AMES, Iowa -- This has been quite a week or 10 days for Republicans. As this is written, down in South Carolina Rick Perry has just announced he's running for president, while here in Ames most of the votes have been cast but none has yet been counted in the Iowa Republican straw poll.
Yesterday Sarah Palin walked slowly through crowds at the Iowa State Fair and addressed voters there on the set of Sean Hannity's Fox News Channel program.
Pundits will parse the Iowa results and the Perry polling to determine which candidate is up and which down or out. The Iowa straw poll may prove to be the last stop for some Republican candidates, as it was in 1999 and 2007.
More important than the fate of individual candidates has been the rush of events going the Republicans' way.
Barack Obama's job rating has slid to record lows in the Gallup poll, and his job approval fell under 50 percent even in New York. His Aug. 8 speech had a deer-in-the-headlights quality even as he turned mechanically from one teleprompter to another.
Standard & Poor's has downgraded the government's credit rating for the first time in history. The stock market went through a week of horrifying gyrations. Then on Friday, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down as unconstitutional Obamacare's individual mandate to buy health insurance.
The president's policies are in shambles. Things are not working out the way he and his advisers expected. His journalist cheering section has been voicing doubts and dismay.
But it's not entirely clear where Republicans want to go, either, or whether they have candidates with the potential to take them there.
Yes, they have some quick answers. Repeal Obamacare? By all means. Approve a tax increase in return for genuine large spending cuts? All eight candidates at the Washington Examiner-Fox News debate Aug. 11 dutifully raised their hands to say no.
Beyond that, not so much clear direction.
Some candidates did mention intelligent policy initiatives in the debate. Mitt Romney called for more high-skill immigration, a policy backed by a bipartisan Brookings panel. Michele Bachmann calls for buying health insurance with tax-free money, a homey way to advocate elimination of the tax preference for employer-provided health insurance.
Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, R-Mich., whose candidacy has attracted little attention, called for tough stress tests and recapitalizing the big banks by debt-for-equity swaps. These are all solid ideas, and they even have the potential for bipartisan support.
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