I’m not much of a conspiracy theorist — and I certainly have nothing on Paul Craig Roberts whose most recent article, helpfully disseminated by the Ron Paul Institute, claims the Charlie Hebdo attacks to be a “false flag” operation — but I can’t help but wonder if the “mainstream media” is playing up the potential presidential candidacies of Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush, Mike Huckabee, and Rick Santorum simply to depress Republican voters.
Or, going the full tin-foil-hat route, maybe these guys are themselves double agents, part of a MoveOn.org (does it still exist?) sleeper cell which was just activated (by someone who doesn’t get that Americans don’t want to talk about the 2016 election in January of 2015). Their goal: To make the GOP look so ridiculous, so full of unappealing candidates, that independent voters scoff and Republicans begin considering staying home in 2016 the same way they did in 2012, handing an eminently winnable election to a living national nightmare in a pants suit.
To be sure, some press coverage of Mitt Romney is skeptical, with recent articles describing Republican ambivalence (to put it kindly) about his potential candidacy. Other pieces, though, including in liberal outlets such as the Boston Globe (an outfit that knows Romney better than most), seem to be trying to help Romney push an explanation for his “stunning change of heart.”
The thing is, Mitt, I don’t care why you changed your mind.
Mitt Romney is clearly a very good person. Smart, generous, a great father, caring of others whether he knows them or not. He’s a successful capitalist and has mostly decent policy instincts. But none of that, nor all of it combined, translates into making a good candidate out of a man who would (and did) call himself “severely conservative” — a caricature that can’t appeal even to the severely conservative — and say that illegal immigrants (read “Mexicans”) should or will “self-deport” (which earned a deserved chuckle from the crowd).
Whatever aggressive instinct Romney showed at Bain Capital disappeared on the 2012 campaign trail: After crushing President Obama in their first debate, he played patty-cake with him in the subsequent debates instead of bringing the roundhouse TKO — despite plenty of openings given by Obama and notwithstanding the biased interference of liberal moderator Candy Crowley (formerly of CNN) at the October 2012 debate at Hofstra University.
Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee, represents the past. Unfortunately, despite his many strong points, so does Mitt Romney. The past, and looking like the party of old rich white men, is everything the GOP must not be if it is to form a winning coalition. (It also doesn’t help that Romney is the only Republican handicapped from credibly criticizing Obamacare given his support for similar legislation in Massachusetts.)
If “I’m not Barack Obama” wasn’t enough to beat Barack Obama in 2012 when the president was extremely vulnerable, would it be enough to beat Hillary? I don’t know the answer…and I don’t want to take the chance that it’s the same resounding “no” the nation continues to suffer for.
The last, or at least best, word on a potential Romney candidacy belongs to Matt Bai, who notes in a hilariously insightful article that in 2012 Romney “seemed to be borrowing the party rather than steering it, running to have the job [he has] always coveted rather than to do anything specific with it.” I, like Matt, struggle to see how that would change now. “I told you so” isn’t a much better argument than “I’m not him”…especially when Obama will no longer be on the ballot.
And then there’s Jeb Bush. The mainstream media keep rattling on about his great “name recognition.” Sure, we all know his family, but how many Americans actually know anything about Jeb. How many even know in which state he served as governor? His last name is a political negative for many (as much due to dynasty exhaustion as to the performance of others with that name.) Heck, his first name could be a negative too.
We’re told that Jeb Bush is raising money by the bushel, that his fund-raising prowess would unsettle even the well-connected and personally wealthy Mitt Romney. We’re told by the New York Times that there’s a path to a Bush nomination despite his support for the unwelcome and unconstitutional federal meddling in K-12 education known as Common Core, his statement that crossing the border illegally is “an act of love,” and his change of view on gay marriage from opposition to somewhere between tolerance and support. (For the record, I oppose Bush on the first, somewhat sympathize with his clumsy wording on the second, and agree with him on the third. I may be roughly in line with many Americans but I’m not typical of the conservative GOP base voter whom Bush needs to win the nomination.)
We’re told that Bush is the darling of the establishment and that his early announcement of a candidacy forced Mitt Romney to make a fast decision (while New Jersey Governor Chris Christie says he won’t be rushed). We’re told that Speaker of the House John Boehner is urging his friend Jeb to run — as if that’s supposed to make Republicans feel better.
But what Jeb Bush really did by announcing a probable candidacy so early was to subject us all to the annoyance of having to think about him — and Romney and Christie and Scott Walker and Rand Paul and a dozen other potential GOP presidential hopefuls when all we really wanted was a few months without having to think about elections and candidates.
It’s not that Jeb would be a terrible candidate; he’d probably be slightly better than Romney in terms of broad appeal and slightly less useful than Romney as a substitute for Ambien. I’d certainly vote for him over any Democrat, just as I held my nose and voted for Romney last time around (and would do so again if necessary.) But as someone who cares far more about the country and our fundamental principles than about the Republican Party, both men leave me uninspired.
I can’t say the same for Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, however, two members of the GOP’s depression-inducing recent past, both aiming for the evangelical base of the GOP: they inspire me greatly — to oppose them and their annoying and intrusive moralizing.
It seems fairly obvious that demographics require Republicans to appeal at least slightly to young voters, Hispanics (this being a strong suit of Jeb Bush), and African Americans.
And so Mike Huckabee’s new book, God, Guns, Grits and Gravy, takes aim — as everyone in the press seems keen to remind us — at pop star Beyoncé. (If that book title doesn’t show you everything that the public thinks the GOP represents — more for worse than for better — I don’t know what does.)
The former preacher-turned-governor describes the singer’s “obnoxious and toxic mental poison in the form of song lyrics” and thinks her dance moves are “best left for the privacy of the bedroom.” It wasn’t just that he slammed a woman with 13.8 million followers on Twitter — only 40 times the number of Huckabee’s followers — but he also criticized Barack and Michelle Obama for allowing their children to listen to (and meet) Beyoncé.
One of the only things that most Americans seem to approve of about the Obamas is their parenting. Nice job, Huck. If your goal is to get people to mention your book or talk about you on Twitter, even in an unflattering context, you’re succeeding. For every other purpose, with the possible exception of pandering to a small sliver of the GOP, you’re failing.
Huckabee has made plenty of public statements in the past about pop stars he believes behave with insufficient decorum. And he may well be right about that. But it is a small minority of Americans — not enough to win an election but perhaps enough to lose one — who think such conversation is appropriate in the context of a presidential campaign.
Rick Santorum is a similar scold, clad in appropriately annoying sweater vests. I had the opportunity to meet Santorum some years ago when he was still in the U.S. Senate. He and I ended up taking the elevator together and I said to him, “It seems to me the GOP spends a lot of time telling people how to live their lives.” Santorum responded to me, “If we don’t, who will?”
Ummm, how about “parents,” Rick, or an even better answer, “none of your damn business”?
Does this country really want to elect an argyle-wearing Sister Stigmata?
The left is chuckling at Santorum’s attacks on other potential candidates, especially “inexperienced” senators such as Rand Paul (KY), Ted Cruz (TX), and Marco Rubio (FL), whom he calls “bomb-throwers” as if there is nary a syllable of incendiary rhetoric in Santorum’s political hymnal.
Rand Paul’s team pushed back: “Senator Santorum lost re-election in his home state by 18 points nearly a decade ago, and has spent the time since then trying to convince people to elect him to an even higher office than the one he was booted out of. We will pass on responding to his alleged wisdom.”
Can I get a “Hallelujah!”?
As for those three senators, each of whom has expressed interest in running for the presidency, only Rand Paul gets a fair amount of ink and air time and reasonably balanced treatment from the press. As for Cruz, they mention him when he says something even more confrontational than his usual fare. And when it comes to Rubio, it’s pretty much “Marco who?” though I expect that will soon change as Sen. Rubio makes explicit moves toward running for president.
There are many other potential candidates swirling around the Charybdis of the 2016 presidential election, including governors Scott Walker (WI), John Kasich (OH) and Rick Perry (TX) along with less likely candidates such as Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former New York Gov. George Pataki. And in certain quarters Dr. Ben Carson is a favorite.
We’ll leave opinions of these gentlemen for a more suitable time — meaning months from now when, one hopes, they have the good manners to announce any possible presidential aspirations rather than just after the holidays when we’re supposed to be happy and grateful.
But for today, as we watch the liberal media play up the candidacies of the itchy-trigger-finger old guard of Romney, Bush, Santorum, and Huckabee, I can’t help but wonder if the real game here is to make Republican voters put their faces in their hands, shake their heads, and ask themselves, “Why can’t we do better than this?”