Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Whither the Republicans?

For the Republicans, Super Tuesday represented less a victory by John McCain than the tipping point of a long process of elimination. From the beginning, the Republicans presented a deeply flawed field, with most of the candidates having some degree of unacceptability to one part or another of the Republican base. The one candidate whose politics came closest to jiving -- actor and former senator Fred Thompson -- showed no interest in actually working for the nomination and departed quietly. 

Meanwhile, America's mayor -- Rudy Giuliani -- started out with so many strikes against him that it's hard to believe that he actually thought the Republicans would nominate an acidic thrice-married Catholic supporter of gay rights who happened to be estranged from his children. Once questions were raised about his performance on and after 9/11, he was doomed no matter how vehemently he supported the war or how ominously he raised the specter of terrorism.

If Super Tuesday represented anything, it was the disintegration of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney's campaign. Handsome, experienced, and well-funded, Romney emerged as a early media darling. His main problem -- one he never overcame -- was an apparent absence of any convictions whatsoever. After claiming that some sort of road-to-Damascus conversion that led him to renounce his previous support for gay and abortion rights, Romney pandered directly to the religious right with a groveling speech at the George Bush Presidential Library. None of it took, and Romney has failed over and again to win on the road. His primary victories occurred in Massachusetts, his home state of Michigan and its border state of Minnesota, and states with a significant Mormon population (Utah and states bordering Utah). What Franklin Roosevelt called the economic royalists of the party would no doubt love to elect Mitt Romney president, but flip-flopping and pandering doomed him with the rank-and-file.

That left John McCain and Mike Huckabee. Huckabee, the appealing Christian conservative Arkansas governor and anathema to the economic royalists, found no traction outside of his base and has thus been unable to win outside of the south. That pretty much left McCain who, despite his heresies on taxes and torture, at least attracted enough independent voters to carry him to repeated primary victories. 

However, the hard right of the party despises McCain. (See what Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and James Dobson have to say here, here, and here. Coulter goes so far as to say she'd campaign for Hillary Clinton if the Republicans nominate McCain. Unanswered is the question of whether Hillary would want her help.). A nominee needs independent votes to win elections, but healso need the committed activism of the party base. The 71-year old McCain did not poll well among the majority of self-described conservatives on Tuesday; it's easy to see that there is a great deal of mistrust there. (And misperception: A Republican friend wrote me that his nomination should make me happy because it meant that a liberal would be elected president no matter what. Beats me how a fundamentally boilerplate Republican -- we're winning in Iraq, the health care crisis is best handled by the market, free trade is good, etc. -- is a liberal, but then I'm not a hard right conservative.) 

Let them fight among themselves over who is an acceptable troglodyte. And bring 'em on!

Breaking News: Barack Obama speaks at Key Arena tomorrow morning. Doors open at 11 a.m. For more information, go here.

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