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posted: 7/26/2011 5:00 AM

Get used to stalemates

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Leading up to the 2012 election, both political parties have trouble with their bases. Republicans must contend with The Dissatisfied, and Democrats with The Disappointed.

The Dissatisfied: With nine declared GOP presidential candidates -- and perhaps a couple more still on the way -- you would think that Republican voters wouldn't be calling for more applications. But that's exactly what seems to be happening.

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Front-runner Mitt Romney should be way ahead of the competition. He has strong name recognition, more than $12 million in the bank, a national organization, and the know-how that comes from having already run for president.

And yet, most polls show Romney either tied with or trailing Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota. According to one poll, Romney is trailing Bachmann but also struggling against someone who is not even a declared candidate: Texas Gov. Rick Perry. In a joint poll by Daily Caller and ConservativeHome -- in which more than a third of respondents identified themselves as tea party supporters -- Bachmann and Perry each got about 25 percent while Romney received just 12 percent.

Just as troubling for Romney and the GOP, a recent Gallup poll found that more than half of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents -- 58 percent -- do not have a preferred candidate in this race.

This comes as no surprise. Judging from the chatter, much of the Republican base considers Romney inauthentic, inconsistent and insufficiently conservative. It didn't help that Romney fell out with Rush Limbaugh, the conservative radio talk host and GOP kingmaker, when the former Massachusetts governor claimed that global warming exists and human beings contribute to it, praised unions for their historical role in countering "the egregious actions of some employers," and backed off an earlier claim that President Obama's economic policies made the recession worse.

Limbaugh has suggested that Romney is actively running against the tea party and trying to convince moderates and independents that he is more enlightened than the rest of the Republican field. The talk show host's response was swift and to the point: "Bye-bye nomination. Another one down."

The Disappointed: Meanwhile, with precision and thoroughness, President Obama has managed to alienate just about every segment of the liberal coalition that put him in office -- with the exception of African-Americans.

Teachers unions are disappointed that his administration's education reform effort, Race to the Top, resembles George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind. Latinos are disappointed that Obama broke his promise to make immigration reform a top priority and that his administration has deported nearly 1 million illegal immigrants. Gay marriage supporters are disappointed that he was more supportive of their cause while serving in the Illinois Senate than he is as president. The anti-war movement is disappointed that Obama hasn't withdrawn troops from Afghanistan as fast as it would have liked. Civil libertarians are upset because he backed off his promise to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, pushed for the reauthorization of the Patriot Act, and preserved most of the antiterrorism policies of the previous administration.

And now, quite unexpectedly, Obama might well be on his way to losing another group of supporters: wealthy white liberals. According to a recent article in Politico, Democratic Party insiders are worried that rich donors who gave large sums to Obama in 2008 aren't willing to pony up this time. The liberals say that the president has been too quick to compromise with Republicans and too eager to water down or walk away from important policy objectives such as protecting the environment or repealing the Bush tax cuts. They also accuse him of sacrificing his principles and not backing those who supported him. Other critics are a bit more generous and say that the administration simply has a problem with communication.

Either way, among liberals, there is a palpable sense of frustration and disappointment with Obama. In fact, the only thing that seems to get Democrats fired up isn't supporting Obama but helping defeat a right-wing Republican who would be even more unacceptable to them.

Note the trend lines. Both Republicans and Democrats are presented with candidates who have moved to the center, and not many are pleased about it. Suddenly, seeking compromise and consensus is a liability, and all that the activists in both parties seem to want is confrontation.

And some elected officials will give it to them. Expect more impasses like the current one over whether to raise the national debt limit. In this climate, stalemates aren't just likely. They're inevitable.

Ruben Navarrette's email address is ruben@rubennavarrette.com.

$PHOTOCREDIT_ON$ 2011, The Washington Post Writers Group $PHOTOCREDIT_OFF$

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