In the final scene of Thelma & Louise, when Detective Hal Slocumb realizes that the two desperate demoiselles are about to drive off the edge of the Grand Canyon, he runs after them in a futile attempt to stop their senseless suicide. When I first watched that scene, twenty years ago, my primary emotion involved the tragic loss of that ’66 Thunderbird. Now I think I finally understand the impotent despair the film’s screenwriter, Callie Khouri, was attempting to convey when she sent Slocumb on his hopeless sprint. Witnessing the GOP contests in Iowa and New Hampshire has been much like watching Louise stomp on the accelerator of that beautiful car. It’s so easy to foresee the slow-motion descent into the electoral abyss and so seemingly impossible to prevent what should be an unnecessary tragedy.
Barack Obama should be facing, as he himself phrased it, “a one-term proposition.” His incompetence has reached depths that render the feckless Jimmy Carter positively Washingtonian by comparison, the sheer lawlessness of his administration evokes nostalgia for the merely corrupt Clinton years, and the state of the nation is worse by any objective measure than it was in on the day he took office. The GOP should be well positioned to send the President into retirement. Instead, the party’s nomination process has become a bloody battle in which the candidates are viciously attacking one another rather than Obama, denouncing core conservative principles rather than the failures of big-government, and seems to be on the verge of producing a “winner” who has no prayer of defeating the incumbent.
As to attacking one another, the violations of the Eleventh Commandment that have occurred during the Republican nomination race must have Ronald Reagan spinning in his grave like the crankshaft of that ill-fated Thunderbird. They began in earnest when Rick Perry entered the race. At the time of his announcement, Perry was in many ways the most viable candidate. As Governor of Texas, he had a spectacular record on job creation. On health reform, he wasn’t burdened by an albatross like Romneycare and he had access to the big money required to run a serious presidential campaign. However, by the time Karl Rove, Peggy Noonan, and other GOP establishment types finished savaging him, he was so rattled he could hardly remember his own name during his initial debate performances.
The worst violations of Reagan’s famous maxim, however, have been committed by Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich. The former largely ignored the latter until Gingrich enjoyed a sudden upsurge in his poll numbers in late November. By mid-December, however, pro-Romney Super PACs went into action. Hitting Gingrich as a money-grubbing Washington insider, they produced a series of ads emphasizing Newt’s highly lucrative ties to Freddie Mac, his unorthodox views on illegal immigration, and for the now-infamous television spot he made with Nancy Pelosi on climate change. Combined with media reports about Gingrich’s other heresies, including his long-standing support for the individual mandate, these ads succeeded in damaging the former Speaker’s support.
Now, in retaliation for these damaging attacks — which were by and large accurate — a pro-Gingrich Super PAC has produced an attack video that portrays Romney as a Wall Street parasite of the worst kind. Titled The King of Bain, it advises us that the former head of Bain Capital was not the sort of capitalist that genuine free market advocates admire. Romney was rather “a predatory corporate raider. His firm didn’t seek to create value. Instead, like a scavenger, Romney looked for businesses he could pick apart. Indeed, he represented the worst kind of predator, operating within the law but well outside the bounds of what real capitalists consider ethical.” It then describes a horror story of mass layoffs, jobs sent overseas, and middle-class working people losing their homes.
The King of Bain is far worse than a mere violation of the Eleventh Commandment. It is a shocking betrayal of the GOP’s professed commitment to free enterprise. Gingrich knows perfectly well how the Obama campaign will use this stuff. They will focus on words like “predator” and “raider.” They will also use the video to further undermine Romney’s already-shaky credibility on health care reform. One of the companies acquired by Bain Capital was Hospital Corporation of America (HCA), 40 percent of whose revenue is “derived from the two big government healthcare programs, Medicare and Medicaid.” The King of Bain, in other words, will be used by Axelrod, Plouffe & Co. as the blueprint for Obama’s campaign if the GOP is foolish enough to give Romney its presidential nomination.
Which bring us to the Republican Party’s most suicidal impulse — its apparent inclination to nominate the former Governor of Massachusetts for President. As former DNC Chair Donna Brazile admitted after a recent Republican debate, and Peter Ferrara reiterated on Wednesday, Romney is the weakest GOP candidate in terms of potential performance in the general election. He will not merely be subject to attacks based on opposition research so kindly provided by Newt Gingrich in The King of Bain, he won’t be able to press the President on unemployment without being reminded that Massachusetts ranked 47th in the entire country in jobs growth during his term as its Governor. Job growth during his single term as Governor of Massachusetts was less than one percent.
And he obviously can’t go after the President on Obamacare. Even if Romney hadn’t provided the prototype for Obamacare while governor of Massachusetts, his company’s acquisition of a for-profit hospital chain whose largest revenue stream comes from the pocket of the American taxpayer makes it impossible for him to attack the President’s big-government approach to health care. Romney can’t even point out that Obamacare’s insurance mandate is unconstitutional without being reminded that it is based on a virtually identical requirement that he signed into law in the Bay State. That the Massachusetts mandate was enacted at the state level, and is therefore constitutional, will be lost on all but a few voters. Thus, Romney can’t criticize ObamaCare’s most offensive feature without looking like a cheap flip-flopper.
Nonetheless, if the nomination process continues on its current path, it’s probable that Romney will be the GOP nominee for President. And, by the time rank-and-file Republican voters notice that their party is accelerating toward the edge of the cliff, it will be too late to do anything but watch helplessly as it hurtles into the void. And the worst President in U.S. history will have been elected to a second term.
David Catron is a health care finance professional who has spent more than twenty years working for and advising hospitals and medical practices. He blogs at Health Care BS.