A check-in is due to the slow-motion train wreck by which the GOP Faithful have been eat, err … vetting their candidates. It really has been a fascinating study in political cannibalism, as the various partisans savage each other with flame and spice that they usually reserve for the "socialists" across the aisle. It gets way too much coverage, methinks, as stern-looking pundits dissect every odd moment and outrageous charge, and re-handicap the sweeps, moment-by-moment. I haven't done any personal Electoral College arithmetic, but I will suggest that these Republican candidates and this process bode very well for the Democratic opposition.
First, each of the remaining contenders has huge negatives in the eyes of the Electorate. Mr. Romney is, in my view, an awkward patrician whose prepster mannerisms will not wear well with the great majority of voters. He's also slow afoot with positions that appear to be insincerely scripted, and which won't hold up under the more sober scrutiny applied outside the Party processes, by other-than True Believers. He has moved right to pander to The Base, but hasn't convinced them. And among the truly faithful evangelicals whose zeal will be important to mobilize the autumn vote, his religion alone (and right-or-wrong) disinclines fully 25% of them. Finally, he has disavowed interest in the world beyond these borders, and I am unconvinced that his business experience translates into either a vocational understanding of the economy, or adaptability to the political process. Business leaders enjoy positional authority that greatly exceeds what even the President gets to exercise. And you can make the world go away among primary voters, but I think the broader society knows better and will demand a more global view than his dismissive "I'll have experts."
Among the several alternatives, Mr. Gingrich appeals predominantly to the most apoplectic of the angry GOP base, but his positional and personal inconstancies, and his short fuse, ought to scare folks, and will. What does he have, really, behind the bluster? Senator Santorum may have temporarily transcended the Google-based jokesters, but his positions, devoutly avowed, are so retrograde as to repel most voters. He has had surface appeal as a Non-Romney, but in the less-friendly confines of the general election, he will send most voters screaming into the booth. Finally, Ron Paul is a hardy perennial whose appeal has reached most of those who will ever be interested. His is less a candidacy than a crusade to raise the profile of his issues. I believe he may be more a threat to the GOP as a potential Third Party candidate than he is to the Dems. At minimum, his influence will force a Party platform with Libertarian underpinnings far right of the Great Center.
Is there anyone else out there? Mitch Daniels gave a pallid performance in his State of the Union rebuttal, generating no buzz, and Sarah Palin is quite happy cashing-in on her celebrity. The Donald? Please.
Whoever it is, that last candidate standing will be badly bloodied, and the extreme positioning for the primary Faithful will make it difficult for the nominee to credibly move far enough toward the center of this philosophical bell curve to capture the flag. In addition, that candidate will be up against an incumbent who is the better campaigner. Mr. Obama has come out swinging I have been personally amazed that he's won me back so quickly, but he has I've ordered my 2012 bumper stickers. I doubt I'm alone in that he will close a big part of the so-called enthusiasm gap.
That gap is also quite evident among pachyderms. The Republican participation numbers are way down this year from prior years. That suggests to me an electorate greatly disaffected with the whole money-soaked, lobby-addled mess that is Washington. That discontent worked well for the GOP in 2010, but I think they will be blamed this time for the continuing stalemate and their petty partisanship. They've squandered the shellacking they administered two years back.
Finally, many of the GOP's more extreme primary policy positions have had an easy time of it; the candidates have been preaching to their choir. Methinks those ideas will not hold-up under the scrutiny of the general campaign, and under cross-examination. It's one thing to call for "a military so mighty that no one will dare oppose us" when addressing a sympathetic crowd of Carolina yahoos but what will happen when that simplistic boast is held-up to the realities of concurrent deficit reduction promises, and the fact that our greatest enemies are not deterred by "mightiness?"
In the final analysis, I do not think that the ideologues on the left (like me) or the right (several of you) will carry the day. Assuming that Europe doesn't tank in a cataclysmic way (still possible), I think that the steadier, better known, more moderate and yes likeable -- candidate will appeal to the voting public. It will be a more limited expectation and sober plurality this time around, but I have a difficult time seeing how it will be anybody not named Obama in the White House next January.