Thursday, March 24, 2011

Ian MacIsaac: A Paralyzed Republican field cowers in the face of the Obama campaign machine--Who's Running in 2012?

  There is something rotten in Denmark--or at least in the Republican Party. At this point on the calendar in the last election, all of the major candidates--Clinton, Obama, Romney, McCain--had all announced: Obama himself announced in February 2007, a full 19 months before the election. But we're pushing into April and no one has announced yet, not counting Newt Gingrich's sorta-kinda exploratory thing. What's going on?

  I happen to understand American presidential politics better than I understand almost anything else in the world, and I can't help but feel absolutely sure it has something to do with how strong the president is among the people right now. Whatever it was that gave him a major boost at the beginning of this year, Obama has gone from the nadir of his presidency at the time of the 2010 midterms to holding a very strong electoral position looking forward to the upcoming election. Pew--second only to Gallup in exceptional polling results--released a poll on Wednesday conducted March 8-14 showing that Americans prefer reelecting Obama to electing a Republican in 2012 by a 48%-35% margin, with 16% saying they "didn't know."

  George W. Bush was at about the same level of popularity at this time in his reelection campaign, which he won--and at that time he was leading the nation in two popular wars on top of a booming economy. If Obama is doing just as well with pretty much the exact opposite situation in terms of military-economic fortune, how do these Republicans expect to beat him in the general election?

  I don't think any of them really do expect to beat him, but it will likely be the most delusional--i.e. the candidate who most believes he can win--who will eventually win the nomination.

  As things stand now, Mitt Romney will most likely be that nominee, having been a certain 2012 candidate since he lost in the last Republican presidential primary. Mitt Romney needs power like an alcoholic needs his bottle: a money- and fame-hungry slick-haired freak completely separated from any sort of want and a slave only to what his demented mind demands. From the moment at CPAC 2008 that he suspended his presidential campaign last time, it was clear we would see Mitt again. He needs it.

  Did I go too far on poor Mitt? I see him as the Republican John Kerry: simply the last man standing in a party primary full of lackluster candidates. Like Kerry, Romney--fairly or not--is known for being a flip-flopper. Having held the sole political office of his career as the governor of Massachusetts -- perhaps the most liberal state in the country -- for one unpopular term from 2002 to 2006, his legislative record is heavily at odds with the desires and professed interests of the voters that make up the likely participants in the Republican primaries.

  As governor, he supported a progressive healthcare plan that included an individual mandate to buy insurance (the part of so-called ‘Obamacare’ that many Republicans declare themselves most opposed to). As governor, and in a 1996 run for Senator in Massachusetts against Ted Kennedy, Romney vocally defended gay marriage and abortion rights. In office, Governor Romney raised just about every tax he could get away with without generating negative press. In 2008, this was aguably the reason he lost the primary to John McCain, and there is no reason to suspect that voters have forgotten why they didn’t like Mitt the first time around. Not only did 2008 Republican primary voters reject his Massachusetts political beliefs, they also rejected even more strongly, I think, the fact that he doesn't actually believe any of it.

  Romney's other major problem, perhaps unfairly, is his Mormonism. Although we are perhaps the world power most clearly founded on freedom of religion and religious expression, it it still very likely that only a mainstream sort of Christian stands a chance of winning the presidency. Especially among Republican primary voters in places like South Carolina--a key early primary--having what is considered to be an exotic or otherwise quite different sort of religion will, fairly or not, be a big crutch for Romney. Evangelical Christians don't like voting for guys whose grandfathers had multiple wives.

  The Mormon church itself has a record of bigotry toward African-Americans as well, and the fact that they believe Jesus preached in Missouri doesn't make Romney look any more sane. Just saying.

  More clearly under the right-wing tent--but with plenty of personal liabilities of his own--is Newt Gingrich, the only candidate certain to run who I would say stands the least chance of actually winning. I believe it was Michelle Bachmann who said, “There was a time for him.” Despite her absolutely batty politics, this is a defining statement on a man whose finest political hour was in 1994.

  Indeed, having not held elected office since the last century -- he left the speakership of the house in 1999 -- the youngest American voters were but six years old the last time Gingrich held office. Voters even older than that, I imagine, have lost interest as well.

  In addition, his “I’m running, I’m not running” charade with these laying of "NewtExplore" sites and exploratory committees has only served to destroy his momentum, almost two years before the election. Having two affairs and three wives on his record won’t help with those self-proclaimed 'values voters,' either, despite his excuse, delivered on a religious program, that his affairs were a result of "how hard" he worked for America while in office.

  In the end, he will definitely run -- but he has no chance. I doubt he will win a single primary.


  Tim Pawlenty is the least fleshed-out of the strong possible nominees here as a candidate with a persona--a new poll has him sixth in a list of most recognizable candidates--but in many ways stands the best chance of getting the Republican nomination if the downsides of all the other candidates disqualify each in turn.

  All the others have major weaknesses that could remove them from consideration in the minds of large portions of the standard Republican  primary electorate: Romney with his flip-flopping, Gingrich with his air of the past and his list of adulterous conquests, and so on. Pawlenty, a two-term former Governor of Minnesota (who could have and now regrets not running for a third term last year), is a rather plain figure. He has attempted to raise his national profile in the last month or so by releasing ad-fo-mercials (as I endearingly title those political ads that look like commercials but are more commonly spread across the internet) praising both the Tea Party and his new book Courage to Stand. What a title.

  But he is milquetoast, and has no idea how to give a speech or rally people to a cause: how could this amateur face up against someone like Barack Obama? It’d be a wipe. But the Republicans may not have any other choice.

  Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels is Pawlenty's potential nemesis for what used to be called the 'Rockefeller Republican' vote and a likely vice presidential candidate. Mitch Daniels and Tim Pawlenty cater to roughly the same crowd by geography and politics (midwestern Republican governors with moderate records), but whereas Pawlenty has pushed toward the right and begun to ingratiate himself with the Tea Party as his national profile has grown in advance of the presidential campaign, Daniels has maintained a  steadfast sort of middle-of-the-roadism bordering on insanity in terms of Republican primaries.

  He has given likely Republican voters little of the standard primary red meat, having stated in his CPAC speech this year--his biggest moment of national exposure so far in his career as a popular governor of Indiana that Republicans’ tent needed to expand beyond people who listened to Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and Rush Limbaugh. The line did not receive much applause among the crowd.

  Pawlenty would not be caught dead uttering such a line. Neither would someone like Newt or Mitt, even though I’m sure both of them agree with the statement in their hearts. Daniels has preached fiscal sanity that the other Republicans on this list would not touch either, declaring that even defense spending is not off the table in the goal to balance the budget.

  Independents love him--I imagine that if only independents could vote, he would probably beat Obama and all the other Republican candidates listed here or otherwise--but independents don't vote in the Republican primary. They may be perhaps the #1 general election asset, but the road to the Republican National Convention is a long, dirty, and dangerous one that is hard to emerge from with many independents on your side, especially in this age of the radicalized far right, who proved in the midterms last year that they can be counted on to vote in numbers other ideological groups haven't mustered in a hundred years.

  Although in the end Daniels probably has the most likelihood of beating Barack Obama of all the Republican candidates--he simply lacks all the other candidates' major weaknesses, and is smarter than Pawlenty straight up--there is no real way Daniels can win the nomination, not foreseeing some major scandal on Romney’s part or something. He simply has too little of a personality, and while he comes off as a trustworthy guy with more ideas than the average Republican candidate, it is unlikely he’ll be able to raise even the money to challenge a Romney or a Gingrich even if he does find a strong core of supporters in his party. I count him here only because of his unusual demeanor and political positions, but the vice presidential slot seems more likely for Daniels--Pawlenty as well.

  Huckabee--the Huckster, I call him--is the true wild card. He could play Hillary Clinton to Mitt Romney’s Barack Obama -- or would it be the other way around? -- in a seriously divisive Republican primary.

  I am used to seeing Republicans fall into lock-step behind a nominee infinitely more easily than Democrats and people on the left in general (Google "Al Gore + Ralph Nader 2000"). But Huckabee and Romney each represent polar opposite factions of the Republican party, and I think they could do what no Republican primary has done since 1976, when then-California Governor Ronald Reagan ran in the primary against incumbent President Ford and just barely lost the nomination, causing Ford to lose the election in November to Jimmy Carter.

  Follow me here. The party’s two factions, arguably, whose tenuous union has been responsible for Republicans winning the majority of the last half-century’s presidential elections, consist of the wealthy on one hand and social conservatives/those who hope to be wealthy on the other hand. George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan were the most successful uniters of these two groups, both stunningly able to convince the non-rich to espouse the interests of the rich, getting poor rural farmers and workers to vote to subsidize the top one percent through distracting arguments about abortion, gay rights, and drug laws.

  But Mitt Romney, a former venture capitalist himself, could not possibly find support among the majority of those who would consider abortion a top presidential voting issue. He does not have the amiable persona of a Reagan or a Dubya.

  On the other hand, Mike Huckabee is far too much of a person like that himself to ever find respect and endorsement from anyone who has ever worked on Wall Street. Without Wall Street, the Republican party is nothing, and would not have nearly the amount of money they do to convince the poor country- and status-oriented voters to vote against their economic interests.

  In a party whose financial backing is dominated by the richest one percent, but whose electoral power is based in lower middle class people who didn’t finish college and poor social issues voters, what in the world is going to happen when--unlike with a candidate like Bush--two candidates like Romney and Huckabee split the group right in half? In the end, Obama will likely win handily against Huckabee everywhere but the former Confederacy, which would not leave me surprised if state for state voted for Huckabee against a sea of blue across the rest of the country. (A University of Rock Hill, South Carolina poll released at the beginning of March showed that Republican voters in the South preferred Huckabee to Romney by more than a 2-1 margin.)


  Hunter S. Thompson, in his lifelong beat as a journalist covering the Death of the American Dream, lived by the maxim that "Politics is the art of controlling your environment." He was able to call a shocking number of presidential primary winners and presidential election winners very early, spotting the political promise of men like George McGovern, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton sometimes entire election cycles before they were considered major candidates for president. If he lived by that maxim politically, I trust it, and the fact is that none of these candidates are nearly as good at controlling their environment as Barack Obama has shown himself to be.

  And, in the Brave New World of social media like Facebook and Twitter, the art of controlling your message (in Obama's case, the 24-hour news cycle) is just as important. No president of our country has done either of these things as well as our current executive since Reagan or perhaps Kennedy--maybe even as far back as FDR. Say what you want about the president, when he sets his mind to it he and his team are very good at convincing and controlling. No matter what these Republicans do, then, it's deck chairs on the Titanic.

  About the author: Ian MacIsaac is a staff writer for the Capital City Free Press. He is a history major at Auburn University Montgomery in Montgomery, Alabama, where he serves as co-editor of the school newspaper, the AUMnibus.

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