Michael Barone
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Leading from behind." That's what an unnamed White House aide told the New Yorker's Ryan Lizza that Barack Obama was doing on Libya.

It's an apt description of Obama's feckless handling of the debt ceiling debate. He kept calling for a tax increase even though there was never a majority in either house of Congress for one and even after Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid dropped any such demand.

But leading from behind is also a description of what most of the declared and all-but-declared Republican presidential candidates were doing on the debt limit issue.

Two backed the deal -- Jon Huntsman, who has not yet won widespread support, and Thaddeus McCotter, who seems to be running a whimsical campaign, though he is a serious member of Congress.

The two other candidates with a vote on the issue voted no. Ron Paul, often a lonely nay in the House, was a predictable no. Michele Bachmann, a backbencher in her three House terms, said the deal "spends too much and doesn't cut enough."

Others said little or nothing. The Daily Caller couldn't get comments from spokesmen for Herman Cain or Rick Santorum. Rick Perry, not yet a declared candidate, said he liked the cut, cap and balance bill passed in the House but rejected in the Senate.

Tim Pawlenty called the deal "nothing to celebrate," and Newt Gingrich said it could be "a destructive failure." Mitt Romney, running on his supposed economic expertise, said, "While I appreciate the extraordinarily difficult situation President Obama's lack of leadership has placed Republican members of Congress in, I personally cannot support this deal."

Now it's true that few members of Congress looked to these candidates (even those that are colleagues) for guidance on the issue, and there's a history of presidential candidates casting cheap-shot no votes on debt ceiling bills (e.g., Barack Obama in 2006).

But it's also true that anyone who actually gets to be president will at some point be compelled to call for raising the debt ceiling. Failing to do so and defaulting on the nation's debt could have catastrophic effects.

Most of these candidates are obviously seeking to appeal to the millions of ordinary citizens who have become active in politics over the last several years, notably in the tea party. That movement, as I've written, has on balance strengthened the Republican Party, propelling it to a record victory in November 2010.

But it may be weakening the Republican Party in 2012 by demanding that its presidential candidates take positions that no president could ever take.

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Michael Barone

Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner (www.washingtonexaminer.com), is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. To find out more about Michael Barone, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2011 THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM