Mitt Romney (R)
Former Massachusetts governor and currently the Republican front-runner, Romney is often accused of changing his position on many issues. Economically, Romney has said that he supports economic stimulus, although he is opposed to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act passed by Obama in 2009, and he has pledged not to raise taxes. Romney also opposes the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as ‘Obamacare,’ which removed pre-existing condition restrictions on health care coverage and required individuals to purchase health insurance programs. This position is particularly controversial, because Romney passed a similar law while he was governor of Massachusetts. Romney’s national security positions resemble Obama’s, although Romney is an adherent of the doctrine of American exceptionalism, which holds that the United States has a privileged position in the world order and has rights that other nations do not. Socially, Romney is farther to the right than Obama; he is anti-abortion, against gay marriage and supports a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman.
Rick Santorum (R)
Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum holds many similar positions as Romney and Gingrich but tends to be much more socially conservative. Like Gingrich and Romney, he is opposed to Obama’s health care law and stimulus plan and has similarly promised not to raise taxes. On social issues, Santorum is much more conservative than the other candidates, supporting the re-instatement of laws banning homosexuality altogether. On national security, Santorum has used much stronger rhetoric than other candidates, comparing the current War on Terror to the medieval Crusades in a positive light.
Ron Paul (R)
Texas Congressman Ron Paul represents somewhat of a wild card in this race, with views that are highly divergent from both Obama and his Republican counterparts. Ron Paul supports paleo-conservative economic policies, including dramatic reduction of the federal budget, abolishing the Federal Reserve and returning to the gold standard. Socially, Paul varies between conservative positions, opposed to both gay marriage and abortion rights and extremely liberal/libertarian positions like the legalization of marijuana and other drugs. Controversially, Paul has embraced positions that many find racist or offensive, including a series of racist newsletters signed under his name and opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that outlawed major forms of discrimination against women and racial minorities. On national security, Paul is unique in opposing the War on Terror and the use of drones to target accused terrorists and U.S. citizens.
Newt Gingrich (R)
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich holds very similar positions to Romney, but tends to use much more fiery rhetoric. He too opposes the stimulus and health-care bills passed by Obama, but he has called both parts of a “secular socialist machine” that “represents as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union once did.” Gingrich, like Romney, has also expressed support for health care reform proposals substantially similar to the Affordable Care Act, but now believes that the individual mandate is an unconstitutional expansion of government power. His national security policies are nearly identical to Romney’s, although Gingrich has called for more aggressive policies toward Iran and North Korea.
Barack Obama (D)
Although often portrayed by the right as a radical leftist, Obama’s positions on most issues tend to be fairly moderate or even moderately conservative. On the economy, he has supported stricter regulations for financial firms and banks. In addition, he extended the tax cuts first proposed by President George W. Bush and passed $787 billion stimulus bill that invested in green technology and infrastructure to create jobs and control unemployment. Obama’s national security policies have largely been a continuation of Bush’s; Obama supported the extension of the controversial Patriot Act, and has increased the use of unmanned drones to attack targets in five different countries. On social issues, Obama has steered a middle course, ending the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell program that prevented openly gay, lesbian or bisexual individuals from serving in the military, but refusing to support equal marriage rights for the same individuals.