Can the Republicans really be so desperate for another candidate named George that they’re considering Pataki, who’s not particularly conservative and three years older than the New Madrid earthquake? Seriously?
It’s hard to shake the feeling that there’s some Bush acolyte out there we don’t know about yet who will enter at some point. It’s like when you thought Vader was the bad guy, but you didn’t know about Siths? And Siths always come in pairs? And then that guy with the Gila monster face showed up and the future Darth Vader was only the sorta bad guy because this other guy was the really bad guy? You know? So if Cheney is like the Emperor and W was Darth Wader who was really bad but he’s OK now, where’s the second Sith? (We have Obama Wan Kenobi and Joeda, but I‘d feel a lot better about this if Princess Hillary was around in 2012.)
Today we pick our winner! We have four candidates and surprisingly each represents a different faction of the party, surprisingly because the brackets were structured on physical appearance (old fat guys, nerds, women, etc.) not ideology.
Rick Santorum—one of the fifty-ish ultra-religious members of the “values” ideological wing of the party. Forty years ago, the whole Nixon gang was run out of town and into exile, where they formed the vast right wing conspiracy that is now trying to take the country back by hook or crook. For decades they’ve been churning out guys like Santorum, Pawlenty, Thune and Justice Roberts and planting them like trap doors in the software of American politics. Wasn’t there a movie about this—Boys from Brazil or something?
Mitt Romney—one of the pro-business “grown-ups” of the Republican Party, son of GOP royalty and representative of the country club demographic. Wouldn’t recognize a principle unless it wore a nametag. His bedrock beliefs are made of papier-mache. His spine is surgical tubing. To the extent he can be trusted, which is oxymoronic, we can count on him to keep regulation to a minimum and “let the private sector work,” and then when it doesn’t (because he’s introduced what economists call moral hazard) show up with the inevitable bail-outs. Mitt’s dad would have made a heck of a president. Like the cars he made, George W. Romney was made of American steel. Sadly, this year’s model is made of plastic.
Rudy Guliani—or another pseudo-tough guy who represents the jingo faction. American exceptionalism is a Trojan Horse of a word—it sounds good—all warm and proud, until you realize it has been corrupted to provide carte blanche to a set of faceless bureaucrats with sad lives to do whatever they feel like doing. America is an exceptional and wonderful country, and we should all be terrified at the prospect of entrusting it to roaches like Rudy. Do you reckon the Vikings gave speeches about “Norse exceptionalism” as they climbed in their long boats to ravage the English coast?
Jeb Bush (or Rick Perry or George Pataki or a-Sith-to-be-named-later)—For no clear reason, supporters of this group tend to be bitter. They shouldn’t be. But many are. “By god we used to run this country, and when we did, gas was 29 cents a gallon. Blah. Blah. Blah.” Yeah, and most people didn’t care about cheap gas because they didn’t have cars and minimum wage was like a ha’penny or a farthing or something. But we take your point. You want to bring back a time when white men got the good jobs without any competition from women and colored folk and kids respected their parents and there was no homosexuality or taxes. Got it.
So what will it be? Which of the Four Horsemen of the Repocalypse will it be—Zealotry, Greed Megalomania or Bitterness?
We will soon find out.
By the time a candidate has gone through the primary process, she or he has been scrubbed harder than a two year old who’s played with lipstick. By then, we know them. We know their strengths. We know their weaknesses. We know everything they wish we didn’t know, from the time they smoked dope in college to the fact that their rich daddy hid them in the Alabama National Guard so they wouldn’t have to go to Viet Nam. And then, we either reject the candidate or we choose to ignore those faults and pretend their mistakes didn’t happen, like the audience when someone farts loudly during a symphony interlude.
But either way, we know. Nixon was paranoid. Reagan was stupid. Carter was self-righteous. Bush was soulless. Clinton was a liar. W was a screw-up. Barry is shallow. But we knew all those things going in and decided we could live with them. Maybe we gave them a pass because we recognize those faults in ourselves. Maybe it’s because they have virtues that outweigh the faults. But either way, collectively, 300 million of us decided to turn the other way and pretend we didn’t smell anything.
We are not so generous with other candidates. Ten years ago, we liked the John McCain we thought we knew—war hero, man of integrity, fearless campaigner for truth. But after a good scrubbing three years ago, we saw him for what he really is—a nasty, disloyal, unprincipled hothead who shouldn’t be trusted with a slingshot and a pack of BB’s, much less the red phone. We had to look twice, but we found it and decided, “No, thanks.”
Amazingly, the process tends to work with the same ruthless honesty almost everywhere. The Italians tolerate a prime minister whose picture would be on sex offender websites if he lived in Orange County. Putin is a wildly popular despot-in-training. The French appear to be on their way to electing a man who definitely won’t be asked to meet Angela Merkel privately with the door closed. Every OECD nation knows deep down that the George who leads them is less Washington than Bush, and has come to terms with it.
Over the next twelve months or so, the Republicans will have to decide what faults they can live with. There is no perfect candidate. There’s no one who hasn’t done or said something stupid, no one who believes exactly the right things in exactly the right proportions. There is no one who can or will save America according to the Base’s definition of salvation AND is old-money enough AND sufficiently jingoistic to satisfy every faction of the party. No one who doesn’t have a porn movie charge on a hotel bill somewhere or who hasn’t tried to kiss an intern or hasn’t accepted a round of golf at Augusta or who hasn’t voted for some reasonable (read: Democrat) bill somewhere along the line. So who has faults the party can live with?
Or to be more specific, who can the ROWG’s (Rich Old White Guys) who run the party live with? Defenders in basketball are taught to watch the offensive player’s hips, not the ball. Whatever direction the hips point in is the direction the player is going. In Republican politics, watch the ROWG’s, not the Iowa caucuses.
OK, that wasn’t the case in 2008. But in 2008 the ROWG’s probably figured they were in such a hole that they wouldn’t win anyway. In fact, maybe they didn’t want to win given the mess fellow ROWG Cheney had created. At any rate, the ROWG’s let the great unwashed decide who to run.
The people eventually picked Sarah, and begrudgingly allowed her old crotchety grandfather to come along on the trip. (You have to feel sorry for Palin driving from campaign stop to campaign stop with her kids in the front seat and McCain in the back. McCain– “You’re driving too fast, Sarah. Slow down. I have to pee. Pull over so I can pee. I said to slow down. You’re driving like a gosh-darned maniac. Don’t you forget this fine 1964 Oldsmobile belongs to me, young lady. I said I had to pee!”) (And later, “Eeewww. Mom! He peed.”)
Well, Billy Kristol, it’s all fun and games until someone gets the nomination, now isn’t it? ROWG’s are all in favor of tokenism. But only when the tokens are properly grateful and stick to the script. Ask Michael “Where has all the money gone?” Steele what happens when you start ad-libbing. ROWG’s don’t want tokens with a mind (sic) of their own. (For the record, ROWG’s have nothing against females. Some ROWG’s even sleep with females. Some even with adult females. Some even with adult females they are married to.)
But this time around, the gray men think they can win. Obama is vulnerable. The economy is improving, but slowly enough that people aren’t really feeling the buzz, and four years is not enough time to fix eight years of spectacularly bad leadership. And whoever wins this time is going to ride the economic cycle to two terms. No more letting the people pick the nominee, it’s time to get serious. So expect to see a serious candidate.
Drum roll please.
And it’s Mitt. It’s no coincidence that Bachmann leads the polls and Mitt leads the money raising. The ROWG’s have spoken. No chance the Base gets to pick again. Forget Santorum, Guliani and Pataki—we’ve already seen how guys with multi-syllabic names play in the hinterland. And the Bushies have waited a little too long to make the jump.
Mitt could go all the way. He’s, cough cough, flexible enough for the money types, and as I have said before, people are more tolerant of character flaws once they are used to them. It’s all about expectations. When Romney flops around this time, people will shrug and say, “Oh that’s just Mitt being Mitt.” Also, Mitt paid his dues in 2008. The Republicans are big about having their candidates pay their dues.
Or having their daddy pay them.
For my Republican friends, may the Farce be with you.