GOP Candidates Pledge Allegiance To Kingmakers To Avoid Dealbreakers

The young 2012 campaign is starting to get into full swing, with the GOP field mostly set and mounting their campaigns in earnest. Of course, we're still many, many days away from the Ames Straw Poll. So what's a GOP candidate for President to do in the meantime?

The young 2012 campaign is starting to get into full swing, with the GOP field mostly set and mounting their campaigns in earnest. Of course, we're still many, many days away from the Ames Straw Poll -- the next big barometric test of campaign viability. And we're many, many months away from the actual primaries. So what's a GOP candidate for President to do in the meantime? Hey, why not sign a bunch of pledges!

Yep, pledges and litmus tests are all the rage in politics at the moment. Sign on and you've maybe started down the path to securing an important endorsement. Beg off, and you're likely to draw fierce criticism -- if not from the field itself, then certainly from the sidelines. And if you get on the wrong side of someone who's significant to an early contest, you might be kissing your chances in that contest goodbye.

Take the hot new thing in campaign pledges -- the "Cut, Cap, And Balance Pledge." That's the brainchild of South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint. From time to time, DeMint has flirted with dipping a toe into presidential waters himself, but he's more fully committed to being a kingmaker of sorts, and fealty to his new pledge will make a critical difference in winning over the hearts and minds of South Carolina's Republican voters when their primary (or caucus, depending on how much money the state party has) comes around.

And make no mistake: While these pledges seem de rigeur, the most high profile pledges contain some seriously extreme elements. DeMint's "Cut, Cap, And Balance" pledge requires signers to support a balanced budget amendment and a supermajority requirement for raising taxes. If you like California's version of prudent fiscal management, you'll love the federal government operating under these circumstances. The Susan B. Anthony List's anti-choice pledge, on the surface, seems like nothing a nominal opponent of abortion has to worry about, until you consider the fact that it binds the signer to making no pro-choice appointments to the Cabinet.

Meanwhile, while presidential candidates mostly do a lot of talking, their GOP colleagues in the House and Senate still have to participate in the process of policymaking -- and therefore, they often find that they are not in the position to deliver on the pledges' goals. GOP officeholders may have to live with this dynamic, but they've been fretting over it all the same for a long while. As Roll Call's David Drucker noted back in March, "Some Republicans on the Hill are wary the GOP's 2012 hopefuls may create a sense of false expectation among the party's base regarding what they can accomplish given that the Democrats still control the Senate and the White House."

At the moment, the only officeholders who are also GOP candidates are Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul, two representatives who largely blaze their own trail in the House. The rest of the field -- Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman, Gary Johnson, Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney, and Rick Santorum -- are all out of office. What they promise on the hustings has consequences for their fellow Republicans grinding it out day to day. And when they sign pledges, they put more pressure on their lawmaking counterparts, not all of whom are necessarily prepared to cash the checks their free-agent presidential candidates are writing.

It's no wonder then, that GOP lawmakers tell Politico's Scott Wong that they're feeling some "pledge fatigue." Wong notes that this new DeMint pledge comes hard on the heels of a bruising battle over ethanol subsidies -- the repeal of which would, technically, be a violation of Grover Norquist's famed "Taxpayer Protection Pledge." DeMint's "Cut, Cap, And Balance" pledge is like Norquist's on steroids, and the only people who are more divided than GOP lawmakers are over it are perhaps editors on both sides of the "Oxford comma" controversy.

GOP leaders and rank-and-file members alike have voiced support for the underlying principles of the new pledge, which would require them to oppose hiking the debt limit without first adopting a balanced-budget amendment and other major spending reforms.

But lawmakers are wary of how drafters of the pledge will interpret its meaning and whether the oath will hamstring Republicans amid a crucial round of debt and deficit negotiations with the White House that kicked off this week.

"I think I've kind of supported enough pledges," freshman Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) told POLITICO. "I've restricted myself too much this Congress."

One candidate for the GOP nomination, Jon Huntsman, has made it clear from the outset that he's not going to sign anybody's pledge, so don't even bother asking. As Howard Fineman reports, Huntsman seems to have this radical notion that he shouldn't be beholden to anyone but voters:

"First of all, I don't sign pledges," he told reporters after announcing his candidacy near the Statue of Liberty. "I was asked to sign a pledge when I ran for governor in 2004, and I didn't. And I got attacked because I didn't. And then we went around and ended up cutting and reforming taxes at record levels [and] I never heard anything in the aftermath of our work. My take on all of this is, your record should say everything about where you are and where you're going. I don't need to sign a pledge."

The only thing that Huntsman has promised is "civility," and many people who cover politics decided he broke that promise the very next day, when he offered some extremely mild criticism of Mitt Romney. (Never make a civility pledge, people! To keep it, you basically have to do nothing but praise your political opponents, constantly.)

Most of the rest of field disagrees with Huntsman, and they've raced to sign up for just about everything.

That said, the three major pledges that everyone is talking about are the Susan B. Anthony List's 2012 Pro-life Presidential Leadership Pledge, Americans For Tax Reform's Taxpayer Protection Pledge, and this new "Cut, Cap, and Balance" pledge. We'll concentrate on breaking those down for you.

The Susan B. Anthony List's 2012 Pro-life Presidential Leadership Pledge

The Pledge:

I PLEDGE that I will only support candidates for President who are committed to protecting Life. I demand that any candidate I support commit to these positions:

FIRST, to nominate to the U.S. federal bench judges who are committed to restraint and applying the original meaning of the Constitution, not legislating from the bench;

SECOND, to select only pro-life appointees for relevant Cabinet and Executive Branch positions, in particular the head of National Institutes of Health, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Health & Human Services;

THIRD, to advance pro-life legislation to permanently end all taxpayer funding of abortion in all domestic and international spending programs, and defund Planned Parenthood and all other contractors and recipients of federal funds with affiliates that perform or fund abortions;

FOURTH, advance and sign into law a Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act to protect unborn children who are capable of feeling pain from abortion.

SIGNED: Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Tim Pawlenty, Rick Santorum
NOT SIGNED: Herman Cain, Jon Huntsman, Gary Johnson, Mitt Romney

This pledge is pretty much a no-brainer for Bachmann, Santorum, and Pawlenty. It's a little surprising to see that Gary Johnson has, in this instance, managed to out-libertarian the better known and higher-esteemed Ron Paul. It's also somewhat notable that while Mitt Romney has taken some furious shots for not signing this pledge, Herman Cain hasn't drawn much scrutiny for his decision to not sign. Both have declined because of the language. Cain objects to the fourth part on the grounds that it's Congress' job to "advance" the "Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act," though he has promised to sign it into law given the chance.

Romney, on the other hand, has objected to the second part of the pledge, on the grounds that it would unduly restrict his ability to appoint a cabinet. Of course, that's pretty much the entire point of the pledge -- the creation of an administration free of pro-choice types. Romney's position seems less faithful to the pledge than Cain's technicality claims, which goes far to explain why Romney's taken shots from his fellow candidates and Cain hasn't. But Romney's been a notorious flip-flopper on the issue (his position on abortion largely depends on what position is likeliest to get him elected), and beyond that, he is the front-runner, and you don't reap rewards from tearing down someone who isn't.

The Taxpayer Protection Pledge

The Pledge:

In the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, candidates and incumbents solemnly bind themselves to oppose any and all tax increases.

SIGNED: Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Gary Johnson, Ron Paul, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum
NOT SIGNED: Jon Huntsman

It's worth asking if it's even necessary for Republican presidential candidates to sign this pledge. The old joke is that you know that President Thomas J. Whitmore, as played by Bill Pullman in the movie Independence Day, is a Democrat because he doesn't respond to the hostile alien invasion by yelling, "Quick! Somebody cut taxes!" GOP candidates are going nowhere if they don't promise to never raise taxes, and in the parallel universe where Americans For Tax Reform doesn't exist, the 2012 GOP field is still repeating the "We have a spending problem, not a revenue problem" line. (Actually, in that parallel universe, they probably don't have a revenue problem!)

Nevertheless, Grover Norquist's staying power as a fixture in Republican politics and a firm proponent of tax reduction in all circumstances is a big reason why this formal declaration of doing-what-they-were-going-to-do-anyway is so talked-about, and why it will easily be the most universally embraced pledge. Tim Pawlenty has not signed it yet, but there's every expectation that he will, eventually. Americans For Tax Reform regard Pawlenty as a "hero of the taxpayer," though Minnesotans might take issue with that characterization, given his fiscal record. (His hesitancy to sign the pledge may stem from the fact that Pawlenty would likely prefer Minnesota's budget woes to be kept in the rear view mirror for as long as possible.)

Norquist, by the way, says that he's confident that Huntsman will choose to sign his pledge, despite the former Utah Governor's outspoken stance against pledging. Huntsman's campaign consigliere, John Weaver, however, told Howard Fineman: "Not gonna happen."

The Cut, Cap, and Balance Pledge

The Pledge:

I pledge to urge my Senators and Member of the House of Representatives to oppose any debt limit increase unless all three of the following conditions have been met:

1. Cut - Substantial cuts in spending that will reduce the deficit next year and thereafter.

2. Cap - Enforceable spending caps that will put federal spending on a path to a balanced budget.

3. Balance - Congressional passage of a Balanced Budget Amendment to the U.S. Constitution -- but only if it includes both a spending limitation and a super-majority for raising taxes, in addition to balancing revenues and expenses.

SIGNED: Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum
NOT SIGNED: Michele Bachmann, Jon Huntsman, Gary Johnson

For the candidate who's lined up the establishment support of Grover Norquist and wants to take it to next level, DeMint's made-for-the-tea-party "Cut, Cap, And Balance Pledge" is the new, new thing. If you don't sign it, you are dead to Jim DeMint, full stop. You also probably won't be allowed to swap spit with Glenn Beck:

Fox News host Glenn Beck responded with an awkward suggestion when Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum confirmed on his program that he's signed his name to the "Cut, Cap and Balance" pledge, which entails opposing any debt limit increase without significant spending cuts, enforceable spending caps and congressional approval of a balanced budget amendment.

"I could kiss you in the mouth," said Beck to Santorum on Thursday. A few moments later after the pair laughed, he added, "I was just kidding, I don't want to kiss you in the mouth."

Does Michele Bachmann want Glenn Beck in her mouth though? Because sign this pledge, she has not. But lest you worry that the arch-conservative Bachmann is going soft, rest assured that she's not signing on only because it "doesn't go far enough."

Bachmann, though, said she wants it "to go a little further." She told a town hall audience in South Carolina that she wants to add "the full defunding of Obamacare" to the pledge first.

She revealed that U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, a leading conservative backer of the pledge, had asked her to get on board.

She and DeMint had "a wonderful conversation" about the pledge during a phone call last week, Bachmann said. She only told him, though, that she "would take a look at it."

It probably goes without saying that DeMint wants to defund the Affordable Care Act, if not burn it in effigy. He probably just figures that no one is going to run on the "let's keep the ACA, it's swell" platform during the GOP primary.

Beyond these aforementioned, formal pledges, an array of additional litmus tests exists for the candidates to consider. South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley has made it clear that she won't support anyone not showing sufficient affection for Paul Ryan's economic plans. She also set the stage for the Boeing-NRLB dispute to become a key issue in the race, where candidates will likely have to be generically supportive of state-level union-busting. And, of course, there's failed Senate candidate Joe Miller, whose "Stop Romney" campaign requires all 2012 candidates for the GOP nomination to "not be Mitt Romney."

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