann's abilities among fence-sitters.
  •  Bachmann is often disparagingly referred to as a lesser version of Sarah Palin. She doesn't have as much baggage as Palin, but she doesn't have Palin's high profile either.
Bachmann must win early primaries in South Carolina and (especially) Iowa, where her base is perceived to reside. If she can't win her base, she can't win anywhere. She must also transform her image in order to be taken more seriously. Her best opportunity is to use her position in Congress: She may gain gravitas by producing and leading the charge on some important, original, intelligent piece of legislation. Were she to become an absolute expert on it, those with open minds could view her as a knowledgeable candidate.

Bachmann must avoid gaffes at all costs. She cannot do anything that might create an impression in voters' minds of her being a "weird" or extreme candidate.

  • Barbour is considered a solid conservative in a field where many higher-profile candidates' conservatism is questioned. Barbour is unlikely to be accused of being a RINO ("Republican In Name Only.")
  • Barbour is frequently characterized as "the Southern candidate," which may help him win the South Carolina primary. There are few other Southerners in the race.
  • Despite his long history working for the Republican Party, Barbour is unknown to most voters. He has generated little if any enthusiasm.
  • Given his lobbying history and questionable remarks about race relations, many voters feel Barbour resembles a "Boss Hog" figure.
Barbour must take first place in South Carolina; if he can't win in the South, he can't win anywhere. Since he is unknown, he must raise his profile and create a positive image for himself. His best chance is to select an issue, make himself the owner of it, and hope that some event will occur that raises the priority of that issue in voters' minds.

  • Cain has the ability to excite crowds with his bombastic oratory. This will help distinguish him in a field with mostly sedate candidates.
  • Cain is the only black Republican running. This guarantees he will get some amount of attention and media coverage; it may also increase his odds of being included in major debates. Cain's vision of "post-racial" politics will be attractive to a voter base tired of being accused of racism.
  • Given Republicans' dissatisfaction with Obamacare, Cain benefits greatly from the fact that he played a role in criticizing and defeating Hillarycare.
  • Cain has never held elective office. He must convince voters that he is a serious candidate who can win elections, even though he has never done so before.
  • He is unknown to most voters. It's easy for voters to form a negative impression of a new, inexperienced candidate if they make too many mistakes early on.
Cain must prove himself a winner by taking first place in an early primary. Iowa is a favorite choice for candidates who have few resources, but he may also try South Carolina, since he is a Southerner. South Carolina has a large black population that plays a decisive role in the Democratic primary, and it's possible they could be a smaller--but still helpful--factor in the Republican version.

It's essential for Cain that he perform well in the debates to raise his profile and take advantage of his charisma. He must show that he is familiar with all aspects of the relevant political issues. Since he has no political experience, the burden will be on him to prove he's worthy of a presidential run. If he makes too many gaffes, he will be in deep trouble.

  • Christie is perhaps the only candidate who is as well-loved by the traditional Republican establishment as he is by the Tea Party, grassroots conservatives. He can claim to unite a Party that is fearful of being split.
  • Christie has unique rhetorical gifts, enabling him to make his case persuasively to all different kinds of voters. His speeches, interviews, and townhall appearances have frequently gone viral on the internet simply because of the way he communicates.
  • He can point to a record of working with Democrats to accomplish conservative goals like cutting spending and attacking unions. These actions have taken place in his present term, not years ago.
  • Poor timing. Christie was sworn in as governor in January of 2010; he would be in office for less than two years before his run for the presidency would begin. He has repeatedly stated that he will not run for president in 2012.
  • Among gun owners, there is some concern about whether he is too strongly in favor of gun control.
So as to maximize the amount of time he actually spent as governor of New Jersey, Christie must wait as late as practical before running for president. He must also explain why he is willing to leave the governorship midway through his first term, and why he has changed his mind about running for president.

Christie's best chance is to hope that the Republican field of candidates is weak and voters are dissatisfied with the options available to them. The establishment may then plead with Christie to run to "save the party" and defeat Obama. Christie has stated the reason why he does not wish to run in 2012 is because he does not "feel ready." This is a self-defined condition. Christie can announce that he is "ready" when needed.

Once in the race, Christie should be able to leverage his strengths into a successful run in nearly any state.

  • Daniels has a conservative record. It's unlikely that either the Republican establishment or Tea Party would object to it.
  • Daniels is a popular governor in the Midwest, a region that Republicans are eager to take back from Obama.
  • Daniels, like many candidates, is largely unknown outside of his state.
  • Daniels publicly called for a temporary "truce" on social issues so as to focus the country's attention on fixing the economy. Social conservatives in a state like Iowa may be wary of Daniels.
  • Daniels was part of George W. Bush's administration. This could turn off conservative voters who feel Bush was a failure or not a "true" conservative.
As with other unknown candidates, the pressure is on for Daniels to win early and make a name for himself. Since he is viewed as a "generic" candidate, he must at least ensure that he has no obvious weaknesses, no obvious reason to vote against him: He should discard his idea of a "truce" on social issues and make clear that he has a perfect record on both the social and economic aspects of conservatism.

Daniels' best chance to stand out is to select one issue and become known for it, then hope that issue is a top priority for voters when the primaries begin.

  • Gingrich has name recognition and is very comfortable on television. Early national polls led to the view that he is one of the top contenders. Combined, these factors mean Gingrich should be able to get the attention he needs to make his case.
  • Although somewhat prone to gaffes, Gingrich is highly articulate and able to give the impression that he is serious and informed. He excels at debate.
  • Baggage. Gingrich left office well over a decade ago and as many Republicans remember his failures in the 90s as they do his triumph in 1994.
  • Personal baggage. Gingrich has been married three times, and the transition from one marriage to the next has not always occurred under ideal circumstances.
  • While out of office, Gingrich attempted to reinvent himself as a moderate on some issues, and expressed his belief in the danger of climate change. Many conservatives are weary of moderate Republicans.
  • Each time Gingrich makes a gaffe, the media will be eager to highlight it.
Gingrich must become a more disciplined campaigner and resist the urge to discuss whatever is on his mind. Instead, he should focus on specific issues, reducing the risk of gaffes and emphasizing the depth of his knowledge.

Gingrich is skilled at taking advantage of news-driven issues, as he did with oil drilling when gas prices were high in the late summer of 2008. His ability to get on television whenever needed may enable him to get out in front of the issues that arise during the campaign.

Since his opponents cannot directly bring up Gingrich's personal history, Gingrich should simply let the matter rest, putting as much distance between his past and present as possible.

Gingrich should not hesitate to use the debates as an opportunity to draw his opponents into a fight; he will not find more favorable ground elsewhere

  • As a Southerner and an evangelical Christian, the primary schedule is well-suited to Huckabee. Every candidate who has won both Iowa and South Carolina has won the nomination. Huckabee won Iowa in 2008 due to his support among religious voters; he lost South Carolina by only 3%.
  • Even among his enemies, Huckabee is considered likeable. He is able to get his point across without antagonizing those who disagree with him.
  • During the 2008 primary debates, Huckabee proved himself a master of exploiting the limited time allotted to raise his profile. One-liners and humor are more natural coming from Huckabee than from some of the stiffer candidates.
  • Huckabee's populist style is likely to appeal to the Tea Partiers among the primary voters.
  • Huckabee's credentials as an economic conservative have often come under attack, particularly from the Republican establishment.
  • He has also been attacked as soft on crime because of questionable pardons and commutations he granted as governor.
  • Huckabee is sometimes pigeonholed as merely a former preacher or someone who has little appeal outside of his evangelical Christian base.
  • Huckabee is not comfortable attacking his opponents, preferring to build himself up instead. This is a very good strategy when the field is wide and the benefit from attacking one opponent is shared by all the other opponents. However, it may prove a weakness as the field narrows.
Huckabee's main challenge is to reassure voters that he is an economic conservative. This can be done in two steps. First, he can cite and refute some specific, inaccurate criticisms made about his economic policies as governor. If Huckabee can prove he has been attacked unfairly in the past, voters may dismiss earlier concerns as the product of a false impression. The burden will then be on Huckabee's opponents to recreate the impression with specific evidence. Second, Huckabee must offer specific, economically conservative policies that he would pursue as president. Simple ones (like tax cuts) will work. Comprehensive, dramatic policy changes (like the FairTax) will not work, since voters understand they are unlikely to pass.

It is vital that Huckabee do at least as well as his previous performance in 2008. This means he must take first place in Iowa again, and he probably must take first place in South Carolina as well. Huckabee would still have a good base of support in the South during in a protracted campaign. However, if he lost South Carolina it would mean that he was challenged in the South.

Essentially, Huckabee must ask the people who voted for him in Iowa and South Carolina last time to vote for him again. Huckabee should also appeal to religious leaders for support. In 2008, many of them supported candidates like Giuliani because although they felt sympathetic to Huckabee's cause, they did not believe he had a chance of victory. When Huckabee last ran, he started as an unknown polling around 1%. This time he is something closer to a frontrunner. Huckabee should make the case that this time he is much more likely to win.

  • Huntsman has credibility with the Republican establishment as a serious, electable candidate with plenty of experience.
  • He has a solid reputation as a conservative on many economic issues, particularly tax policy.
  • Uniquely, Huntsman has extensive foreign policy experience.
  • He looks and sounds like a president.
  • As with Romney, his family was prominent in the Mormon church dating back to its founding. If he were to defeat Romney early, he would do very well among Mormon voters.
  • Huntsman lacks credibility as a conservative on a number of issues, especially due to his support for gay rights and environmental legislation.
  • After the Republican defeat of 2008, Huntsman stridently urged the Party to move to the center. Instead, it moved to the right, formed the Tea Party, and won the overwhelming victory of 2010.
  • Huntsman has a tendency to speak like the diplomat he is. While this will help him avoid mistakes, he's starting from behind--he needs to speak forcefully.
  • Outside of the Republican establishment, Huntsman is largely unknown. This leaves him vulnerable to being characterized in a negative light by his opponents before he can define himself.
  • While being chosen by Obama to be ambassador to China may not directly harm him, he penned fawning letters to Obama; this may play into the idea that he is not a genuine conservative.
  • Huntsman's Mormon roots will not endear him to evangelical Christians already alienated by his views on gay rights. He's also been wishy-washy about his religious beliefs.
The short version: Huntsman must dedicate himself to destroying and replacing Romney, preferably by focusing on Romneycare. In the early stages, the other competitors may as well not exist for Huntsman: Romney is his sole obstacle.

Huntsman's weaknesses leave him with little hope of wins in Iowa or South Carolina. He must win New Hampshire to stand a chance. If he succeeds, he will eliminate and replace Romney, leaving him in good shape to win Nevada.

Huntsman will never be the first choice of social conservatives or the Tea Party, both of whom will view him as a "RINO." Defeating Romney in New Hampshire without help from either of those groups will be tricky, but not impossible. Huntsman should try to recreate John McCain's coalition of moderate Republicans and Independents, while making his best case that he is a genuine economic conservative. Huntsman should contrast his economic policy in Utah with Romney's infamous Romneycare.

Huntsman should not attempt to run away from his less-than-pure version of conservatism. He may be able to spin some of his positions (e.g. civil unions for gays are the best way to avoid gay marriage), but he will not be able to escape his record. His best bet is to be as honest as possible, because he will need his reputation for sincerity intact when he argues that he is an economic conservative. He will also want his sincerity to contrast with Romney's perceived opportunism and phoniness.

  • Palin has the ability to attract more attention than anyone else in politics, perhaps even including Obama. If she can use this ability wisely, it is an enviable advantage.
  • Palin's credentials as a Tea Partier and a conservative are beyond question.
  • Palin's supporters are often enthusiastic, even to the point of fanaticism. Many view her as a martyr of the liberal press and Republican establishment.
  • Starting from her disastrous performance during the Couric interview in 2008, Palin has been widely mocked as uninformed, shallow, unintelligent, and inarticulate.
  • Palin's opponents dismissed her as inexperienced in 2008, when she had only been the governor of Alaska for about two years. Rather than serving out her term and winning another, Palin resigned in the summer of 2009 without any explanation.
  • Polls have consistently shown Palin with very high negatives and very little chance of success against Obama. Palin is widely viewed as unelectable.
Republican primary voters place a high premium on electability. For Palin to add to her current base of support, she must transform her image. Saying she needs a "comeback" would be an understatement; a better description would be a phoenix rising from the ashes.

It is unlikely that Palin will be able to convince voters that she has suddenly gained an encyclopedic knowledge of public policy. However, she may be able to make herself expert of a particular issue. If she can use her media presence to push that issue, and if current events cooperate, she may come across to more voters as an intelligent, informed, serious candidate.

Since any future gaffes will be highlighted by the media, Palin must also become a much more disciplined campaigner and avoid taking risks. Palin has the unique ability to draw a crowd wherever she chooses. Palin's best strategy is to focus on giving speeches (her strong suit) at big rallies in Iowa and South Carolina. During debates, she should avoid direct confrontations in lieu of giving miniaturized, topical versions of her speeches.

  • Pawlenty is generally viewed as a reliable conservative who managed leading a reliably Democratic state without compromising his principles. The Republican establishment approves of him, and the Tea Party wing is not offended by him.
  • By getting into the race early and making no secret of his ambitions, Pawlenty has made certain that he is part of the conversation when the Republican primary is discussed. He has made more effort than other "unknown" candidates to become known.
  • Polls frequently show that an unnamed Republican performs well against Obama. If Pawlenty is viewed as "a generic Republican", he has at least established himself as the leading generic Republican.
  • In addition to being mostly unknown, Pawlenty is frequently derided as boring, bland, and unremarkable. This is particularly damaging because the field includes so many well-known candidates.
  • Though he governed as a conservative in Minnesota, his approval ratings were low. Pawlenty cannot easily claim that he would carry the blue state in a general election.
Pawlenty's path to victory is to be deemed an acceptable choice in a field of flawed candidates. He must avoid making any gaffes or enemies, let the other candidates destroy each other, and finally emerge as the unscathed survivor. He must also maintain a lead over other candidates using the same strategy, such as Daniels.

As with other unknown candidates, his best strategy is to emphasize his accomplishments and select an issue that he can "own" for himself, hoping the issue will be driven into greater importance by what is happening in the world just before the primaries begin.

Pawlenty will be viewed as a genuine contender for the nomination if he can win an early contest. He needs to win Iowa and South Carolina, taking the role of the anti-Romney.

  • Perry has a long record as a fiscal and social conservative, and was an early supporter of the Tea Party movement.
  • Perry can claim more executive experience than anyone in the field.
  • A canny politician, Perry has often defied expectations by defeating his opponents when the odds were against him.
  • Many voters are immediately dismissive of another Texas governor running for president, especially one with ties to George W. Bush.
  • After many years in the public eye, Perry has had to endure controversy, such as his remarks about secession.
  • If Perry puts forward Texas as a success story, he will be forced to defend any negative aspects of the state.
Perry must become the "anti-Romney" candidate and win Iowa and South Carolina. Perry should position himself as a candidate friendly to the Tea Party, but also accepted by the Republican establishment. He needs to convince Tea Partiers and social conservatives in Iowa that unlike Herman Cain or Michele Bachmann, he is highly electable.

Perry will need to undermine Tim Pawlenty, who also has the goal of being a consensus candidate. Perry should suggest that he is like Pawlenty, but stronger. Whenever the opportunity arises, he should present himself as the "alpha male," a tough fighter who will do whatever it takes to defeat President Obama.

Since voters will care little about Texas' economic achievements during the recession, and since mention of Texas will turn off many voters, Perry should focus on his accomplishments and plans for the future. Rather than suggesting Texas is a model for others to follow, he should emphasize what he did (e.g. cutting taxes). He should talk about his own actions, not the positive aspects of his state which, like all others, is necessarily imperfect.

  • Santorum's credentials as a conservative, particularly on social issues, are unquestioned.
  • Santorum has shown a willingness to speak his mind on controversial issues. This may enable him to carve out a territory of his own.
  • Santorum is largely unknown, and will likely be discussed as a second-tier candidate--when he's being discussed at all.
  • He is the only senator in the race, and for good reason: Opponents can point to his voting record, and he cannot point to any executive experience while running for the nation's chief executive office. Senators generally do not perform well in presidential races, except against other senators.
  • Strategic voters may view him as unnecessarily polarizing, and an unwelcome reminder of the disastrous Republican losses in the 2006 mid-term election.
Santorum's only defining feature is his strong record as a social conservative. He has little choice but to emphasize this and use it to win Iowa. As with other lesser-known candidates, Santorum should attempt to own a particular issue and hope it comes to the forefront as Iowa approaches.

Ironically, Santorum may be best-known among liberals, who despise him. He may be able to bait the liberal media into making him a martyr. Santorum could focus his candidacy on a controversial social issue and allow liberal attacks to raise his profile in Iowa.

  • Trump has more name recognition than anyone else in politics. He can get attention from the media on command.
  • Trump is willing and able to speak proudly, forcefully, rudely. He prefers to go on the offensive. After watching Hillary, McCain, and the media treat Obama with kid gloves, Republicans are eager to see someone oppose Obama without pulling any punches. If he is willing to question Obama's citizenship, there are no holds barred.
  • While his image of success is not unalloyed, Trump enjoys a reputation as a very wealthy businessman. This may enable him to speak about economic issues with more credibility.
  • Since Trump has been in the public eye so much (especially with his TV show), it is more difficult for his opponents to make personal attacks against him. Voters feel they already know who he is.
  • If he decides to spend generously on his own campaign, it may be well financed.
  • Trump is viewed by most voters as more of a celebrity than a leader. He has never held elective office. For many, it is difficult to see Trump as a serious candidate.
  • Trump does not have a consistent history as a conservative Republican; in recent years he was a registered Democrat and publicly espoused liberal views on a host of issues.
  • Trump started his campaign--somewhat accidentally, it seems--by getting involved with the "birther" controversy. For many Republicans, this reinforces the idea that Trump is not a serious candidate.
Trump must avoid being pigeonholed as a "birther" candidate or fringe candidate. To the extent that Trump gained support from "birthers," there is no point in continuing further because they are already on his side. Trump will always be peppered with questions about whether he is "still a birther." He should redirect the issue by saying he suspects Obama was probably born in Hawaii but thinks Obama should release his birth certificate, along with his medical records and school records. From there, Trump may issue a broader attack against Obama's failure to live up to his promise of transparency.

There is no convincing way for Trump to explain why he switched from a Republican to Democrat and back, or why he has changed his mind on so many issues of late. He may offer that because of Obama, "a lot of people will probably be switching from Democrat to Republican."

Instead of defending himself, and instead of criticizing primary opponents whose conservatism he cannot credibly attack, Trump should simply remain on the offensive against Obama. Every policy prescription he makes should be set in contrast to something Obama is doing now.

Trump must win early to establish himself as a serious candidate. His best chance is in New Hampshire, where voters are less likely to care about his inconsistent social conservatism and party identification.