A vulnerable president will face an ambivalent GOP.
No matter how ineptly Barack Obama continues to govern, his chances of winning reelection remain strong. As the results from Iowa suggest, the GOP is too addled and divided to field a formidable and philosophically coherent opponent against him.
Say this at least for the Democrats: They have the sense to run nominees who actually support the platform of their party. This rudimentary task is too tricky for Republicans to perform. They haven’t been able to locate in over a generation a presidential nominee who supports theirs. George Bush Sr., Bob Dole, George Bush Jr., John McCain, and now Mitt Romney in all likelihood: this is a dismal roll call of nominees with little to no interest in the ostensible platform of the GOP.
Out of this “Big Tent” came not a larger party, as its proponents promised, but a more bewildered and demoralized one. Romney’s likely coronation is a symbol of this confusion, and not even Obama’s outrages will be sufficient to cut through it.
Imagine the Democratic equivalent of a Mitt Romney and one can see how odd it is for the GOP to settle on him. But the Democrats don’t play these games. They prefer philosophical coherence to the Big Tent concept and thus never get saddled with nominees who alienate their core supporters. A Zell Miller who had changed his mind and returned to liberalism wouldn’t even be able to crawl back to a Democratic convention, let alone run for a high Democratic seat.
And that is not even a parallel analogy, since Romney hasn’t changed his mind dramatically. He remains proud of his liberal record from Massachusetts and his few modified positions, such as on abortion, are largely muted ones. In 2008, he pandered a bit to conservatives. But this time around, except maybe on issues like illegal immigration, he hasn’t really bothered. The field is so weak that he has been able to leave his liberalism open for all to see and still win. Far more polite and gentlemanly than John McCain, he hasn’t stuck his finger in the eyes of conservatives, but it is clear, as it was with McCain, that his interest in their conservatism is near nil.
To the extent that Romney has been scrutinized, it is on trivial issues like his relationship to super political action committees. What, exactly, is sinister about them? Reporters talk about them like they’re mob fronts. All they do is exercise the same free speech rights that those reporters enjoy. What is the mainstream media but just one big Super PAC for the Democratic Party?
At least Romney had the good sense to go negative. Newt Gingrich pathetically tried to make a virtue out of his poverty (he and his supporters just didn’t have the cash to run negative ads and so they busied themselves with the nothing issue of Super PACs and chattered about clean campaigns). Iowa voters rightly found all of this boring and irrelevant.
When not talking about the new and menacing force of Super PAC money in politics, journalists sounded equally hysterical about a candidate with little money at all — Rick Santorum. He is a “bigot,” some huffed, while proudly displaying their own anti-Catholic bigotry. Blowing down hard on their secularist trumpets, they mused darkly about his view of gay marriage, sexuality, and abortion. “Rick Santorum is coming for your birth control,” says the online publication Salon.
The very late results appeared to inconvenience journalists terribly, and so the normal sham etiquette on their cable shows broke down a bit, as tired guests openly rubbed their eyes and allowed themselves more inane comments than usual. But they probably woke up happy. After all, the results forecast the race that they always wanted — Obama versus a demoralized GOP.