Whither Republicans?

South Carolina did its best to prove me wrong, but I said it’s going to be Romney for the Republican nomination for the Presidency, and a solid win in Florida, the first superstate to vote in this Presidential Primary leaves little to guess at.  As of the wee hours of Wednesday, February 1st, Governor Romney has 70 delegates, Speaker Gingrich has an non-competitive 23, Senator Santorum a distant 13, and Dr. Paul and Governor Huntsman a risible 3 and 2, respectively.

Now that we have a front runner with few plausible courses for an upset, here comes the tricky part: Can anyone spoil the nomination for Governor Romney by denying him the simple majority of delegates needed to secure the nomination?  We have 2 candidates who have definitively promised to do just that.  Speaker Gingrich has now-infamously vowed to carry the contested primary all the way to the Republican National Convention; Dr. Paul acknowledges that he cannot win the Republican Presidential nomination but is trying to deny Governor Romney a majority of delegates to influence the crafting of the new Republican Party platform.  Paul is the lesser threat by far; his delegates probably cannot amount to more than passive representatives at the Convention.  Speaker Gingrich, on the other hand, has more delegates and is driven by the prize–the Presidential nomination itself.  Does Speaker Gingrich have any hope for an extremely-late, come-from-behind win?

Such a development would be unprecedented in our contemporary presidential nominating system, whether Republican or Democratic.  We haven’t seen enough nominating contests to call the trajectory certain yet, but just consider what we know to-date: Of 112 delegates currently committed, Governor Romney commands 71 of them, or just over 63%.  The next-nearest Presidential hopeful in the delegate count is Speaker Gingrich with 23, or over 20%.  Speaker Gingrich and Dr. Paul are engaged in so much hopeful bluster, each out of a different combination of ambition and desperation.

Speakr Gingrich wants to be President in the worst way.  (President Obama and Governor Romney, their pretty major differences in policy notwithstanding, I believe both want to be President in the best way–namely, they have prepared for power for a long time and probably both really believe that this country is aching for precisely the radical departure in Federal policy they either have effected or endeavor to effect.)  Anyway, Speaker Gingrich is in this race for himself.  Considering the extent of his past partisanship, you would think that his minimal ethical compunctions would lead him to run a campaign of limited scope, then bow-out and endorse the party nominee.  Of course, I could interpret Gingrich’s declared commitment to maintain his insurgent campaign against Romney at all costs as ethical if he could actually offer some philosophical reason why he and not Romney had to be the nominee; no such reason has been forthcoming.  Strangest of all is his stated reason–namely, the the need to put up a formal challenge to beat President Obama–why he thinks he should remain in the race.  (Gingrich is polling least-competitively of the 4 Republican Presidential hopefuls still in the race in advance matchups against President Obama.)

As far as the Republicans in general are concerned, the clearest matter-of-fact of all is that they need a deliverer.  As this grassroots but heavily-financed and professionally-managed movement of the Republican Party to the right on economic and size-of-government questions has delivered many State  governments to it, as well as a greatly-expanded Congressional delegation, the result is now a cacophony of voices, not always seemingly as eager to lead Republicans as they are to alienate non-Republicans.  House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) may be too moderately-inclined, too much of a traditional politician to project influence with so many restive Conservatives in the House Republican Caucus he leads; House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) has unflinchingly become a symbol of partisan belligerence, seemingly in an effort to outbid the Speaker for influence over their own Caucus.  House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) has managed to remain above the fray, but to an extent that suggests he doesn’t covet a leadership position beyond the policy-focused one he now holds.  Michele Bachmann, who recently closed-down her Presidential campaign, has tried without success to insinuate herself into leadership of the dozens of Tea Party Republicans elected to the House in 2010; as I’ve previously indicated, I’d expected her to be nothing but a minor irritant.  In the Senate, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) must have no love for the Tea Party, viewing it as the movement that unseated his colleague Robert Bennett (R-UT), and almost unseated colleague Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and cost his party Senate seats in Nevada, Colorado, West Virginia and Delaware and thus control of the Senate.  He apparently despises his nominal partner in his State’s US Senate delegation, Rand Paul (R-KY), who defeated McConnell’s preferred successor to outgoing oddball Senator Jim Bunning and has maintained a very un-Bunning-like crusade against Federal pork projects ever since.  Marco Rubio (R-FL) seems both ideological and “Presidential,” but his reticence reminds us that he has to earn his stripes; Senator and previous Congressman Jim DeMint (R-SC) has committed himself to the leadership of Senate Tea Partiers (and far more-effectively with that small group than Bachmann has done with the huge column of Tea Partiers in the House).

If you look out to the States, the problem of party leadership remains.  Arizona Governor Jan Brewer is mired in controversy on issues from Congressional redistricting to State enforcement of laws against illegal immigration.  During his firecracker of a Presidential candidacy, Texas Governor Rick Perry presented a Texas combination of moderation and extremism that was always ungainly to someone in the Republican Party; he also expressed himself so poorly that some campaign-watchers compared him unfavorably to George W. Bush–himself a failed reformer of the Republican Party.  Mitch Daniels, Governor of Indiana, was Director of the Office of Management and Budget under President W. Bush, and now considered a political success out in Indiana–but his wife very-publicly dissuaded him from running for President, and his response to the President’s State of the Union Address last week was so weak and bereft of policy proposals that it doesn’t warrant further mention.  Then we come to the “Tea Party Governors.”  Though there isn’t exactly an official list, the same Governors come up again and again as the leaders of the movement in the Governor’s Mansions: Bob McDonnell in Virginia, Chris Christie in New Jersey, Scott Walker in Wisconsin, Rick Snyder in Michigan, John Kasich in Ohio, Paul LePage in Maine, Nikki Haley in South Carolina, and Rick Scott in Florida.  McDonnell and Christie were elected in 2009, the remainder were elected in 2010.  Most of those Governors elected in 2010 are currently polling in the mid-30s or even worse in their own States.  Walker and Kasich launched quite possibly-doomed frontal assaults against diminished but still-powerful and appreciated organized labor–probably a foolish move for Kasich in Ohio.  Up in Michigan, Governor Snyder is on a strange campaign to break the fiscal autonomy of municipal governments–and otherwise he has applauded several of President Obama’s signature policy accomplishments, his personal Conservatism notwithstanding.  Scott in Florida has intervened in agency decisions to prevent land preservation deals from going through and signed a bill into law that fines municipal governments for having any gun control regulations at all; he and Governor LePage in Maine are probably still leading the competition for lowest-polling Governor in the entire country.

Governor Christie gained a lot of attention last year when he definitively committed to continue governing New Jersey rather than make a Presidential bid; while he remains a relatively-popular Republican Governor of a Democratic State, there are fair questions about his his character and idiom would play to a non-Jersey audience.  Governor McDonnell of Virginia seems a very-plausible Presidential aspirant–maybe a Vice Presidential choice if he’s interested.  He has now been Governor of the Commonwealth for just over 2 years, and would certainly boost the Republican Presidential nominee in both Virginia and North Carolina.

But this is a digression: The point is that the Republican Party calls out for a standard-carrier, someone who can rally its Establishment and Conservative wings and coherently present alternatives to President Obama’s policies.  The Republican-led House of Representatives, seemingly the most-likely source of such policy-making, has roughly split its time between succumbing to its own factional infighting and uniting just long-enough to overplay its hand–as it did last spring in proposing to privatize Medicare or last summer when the deficit-reduction talks led to huge concessions of Republican spending priorities and damaged their reputation with the public anyway.  All Congressional leaders are themselves elected from 1 very-particular Congressional District, and all Senate leaders are ultimately bound both by their occasional campaigns in their home States and by the arcane legislative process of the Senate.  It may be in the nature of Presidential campaigning and the global scope of the office of the Presidency that it provides an opportunity to lead one’s party that no other can match.  When Republicans consider their choice for Presidential candidate in upcoming primaries and caucuses, they should remember they are choosing someone to give a substantive agenda to a Republican Congressional Caucus very-much in need of one–as well as a tone in which all of their efforts, including those at the State level, will be cast.  A vote for Speaker Gingrich is a vote for the strange idea that the problem with the Republican Party is that it is not angry-enough, and that it should make more promises that it cannot keep.  A vote for Dr. Paul is a vote for nostalgia over judgment.  A vote for Senator Santorum is as close as you can get to a return to the policies of the W. Bush era.  A vote for Governor Romney is a vote by the base for the Establishment–in a sense a vote by a new Republican Party for an older sort of Republican.  The Liberal Ironist thinks Governor Romney as standard-carrier could do the most to bring the party together, focusing on 1st principles less and policy alternatives more, weaving a narrative about the economy and the Presidential contest that goes on the offensive against policies more than people.  It isn’t that Romney is committed to the high road; he simply doesn’t lose focus and is cool-enough not to resort to surplus cruelty.  Republicans seem to have responded to this at long last: The rift in the party is closing.


4 thoughts on “Whither Republicans?

  1. Dodson

    I have to disagree with this: “It isn’t that Romney is committed to the high road; he simply doesn’t lose focus and is cool-enough not to resort to surplus cruelty.” Mittens spent over $15 mil in Florida entirely on assassinating Gingrich’s character. (Republicans still didn’t think it had committed suicide even after wife number two talked to the press, and I’m not saying Newt didn’t deserve it karmic-ly). Romney also outright lies like no politician I have ever seen. He just tells lies. At least other politicians I have seen have been cagey enough to hedge their bets and pull an Obi Wan “certain point of view” shtick. I think Mittens is ice cold, and not only has he already resorted to “surplus cruelty,” but will continue to do so.

    1. liberalironist Post author

      I think you’re taking a narrow-angle view of this and condemning the devil you know, rather than contemplating the devil you don’t know. In 2000 Karl Rove arranged phone campaigns in South Carolina alleging that Senator McCain had an illegitimate Black daughter (when what he has is a daughter he adopted from Bangladesh.); in Michigan these mass callings alleged that Senator McCain is gay. In 2004 the “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” built a campaign around minimizing and denigrating Senator Kerry’s remarkable Vietnam War record; after George W. Bush was re-elected as President, they began a less-successful campaign to promote his plan to invest Social Security funds in the stock market, revealing their narrow partisanship. At the 2008 Republican National Convention Mayor Palin mocked then-Senator Obama for having spent time as a professional community organizer; almost in the same breath she commended herself as a Vice Presidential nominee for ostensibly not being a career politician.

      Let’s just take the Republican Presidential Primary debates of the past year. Last June Speaker Gingrich and Mr. Cain both said they wouldn’t appoint Muslims to their Cabinet because they couldn’t dispel doubts about their loyalty; Mr. Cain further asserted that community majorities ought to have the power to decide whether religious groups they disagreed with could open a local place of worship, further reasoning that the Constitution gave them the power to do this. Michele Bachmann defended Calvin Coolidge’s immigration laws, albeit without mentioning that the original rationale for them was explicitly-racist. Governor Perry called President Obama “an abject liar” for saying the border was secure, and said it was “a monstrous lie” to say Social Security funding is secure–which is itself a lie, or at least willfully misleading. (While Social Security is insolvent over the long-term, we still have a few decades to fix its funding system and benefits schedule before Social Security checks are reduced to…82% of scheduled benefits.) He called Federal Reserve Bank Chairman Ben Bernanke’s efforts to stimulate the economy “treasonous” because it might help President Obama’s re-election chances. (The Fed Chairman, of course, was appointed by President Obama’s predecessor.) Oh, I almost forgot: The governor of a State where a Black man was dragged behind a truck to death by white supremacists within the past generation alleged that Texans would “treat him pretty ugly” if the Fed Chairman came down there.

      When Senator Santorum and Congresswoman Bachmann finally called Governor Perry out for his lack of scruples, it wasn’t for any of these comments but because they felt he had done too much to protect teenage girls from HPV and cervical cancer by mandating that 12-year-old girls get vaccinated against it.

      You want to talk about lying? Dr. Paul has told us we can pay for the necessary functions of the Federal Government with excise taxes, that we can replace Medicare and Medicaid with private charity, and that if the US dollar didn’t have a floating (um…*market-rated*?) exchange rate with other currencies, a gallon of gasoline would only cost a dime…as if that dime would still be “a dime”!

      Speaker Gingrich has alleged for the past 20 years that it is illegal to pray in school; this has never been true. (It is illegal for a public school functionary to lead all students in prayer during class time or public events, and had been for over 30 years by the time the Speaker made this claim.) He has called our current prolonged economic slump “the Obama Depression” (It isn’t a depression) and called Fed Chairman Bernanke (It’s strange to think of how abused this man is by those who know nothing about his job) “the most-inflationary Fed Chairman of the modern era” (He is in fact the *least*-inflationary Fed Chairman of the modern era, and Alan Greenspan is far more-responsible for pumping the markets full of cash by holding interest rates too low for over a decade). Newt Gingrich has told us that it wasn’t racist for him to say people are poor because they don’t work or that President Obama is “the food stamp President”–but he only got around to saying it just before the South Carolina primary. (Maybe you could remind me why Obi-Wan Kenobe’s “certain point of view” defense counts when this is the perspectivity we’re talking about?)

      Herman Cain outright denied knowing a woman who alleged he sexually harassed her (That is a mild term for it), until it became clear that he did in fact know her. Speaker Gingrich tried to tell us that his love for his country compelled him to leave his terminally-ill wife. (Say what you will about Governor Romney, I don’t think he’ll ever try to pull 1 like that over us.) Ruth Marcus had a good op-ed column in today’s Washington Post expressing her objections to Senator Santorum’s claim that, when he decided to continue campaigning for the Presidency even though his young daughter is dangerously-ill, he’s really doing it for her sake. (Remarkably, as Marcus noted, in The Audacity of Hope then-Senator Obama actually came clean that for him to pursue his Senate career in spite of the burdens it imposed on his wife and 2 daughters was a fundamentally selfish act.)

      In any case, I think I’ve said enough about dishonesty in politics, which if we are going to exercise any kind of moral judgment is about more than just whether someone is lying outright. Governor and then President George W. Bush was perfectly contented to win by letting agents spread bigoted and impertinent lies about the character of his opponents, Mayor Palin passive-aggressively projects her faults onto others to an extent that is truly bizarre, Ms. Bachmann and Dr. Paul pride themselves on saying “No” to whatever is de jure, Speaker Gingrich and Mr. Cain each view stoking xenophobia as nothing more than a tactic, and while Governor Perry is no xenophobe he was apparently OK with facilitating mistrust of high officials opportunistically and invoking violence in order to come off as authentic.

      So, if you will assume the unpleasant charge of bearing all this in mind…could you remind me why I should think Governor Romney’s coldness is especially icy, or his cruelty surplus? His heavy spending on attack ads was a resort to lowest-common-denominator politics, but it looks somewhat-different as a response to the obviously-opportunistic personal attacks Speaker Gingrich had made against him. (“2 wrongs don’t make a right”? Fair-enough, but in that case “Don’t start a fight you can’t finish.”) Has Romney told whoppers on the campaign stump? Of course he has; I believe an orthodox free-marketer like himself will almost have to in order to run for President in this economic climate. Remember, you’re responding to my comment that I do not believe Romney is committed to the high road. I expect him to say some things over the next year that make me positively indignant. But I consider his indiscretions during this primary cycle mild compared to the large majority of the other Republican Presidential hopefuls–all of which, incidentally, are running to his right. Of all the Republican Presidential contenders, his campaign has been the most-rooted in informing the voter of his policies and offering context for his candidacy, and is the least-based in manipulating our emotions–Jon Huntsman’s campaign included. I’ve noticed this and I appreciate it.

      1. Dodson

        I should have clarified and said his lies about Obama. Romney levels bald-faced lies about Obama’s foreign, domestic, and economic policies. Sure the other candidates did it, too, but saying “Obama made the recession worse” is much more believable to the uninformed voter than Santorum’s claims of Islamists in Cuba or Bachmann’s claims of a Chinese laser that can blind satellites. I don’t care about others making ridiculous lies. I care about Romney saying the President hates his country, that he has caused out debt, and that he is responsible for the recession. I care about him taking a line Obama said out of context, when referring to John McCain’s campaign in 2008, then defending the ad when the media called him out because it was “relevant to today’s economy.” We shouldn’t be happy that he’s not Karl Rove because his lies are not ridiculous and inflammatory, we should be upset that he lies through his teeth in a believable and vitriolic manner.

  2. Griff

    A vote for Santorum is a vote for bigotry, 1950s unrealistic ideals, and honest belief that Obama is Islamic. I agree that a vote for Gingrich is a vote for the even angrier Republican Party, but it is also a vote to return to the policies of the W. Bush era, which is what it would be. Every way that Bush stretched the law, every signing statement he issued, every treaty he broke, Gingrich would match and continue to further the singular power of one man in one office. Gingrich is the candidate for the citizens that have placed ‘Miss me yet?’ W memorabilia bumper stickers on their cars. At least, that’s my take.


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