Within days of their officially entering the presidential fray, two Republican Oval Office aspirants may have torpedoed what little chance they might have had with disastrous answers on Sunday morning television.
Texas Congressman Ron Paul began his interview with Fox News Sunday‘s Chris Wallace by properly, if not entirely effectively, explaining that the “General Welfare” clause of the Constitution can’t mean what liberals want it to mean by pointing out that if the government had the power to do anything it deemed necessary, the rest of the Constitution, including the 9th and 10th Amendments would not have needed to be written. It was the sort of talk that endears the crusty congressman to Tea Party activists and others who are aware that those who wrote the Constitution had particular timeless principles in mind.
But the questioning soon turned to Ron Paul’s comments a couple of days earlier about the Navy SEAL raid to get Osama bin Laden being “unnecessary.” Chris Wallace pressed Paul on the latter’s apparent objection to the U.S. not telling Pakistani officials about the raid in advance:
WALLACE: Well, I know. But I’m asking you — do you think if we have told the Pakistanis, that they wouldn’t — they would have kept our secret?
PAUL: Well, go by history. Did they help us arrest about 15 other vicious criminals and deliver them — the people responsible for the bombing in 1993? They had helped capture them and bring them to us. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, they helped us capture him.
Paul added: “You know, why are we having trouble with the government? Why are we stirring up a civil war in Pakistan? It’s because we’ve been bombing them.”
It’s this sort of foreign policy lunacy which makes the Congressman unfit to be president — regardless of your view of, for example, whether there should be American troops in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Paul’s answer is both stupid and dangerous, and he will be beaten mercilessly with it in every debate. If there end up being five Republican candidates (including Paul) in the Iowa caucuses or South Carolina primary, Paul will probably come in sixth. It’s too bad, because his use of the Constitution as a touchstone for answers regarding domestic policy are refreshingly clear, consistent, and correct.
But between Paul’s criticism of our killing Osama bin Laden (the way we did, anyway) and his public support of the legalization of all drugs (which I agree with, but which I acknowledge is not — or not yet — good politics, at least in a GOP primary), Ron Paul is a political dead man walking when it comes to the race for the presidency.
Even worse — much worse — than Ron Paul’s now-expected foreign policy lunacy was former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich’s appearance on Meet the Press.
When asked by host David Gregory whether Republicans should move, as Paul Ryan’s proposed FY2012 budget does, to change Medicare into a program that gives “premium support,” Gingrich offered this answer: “I don’t think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering. I don’t think imposing radical change from the right or the left is a very good way for a free society to operate. I think we need a national conversation to get to a better Medicare system with more choices for seniors.”
MR. GREGORY: But not what Paul Ryan is suggesting, which is completely changing Medicare.
REP. GINGRICH: I, I think that, I think, I think that that is too big a jump. I think what you want to have is a system where people voluntarily migrate to better outcomes, better solutions, better options, not one where you suddenly impose upon the — I don’t want to — I’m against Obamacare, which is imposing radical change, and I would be against a conservative imposing radical change.
Excuse me, Newt? I thought you were supposed to be the conservative’s conservative, the big-ideas guy, the intellectual heft in the debate. And now you’re offering transparent triangulation because you’re scared that senior citizens won’t vote for you if you’re for “radical change”? (For more on what’s really “radical,” I recommend this piece in the Weekly Standard.)
Later on, when asked about the “individual mandate,” that is government imposing a requirement that people purchase health insurance as a condition of being a living citizen, Gingrich came out supporting a barely modified version of such a mandate:
REP. GINGRICH: …I believe all of us — and this is going to be a big debate — I believe all of us have a responsibility to help pay for health care. I think the idea that…
MR. GREGORY: You agree with Mitt Romney on this point.
REP. GINGRICH: Well, I agree that all of us have a responsibility to pay — help pay for health care. And, and I think that there are ways to do it that make most libertarians relatively happy. I’ve said consistently we ought to have some requirement that you either have health insurance or you post a bond…or in some way you indicate you’re going to be held accountable.
MR. GREGORY: But that is the individual mandate, is it not?
REP. GINGRICH: It’s a variation on it.
I muttered an expletive which I won’t repeat here when hearing Gingrich say he thinks he has an idea that could “make most libertarians relatively happy.” If he thinks that anything based on a premise that it is my responsibility to pay for a stranger’s health care — or a stranger’s responsibility to pay for mine — can be tinkered with enough to satisfy me or any other libertarian then, as Bugs Bunny would say, “he don’t know me very well, do he”?
I understand Gingrich’s point that he wants people to take some action that will prevent them from being parasites on others, but his answer is ridiculous. Anybody who could post a bond as Newt describes will be able to pay their own medical bills except, perhaps, in the extremely rare circumstance of an extremely expensive illness or injury. But even then, my educated guess is that uncompensated care due to medical treatment of people with good incomes is a vanishingly small part of our problem.
Gingrich went on to point out that many uninsured Americans make over $75,000 a year and suggested that the rest of society ends up paying for them. But there’s simply no evidence, nor any basis in common sense, to believe such a thing to be true. People who have money and don’t have insurance simply pay their bills. They don’t — they can’t — just walk away from them, and suggesting that those “self-insured” are free-riders on society makes absolutely no sense.
Gingrich has done himself in politically by accepting the individual mandate, a key aspect of Obamacare — an aspect that most Republicans and all libertarians believe to be unconstitutional and immoral. What’s worse is he’s given the left some relatively powerful political ammunition. I can already see the Obama spin machine gearing up ads quoting Gingrich with dramatic concluding voice-over: “Even the most conservative Speaker of the House in modern history agrees with the foundation of Obamacare.”
Gingrich should be embarrassed and ashamed of his answers on Sunday. Maybe he’s trying to be a nicer, happier, less polarizing Newt Gingrich, but American voters like authenticity perhaps above almost every other quality. (That’s one reason Barack Obama will lose in 2012 as long as the GOP doesn’t choose a triangulating pol like Gingrich.) Along those lines, why would Newt think he would win as a “moderate”? Again, because voters like authenticity, if they want the relatively moderate wing of conservative Republicans, they’ll take a real one like Tim Pawlenty or Mitch Daniels or Mitt Romney. Nobody believes Newt the moderate; it’s almost sickening to see him try to be one now that he’s reaching for the brass ring.
I never thought Gingrich had a chance to win the nomination or the election. After all, the women’s vote is critical in both, and this is a guy who was cheating on his wife while he was busy impeaching Bill Clinton about the Lewinsky affair. If you think the 7% greater preference for Democrats (or less preference for Republicans) by women compared to men was a problem, you should see what it would be if Gingrich were the candidate. But I, and I’m sure others, were willing to give him a pass on that to see if he could be a great campaigner, a strong ambassador for free-market principles, a fierce opponent of Obama and Obama-ism.
By transparently running to the middle and sabotaging the Ryan budget, by implicitly accepting the single most offensive piece of policy of the Obama presidency, Gingrich has mortally wounded his presidential aspirations; unfortunately, he’s done great damage to the GOP brand at the same time. But perhaps that’s no surprise from a man who did an ad sitting on a couch with Nancy Pelosi to warn us all about the dangers of man-made climate change.
It seems that the only guy whose words and thinking didn’t fail him this past weekend was Mike Huckabee who had the good sense to recognize how good his life is right now and the good discipline to not let the siren song of power lure him away from a life situation that most people can only dream of having.
Huckabee isn’t my cup of tea, but between him, Ron Paul, and Newt Gingrich, it’s easy to be reminded of the relative appeal of the man who doesn’t desperately want the job.