For those who want a quick and easy re-election for Barack Obama, the ideal outcome of the Republican primary race is to see the president’s supposedly most formidable rival, Mitt Romney, suffer a slow and painful (and scandalized and mortifying) defeat at the pudgy hands of the GOP’s “pneumatically overstuffed” chief narcissist, Newt Gingrich.
And don’t act like you haven’t pictured it: Newt on stage at the GOP convention in Tampa Bay, swiveling his tractor-tire hips as only a fat man can as “Dancing Queen” blares over the loud speaker; his wife, Jackie Battley Marianne Ginther Callista Gingrich standing next to him, the skin on her face stretched back and tucked neatly under her bullet-proof platinum blonde helmet, eyes aglow like polished silver dollars placed over the shrunken sockets of a corpse bride, bleached teeth clenched around an invisible key to her husband’s glitchy chastity belt loving heart in a smile that only the editors of Cosmetic Surgery Magazine could say with a straight face was “natural.”
Hanging behind the podium, a red, white, and blue banner spells out the core of this estranged congressman’s presidential platform—“Big Ideas, Child Slavery, No Blacks”—as Gingrich humbly accepts the Republican Party’s 2012 presidential nomination, his supporters cheering like drunk pedophiles at a “Little Miss Sunshine” pageant.
Is it that impossible a scenario?
If you look at each candidate’s pros and cons, it’s more than possible.
The focus of the 2012 general election will be the economy. And as President Obama made clear in his State of the Union Address, “the economy” is as much about cutting federal spending and reining in the deficit as it is about equal opportunity for all Americans, equal sacrifices for all income earners, and curbing financial sector abuses.
“We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well, while a growing number of Americans barely get by,” Obama said during the speech, “or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.”
“I intend to fight obstruction with action,” he said. “And I will oppose any effort to return to the very same policies that brought on this economic crisis in the first place.”
As citizens across the country march in the streets protesting Wall Street largesse and the excessive and imbalanced influence corporations have on the political process, Romney’s view is that “corporations are people”—just significantly wealthier, more powerful people.
As the gap between the rich and the poor widens, Romney is raking in $57,000 a day—and socking it away in Swiss and Cayman Island bank accounts.
As the public grows increasingly indignant about CEO salaries and bank bailouts, Romney takes pride in being the first Republican presidential frontrunner who made his millions in the financial sector.
And as a growing majority of Americans support increasing taxes on millionaires, Romney’s plan is to further cut taxes on millionaires.
In a year when economics will win the day, being the millionaire who wants to cut taxes for millionaires is not likely to play well with voters of any party. Being the millionaire whose approval rating is only 2 percentage points above a challenger who was once considered one of the most loathed politicians in recent history is not encouraging. And being a “milquetoast” candidate whom even rightwing pundits compare to “dead battery” is not the type of press a frontrunner wants to see as he heads into a one-on-one matchup for the nomination.
In “The Political Brain” (2007), Drew Westen states that candidates “can’t afford high negatives, but they won’t usually win with low positives, either.”
Romney has several high negatives: he lives not merely among the 1 percent but the 0.006 percent; he was a private equity investor, the epitome of “vulture capitalism”; he’s wooden, robotic, awkward—not exactly the guy you’d invite over for a beer; and he’s inconsistent on hot-button issues.
On the other hand, the former Massachusetts governor has few positives, none of which have inspired much passionate support for the candidate, and each of which comes with a humbling caveat.
1.) Having worked in the private sector, Romney “knows how to create jobs”—a claim that he’s made the centerpiece of his campaign. His record of saving financially troubled businesses, however, is offset by the layoffs he oversaw during his years at Bain Capitol, a firm that loaded up companies with so much debt that many of them were forced to fire workers and file for bankruptcy, even as Bain’s CEO, Romney, pocketed millions.
2.) Romney is the archetypal “family man”—married 40-some-odd years, the proud father of five, a church leader, dog owner, et cetera, et cetera—and yet his religion remains an influential inhibitor among many conservatives, 65 percent of whom say Mormonism is “very different” from their own faith, and nearly half of whom either don’t know or don’t believe Mormonism is a Christian faith.
Having been a public figure, and an asshole, for the better part of three decades, Gingrich has more than a few skeletons in his closet. He has mass graves of flesh-covered carcasses, a point that’s reflected in his Bush-level approval ratings. But also like Dubya, Gingrich has written an escape clause into his unflattering past as a two-time philanderer, ethically-challenged House Speaker, health care mandate supporter, Freddie Mac lobbyist consultant, eloquent racist historian of “ghetto” linguistics, and unrepentant critic of those living in poverty.
Gingrich’s redemption: He’s born-again.
If a dumb, drunk, illiterate, silver-spoon-fed coke head who failed at every academic and business venture he took on can convince the American people that a new-found faith in God erases past mistakes and qualifies one for the presidency, then why not Gingrich?
He has flaws—his biggest one being that he gets caught in the act more than most Republicans.
But, obviously, so does Romney.
It’s a Catch-22. You nominate the guy who is sure to isolate Independent voters because he’s an asshole, or you nominate the guy who is sure to isolate Independent voters because he’s out of touch with the financial struggles of the average American family.
This conflict is reflected in the rollercoaster ride of the Florida polls. One week Romney’s up 24 percent, the next Gingrich is up 30. Now it appears Romney is crawling back into a narrow, and statistically insignificant, lead in Florida. In short, it’s anybody’s game.
The Republican Party’s general distaste for Romney and its general fear of Gingrich’s brand of fire and brimstone politics has some prominent conservatives not so-quietly preparing for the possibility of a brokered convention come August.
Erick Erickson writes that Gingrich’s rise has as much to do with his debate performances as it does with party leaders having “tried to foist onto the base a milquetoast moderate from Massachusetts (who is) as energizing to conservatives as a dead battery.”
William Kristol recently wrote that a brokered convention “could happen,” and that if it did it “could be a good thing,” as “most sentient Republicans, and most conscientious conservatives, suspect we can do better than the current field.”
MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough went so far as to make it sound like a brokered convention was preferred, reporting that after “talking quietly to the most powerful, I think, conservative movers-and-shakers in Washington over the past couple weeks…Every single one I’ve spoken to is trying to figure out a way to get to a brokered convention.”
For me, and about half of the voting population, it doesn’t really matter who wins the Florida primary or the GOP nomination. Our minds are made up.
The fact that prominent conservative thinkers, writers and TV personalities are already anticipating a brokered convention says something about the Republican Party’s long-term political strategy: mainly, that it has none, as evidenced by the fact that it has placed the fate of the presidency in the hands of an insufficiently conservative “milquetoast moderate” and a man who’s just as “destructive,” “despicable” and “vicious” as the media he accuses of being.
Despite a vast, and vastly diverse, field of Republican candidates, the GOP has failed to elevate anyone who even remotely represents a prototypical leader capable of energizing the base, rallying support, and convincing non-Republicans that their guy has a shot at beating Obama.
And maybe there’s a reason for that. Maybe Obama isn’t beatable.