The GOP’s Tycoon Problem

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REUTERS/Brian Blanco

As the Republican field for 2012 has begun to take (its somewhat curious) shape, the party has backed into something of a tycoon problem.

The GOP short list is looking a little too much like a magnet for rich guys.

Let’s review the bidding. Stunt candidate Donald Trump is worth, well, no one really knows, do they? $2 billion is one Forbes’ estimate.

Mitt Romney, who’s really in it to win it, has between $150 and $250 million. He was a governor — and then a successful a venture capitalist — in the past.

Jon Huntsman, though widely believed to be a billionaire, filed financial disclosure statement in 2009 that put his net worth between $11 and 70 million. He’s the weak link in this chain.

Still, none of these men stand a good chance of posing as regular guys. To differing degrees, all are lucky legatees; each had a highly successful businessman for a father. By contrast, when Bob Dole ran for president in 1996, he was worth a fraction of these amounts. His dad ran an egg and cream station on the Kansas prairie.

Of course, wealth is not a problem for the candidates, at least not yet. Guys with a lot of money tend to know other guys with a lot of money and that’s a huge advantage when it comes to fundraising. Besides, neither Romney nor Trump really needs to raise money to run in 2012. They could largely self-finance. That’s part of what Romney did in 2008, when he donated $40 million of his own money to his campaign. It’s not clear if Huntsman, should he run, could afford to do that.

But the outsize net-worths, particularly in a difficult economic era, may eventually catch up to the GOP. In general, people with this kind of cash are not reliable gauges of the public’s mood or experience. (See Forbes, Steve.) They may be aspirational heroes, a symbol of what some people might like to become someday. But they often have no idea about the way most people live, particularly in a downturn. They’ve left that behind. Or they never lived there in the first place.

Given this, my own bet is that we are overdue for a round of stories about how each of these guys is an Ordinary Joe. Normally, this involves fishing trips, NASCAR racing or a turn with a pick up band. Just last week, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that Huntsman is actually a frugal sort who loves to eat “tacos from a street stand.”

Get ready for more of this sort of thing.