Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Long Election March

Tea Party? What Tea Party?

So Romney gave his "I'm going to be the nominee and there's nothing you can do about it" speech. His assertion that he's going to win without having to bother playing up to the Tea Party. And what else would you call a defense of the mandate, something that even many liberals dislike.

The split in the Republican party still favors the eastern establishment and the candidates who are more acceptable to it. And Romney is confident that this means he'll win despite touting positions unacceptable to the grass roots movement that set fire to the political landscape. And sadly he might be right.

That Romney is now more confident than he was in 2008 is hard to explain. But in some ways it isn't. This time around there's less competition. And more desperation. The party is under the gun, the country is under the gun and so is Romney. He knows that his moment is now and he's going in confident. And what he's really counting on is the collapse of the populism of 2010.

If the race was more open, he would have less to be confident about. Romney's closest competition is Huckabee. And if Huckabee will play one side of the field, Romney will play the other. With primaries arranged the way they are, Romney may well end up with enough momentum. And that's if Huckabee even runs.

Polls show most Republicans remain dissatisfied with the field. The dominant narrative is negativity. Attacks on one candidate or another. And all that cancels itself out. The default candidate wins. And that looks to be Romney.

Plenty of Republicans have issues with Romney, but then there are issues with all the other frontrunners too. And Romney's speech is a dare that issues won't count, that populist elections in 2010 won't translate into populist primaries in 2012. Only time will tell if he's right.

Now there's a push for Daniels. Because apparently what this race really needs is a guy with the charisma and decisiveness of an old banana. Daniels might be okay on the issues, but he's not viable in a national election. Especially not against an opponent with a billion dollar political attack machine on his side. If you enjoyed McCain's suppressed civility, Daniels will bring that to the table in spades.

Sure the issues are important, but in a national election you win on the issues not with a long explanation, but by selling a decisive slogan or two. You have to be able to back those up (at least you do if you're a Republican) but you need to be able to sell a plan and yourself in 15 seconds or less. If you can't do that, then no sale.

The push for Daniels is misguided. Daniels just doesn't register. And he's too bland to be competitive in a national election.

The push for Christie is nearly as misguided. Christie is tempted, but right now he's a big fish in a small pond. And he knows that if he runs and blows it, then he's done. And Christie doesn't have that much to offer besides viral videos of him shouting at people. Which is great and all, but Trump has that too.

Christie has hardly managed to decisively reform New Jersey. He has managed to win public battles with teacher's union, but his agenda wasn't anywhere as ambitious as Scott Walker's was. Which is why it didn't touch off the same level of viciousness. And besides that, he's hardly on a different level than Romney. Cap and Trade, Right to Bear Arms, Terrorism, immigration etc he's weak on.  And those aren't lightweight issues.

How different in practice is Christie from Romney. It's not a question that many Republicans thrilled by the sight of Christie confronting opponents in videos like to ask. But then Trump looked pretty good for about a week or two for the same reason.

Not that it really matters. Christie is hedging his bets a little, but he's not likely to run. And why should he. 2016 is a better bet than 2012.

So that leaves us with Gingrich's comeback. There are many people who hate Gingrich, not that many who love him, but his favorability ratings aren't bad. The negatives are there. Some harp on the ethanol. Others on his personal life. But Gingrich's best asset is that he comes off like a man who gets things done, but is smart enough to know what he's doing. That's a rare combination in this field.

But what would Gingrich do if elected and can he win a national election? Both are tricky questions. His announcement video tried to put the old scowly cartoon that Democrats drew of him back in the Clinton era to bed. This Gingrich smiles warmly. He's genially decisive. But how much of a difference will that really make. Sure he has more personality than Daniels, and his infidelity still looks better than Daniels' willingness to accede to infidelity. That may not be a moral triumph, but people do like leaders who do bad things, more than those who allow bad things to be done to them.

Gingrich's political problems are those of the frontrunners. They have been caught endorsing liberal ideas a few times too many to really be trusted. They're more insiders, than outsiders.

That's why there's so much desperation for an alternative. For a candidate who combines the skills of the frontrunners with the integrity of some of the long shots. A candidate who can function on the big stage without betraying the promises over a handshake. And so far that candidate hasn't shown up.

Sultan Knish