Longform.org's Guide to the 2012 GOP Field: One great read about every Republican running for president.

Longform.org's guide to the greatest long articles ever written.
Aug. 20 2011 7:11 AM

The Longform.org Guide to the 2012 GOP Field

From Bachmann to Huntsman, Paul to Perry, one great read about each Republican candidate for president.

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Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann. Click image to expand.
Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann

Perry's in. Bachmann's everywhere. Herman Cain is ... still running. With the GOP primary race finally in full swing, it's time to get to know the candidates a little better. Here are our all-time favorite profiles of the contenders for the 2012 Republican nomination. Oh, and one on Chris Christie, too.

The Chosen One G.R. Anderson Jr. • Minneapolis City Pages • October 2006

The first in-depth piece on Michelle Bachmann:

Technically, Bachmann's political odyssey began in 1999, when she was part of a controversial slate of GOP-endorsed candidates for the traditionally nonpartisan Stillwater School Board. She and her compatriots lost that battle, collectively finishing at the bottom of the heap on Election Day. To date, it's the only election Bachmann has lost. She came back the very next year, mounting a stealthy and deadly-effective campaign to unseat incumbent GOP State Senator Gary Laidig, a Vietnam veteran and old-school Republican moderate who had represented the area in a state House or Senate seat since 1972.

But in a broader sense Bachmann had been honing her political chops and pursuing the role of uber-Christian public activist for years by that time. Back in 1993, she helped to start a Stillwater charter school that ran afoul of many parents and the local school board when it became apparent that the school—which received public money and therefore was bound to observe the legal separation of church and state—was injecting Christain elements into the curriculum. After Bachmann and company were driven out of that venture, she became a prolific speaker and writer on the evils of public education in the years leading up to her failed school board run.

By all accounts, she made herself into a formidable presence. "She's articulate, attractive, and speaks passionately," says Mary Cecconi, who spent eight years on the Stillwater School Board. "Actually, she is ferocious."

The Mission Ryan Lizza • The New Yorker • Oct 2007

A profile of Romney from his last presidential campaign, with a focus on how he evolved from professional consultant to professional candidate:

Romney's transition from the boardroom to the campaign trail has been clumsy in other respects, too. According to "Turnaround," at Bain Capital, the investment firm that Romney headed, the partners suspected that their boss fostered a cutthroat competitive environment in order to motivate them. When he greets voters, this competitiveness often surfaces as posturing; chitchat turns into one-upmanship. After a voter at the New Hampshire diner told Romney, "My daughter goes to Michigan State," he replied, "Oh, does she, really? My brother's on the board of Michigan State." When another patron said that she was from Illinois, Romney told her, "I won the straw poll at the Illinois Republican convention!" Romney's most seemingly innocuous comments can be head-scratchers. Later that afternoon, standing next to a local supporter who had escorted him to several Derry businesses, Romney told reporters, "Now I understand why I'm going to be gaining a couple of pounds with him, because we've eaten everywhere we've gone, almost." Romney, a fitness buff who is shown jogging in a recent campaign ad, had about half a frappe at the diner (he threw the rest away) and a cookie at a bakery—nothing at an Italian restaurant, a feed store, a scrapbook shop, or a hardware store. Whatever gene causes hyper-competitive perfectionists always to go one step beyond their adversaries, or anyone else, Romney has it.

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Right Place, Right Time Paul Burka • Texas Monthly • February 2010

On the calculated political career of Rick Perry, and what it means for his presidential bid:

The paradox of Rick Perry is that, although he is the state's longest-serving governor and he has a following that reaches beyond the borders of Texas, he has never gotten a lot of respect at home. This is true even inside the Capitol and even among Republicans. Once, during a prolonged battle over school finance reform, the Republican-led House voted down Perry's plan 124 to 8, amid whoops and hollers and horseplay. Considering his long tenure in office—six years as state representative, eight as agriculture commissioner, two as lieutenant governor, and a record nine years (and counting) as governor—Perry has had little to say about the critical issues facing Texas, in particular, education and health care. When he has gotten involved, it is usually on ideological grounds, such as support for vouchers, merit pay for teachers, and privatization of state health services. (These experiments have been flops. A proposed voucher program died in a House floor fight; a merit pay program for teachers was abandoned after it failed to show improvement in student performance; and the privatization contract was a fiasco.)

But Perry has one overriding asset: good timing. It has propelled him, over the past 25 years, from unknown Democratic state legislator to credible Republican presidential contender. His ability to figure out where Texas politics was headed and to get out in front of the parade has been the essential skill that has enabled him to stay in sync with the state Republican party as it has evolved over the years.

Pimp My Ride Tucker Carlson • New Republic • December 2007

Notes from the Nevada stretch of the Ron Paul campaign trail last time around:

One thing you can say for certain: The crowds at Ron Paul rallies aren't coming to be entertained. Stylistically, a Paul speech is about as colorful as a tax return. He is the only politician I've ever seen who doesn't draw energy from the audience; his tone is as flat at the conclusion as it was at the beginning. There are no jokes. There's no warm-up, no shout-out to local luminaries in the room, no inspiring vignettes about ordinary Americans doing their best in the face of this or that bad thing. In fact, there are virtually none of the usual political clichés in a Paul speech. Children may be our future, but Ron Paul isn't admitting it in public.

Paul is no demagogue, and probably couldn't be if he tried. He's too libertarian. He can't stand to tell other people what to do, even people who've shown up looking for instructions. On board the campaign's tiny chartered jet one night (the plane was so small my legs were intertwined with the candidate's for the entire flight), Paul and his staff engaged in an unintentionally hilarious exchange about the cabin lights. The staff wanted to know whether Paul preferred the lights on or off. Not wanting to be bossy, Paul wouldn't say. Ultimately, the staff had to guess. It was a long three minutes.

Romney Doesn't Scare Obama. This Guy Does. Chris Jones • Esquire • June 2010

A look at Jon Hunstman, the former Utah governor and ambassador to China now running well behind in the polls, as he prepared to announce his candidacy:

Today is the last day. Today is the last day Jon Huntsman Jr. could do anything else in the world. Today is the last day he could return to the family business (he's served as an executive at the multibillion-dollar Huntsman Corporation started by his father) or decide instead to run for a smaller office (he was twice elected governor of Utah) or teach international relations at Penn (he was most recently the U.S. ambassador to China) or camp himself on the couch and grow old with his wife, Mary Kaye, and their seven children. These are the last few minutes for him to change his mind. He could still leave this restaurant in a posh Boston hotel, where he sits tucked away at a table overlooking the harbor, eating lunch with an influential Republican donor, and board any one of a thousand different planes. Or he could get up from his table, climb into the SUV that's idling outside, and drive up to the seven-seat charter that's already waiting for him at Logan Airport, for a flight scheduled to arrive later this afternoon in Lebanon, New Hampshire. If he doesn't change his mind in these next few minutes, he might still begin his campaign to become the next president of the United States at Jesse's Steaks, Seafood, and Tavern somewhere between tiny Lebanon and tiny Hanover, by taking a breath, walking across the parking lot and past the salad bar, and asking for the first of a hundred million votes.

Or he could do anything else in the world.

Newt Gingrich: Shining Knight of the Post-Reagan Right David Osborne • Mother Jones • November 1984

An exhaustive profile of Gingrich, then a 41-year-old congressman balancing a new role on the national stage with the spotlight on his personal life that came with it:

In April of 1980, the candidate who had promised to "keep his family together" told his wife he was filing for divorce. According to sources in whom Gingrich confided at the time, he was already having an affair with the woman he later married. ...

Private behavior becomes relevant, I suggested, when it contradicts the rhetoric on which a public official has been elected. "Looking back, do you feel your private life and what you'd been saying in public were consistent?"

"No," Gingrich answered. "In fact I think they were sufficiently inconsistent that at one point in 1979 and 1980, I began to quit saying them in public. One of the reasons I ended up getting a divorce was that if I was disintegrating enough as a person that I could not say those things, then I needed to get my life straight, not quit saying them. And I think that literally was the crisis I came to. I guess I look back on it a little bit like somebody who's in Alcoholics Anonymous—it was a very, very bad period of my life, and it had been getting steadily worse...I ultimately wound up at a point where probably suicide or going insane or divorce were the last three options."

The Path of the Righteous Man Mike Newall • Philadelphia City Paper • September 2005

A profile of Rick Santorum published as he began a reelection campaign for the U.S. Senate, a race widely considered a stepping stone to a run for the White House. Santorum went on to lose:

Santorum usually wears one of three expressions. There's the angry, flabbergasted one — most often worn on talk shows or whenever dealing with a combative member of the press — in which his cheeks redden, brown eyes roll, head shakes and he huffs in amazement that someone has once again misconstrued something he has said or failed to realize that he is right. There's his sympathetic or listening face: jaw tightened, eyes narrowed, upper lip curled slightly into the lower one, head nodding in concern. And the grin, that toothy, cocksure, enigmatic grin that inspires such deep devotion and hatred.

I get the grin.

The Dark Horse Dave Weigel • Slate • Jan 2011

A primer on long-shot candidate Herman Cain, former pizza chain CEO and current Tea Party star:

Last week Cain launched a presidential exploratory committee, becoming the first Republican candidate of the 2012 race. He did 15 launch interviews and got the polite coverage afforded to a dark horse. "Cain didn't seem particularly plugged into the day to day of politics," observed Politico's Ben Smith.

That's the oddity of the Cain campaign: He's a man out of time. In the 1990s and 2000s, there was no easy way to transition from The Man Who Invented the Hot Slice into politics. In 2011, the Republican electorate wants to hear from anyone who's not a politician. That's what they say, anyway.

How Chris Christie Did His Homework Matt Bai • New York Times Magazine • February 2011

On the rapid rise of the New Jersey governor, who doubles as pundits' favorite noncandidate:

While Christie has flatly ruled out a presidential run in 2012, there is enough conjecture about the possibility that I felt moved to ask him a few weeks ago if he found it exhausting to have to constantly answer the same question. "Listen, if you're going to say you're exhausted by that, you're really taking yourself too seriously," Christie told me, then broke into his imitation of a politician who is taking himself too seriously. " 'Oh, Matt, please, stop asking me about whether I should be president of the United States! The leader of the free world! Please stop! I'm exhausted by the question!' I mean, come on. If I get to that point, just slap me around, because that's really presumptuous. What it is to me is astonishing, not exhausting."

Have a favorite piece that we missed? Leave the link in the comments or tweet it to @ longformorg. For more great writing about politics and the 2012 election, check out Longform.org's complete archive.

Max Linsky is a founding editor of Longform.org.