ThinkProgress filed this report from the Silver Elephant Banquet in Columbia, SC.
As the voter backlash against the Republican plan to end Medicare and extend tax breaks for the wealthy continues to spread, Republican presidential hopefuls are taking a cautious approach. The leading contenders – including former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich – have praised the plan as “courageous,” but pointedly refused to actually endorse the budget, often going to great lengths to avoid taking a position.
Their refusal to take a position on the Republican budget could be increasingly problematic among influential figures in the early primary states. Indeed, newly-elected South Carolina GOP chair Chad Connelly told ThinkProgress in an interview that a candidate couldn’t win the state’s presidential primary unless he or she endorses the Republican budget.
ThinkProgress interviewed former Republican Gov. Mark Sanford in South Carolina this weekend to discuss the presidential contenders’ strategic ambiguity on the Republican plan. Sanford called out those presidential aspirants who wanted to “play it safe,” saying that ducking this issue was “very dangerous.” The former South Carolina Governor insisted that all candidates need to “fish or cut bait on this one”:
KEYES: I know Governor Pawlenty has been real hesitant to endorse that. He praises Congressman Ryan’s leadership and courage on the issue, but asked by many, many reporters whether or not he supports it, won’t really give a straight answer.
SANFORD: I think that every one of the candidates needs to fish or cut bait on this one. Because, again, I keep going back to the reality of the financial times which we have. You cross that 90 percent debt-to-GDP number and really bad things start to happen. [...] The idea of people saying “I’m not going to take a stand” is very dangerous because if we’re going to have a real debate on this, you got to say “this is where I stand” and then you can say “I disagree with you, now here’s why. Here’s why my plan’s better.” We’re past the point of politicians being able to play it safe in this presidential race on entitlements.
Notably, a few GOP presidential aspirants have taken a stand on the Republican budget. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, and former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain all back the plan, while Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) voted against it.