My colleague Ron Brownstein has a great column in the new National Journal that makes the point that the Republican presidential field is not the force that is shaping the party's policy agenda--that's mostly because there isn't any field, at least not yet, and among the candidates who do seem likely to run, none draws significant support. Instead, state activists and governors, most notably Scott Walker in Wisconsin, are the ones shaping that agenda. Brownstein notes that the emerging Republican field, and eventually the nominee, will inherit these policies, like them or not:
On Capitol Hill and in the states, Republican legislators and governors empowered by the party's historic gains in 2010 are advancing aggressive agendas with major 2012 implications. Rather than influencing those ideas, the potential GOP presidential candidates are mostly racing after them.
This could be potentially problematic for the nominee because, as Brownstein notes, the positions he or she will inherit are in many cases quite extreme. Wisconsin is an obvious example. Walker appears to have won the fight to strip public employee unions of their collective bargaining rights. But in the process, he's lost the battle for public opinion. It will be impossible for the Republican nominee to adopt a position at odds with Walker's, and so Wisconsin would seem that much harder to win in a presidential election. (That may be why Herman Cain was the only presidential hopeful to travel to Wisconsin during the protests.) Another example is immigration. Most presumptive candidates have supported Arizona's racial profiling law, which will make the Hispanic vote a much harder one to win.
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is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.