Framing the Republican Race

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Photograph by Peter Hapak for TIME

Richard Nixon famously advised Republican presidential candidates to run to the right in the primaries and to the center in the general election. The idea is that you need to round up the base to get the nomination and then appeal to independents to win the presidency. (This formula applies to Democrats as well, only the initial direction is leftward.)

But Nixon would not recognize the Republican Party these days, in part because the Tea Party is shifting the GOP's center of gravity. As a result, some of the candidates seem to be trying to run to the right and to the center at the same time. That may be schizophrenic psychologically, but it's smart politically.

This week, as we head into the political season in earnest, Joe Klein's cover story offers the smartest framing of the Republican race: it's a battle between centrist and traditional plausible candidates and populist outsiders. The latter have ideological purity, while the former need to twist themselves in order to not alienate the new Tea Party--tinged base.

Joe splits the candidates into brackets, and we thought we'd make a virtue of that on the cover by using the now ubiquitous method of basketball bracketing to show how the Republican race is divided. President Obama enthusiastically fills in the NCAA brackets every year; we're asking you to do that too. Fill in the blanks on the cover and send us your picks, and we will tally your choices for the Republican nominee. You'll also be able to vote online. We'll post the bracketology breakdown in this space in the coming weeks.

Richard Stengel, MANAGING EDITOR