If there’s one thing that can be said for the national GOP leadership, it wouldn’t be that it has fully considered the long-term ramifications of its current predicament. Consider the “presumed” nominee this election cycle, one Willard “Mitt” Romney. Formerly a liberal Republican when it suited him in Massachusetts, the wily politician is hoping that eight years in absentia from holding office and growing distrust of our current President will propel him to the highest office; all without having to stand tall on any conservative meat and potato issue.
The last time a Republican won with this strategy, it was a squeaker of an election. Eight years of Clinton fatigue made even some democrats weary (a mathematical necessity if any Republican can expect to win the Presidency)..
Consider that Dubya in 2000 at least threw a bone to anti-war liberals and conservatives by claiming he would institute a humble foreign policy and eschew the nation-building that had ended so tragically for our former allies in Serbia ( ironically the US sided with extremist Muslim groups tied to Osama bin Laden ) and our troops in Somalia. In fact, it was this particular stand that may have solidified conservative support for Bush and some moderate anti-war liberals.
To add a bit of intrigue into the mix, Ralph Nader decided to run on the Green Party ticket splitting some of the anti-war left away from Gore and Bush resulting in a nail-biting affair that left most astute watchers with a bad taste in their mouth. It was not pretty watching weeks of hanging chad on TV and ugly legal challenges to election results that left the real outcome in doubt.
Could the election of 2012 be a repeat of 2000?
More likely, if the GOP continues down its current path, it will be a repeat of 1996. Back then, the GOP nominated Bob Dole, a self-made man who had worked his way up in politics to be the Senate Majority Leader and who had shown considerable adeptness at working across the aisle. Unfortunately, it was this adeptness that caused conservatives and especially social conservatives no small discomfort.
Dole ran against William Jefferson Clinton, who had a great deal of baggage. The death of 83 men, women and children at Mt. Carmel and the subsequent farce of congressional hearings left many conservatives distrustful of both the Clinton administration and Republicans who seemed more intent on helping to gloss over the event than politically discrediting Bill Clinton and Janet Reno.
Then, in 1995, a lone nut blew up the Edward Murrah federal building in Oklahoma city and the nation had a new enemy to unite against: the militia nuts (according to the SPLCand the ADL) who clung to their guns and religion and blamed Clinton and Janet Reno for the debacle at Mt. Carmel and Ruby Ridge; - though Ruby Ridge had occurred 4 months prior to Clinton taking office..
By the time Dole received the nomination, the media had sufficiently neutered Clinton haters. So complete was conservative smushing, the Senator, who had made possible passage of the national assault weapons ban, had to ask “Where’s the outrage?”, a question which perfectly summed up the evaporation of his support and the ineffectiveness of his campaign to inspire voters. His eventual loss was embarrassing. It wasn’t even a close race. Dole failed to capitalize on any conservative issue. Not abortion, not self-defense, not spending and not the economy; which to the chagrin of Austrian-school economists and Bob Dole’s campaign, was being flooded with cheap Federal Reserve notes and “recovering” thanks to Alan Greenspan and printing presses.
Meanwhile, that same year (1996), a Doctor from Texas named Ron Paul was running for Congress lambasting the Clinton administration and Greenspan, promising never to vote for any gun bans and to audit the Federal Reserve, earning himself a name among conservatives around the country who still held to the belief that the constitution was important. He won his first term back since leaving Congress in 1982.
Fast forward to 2012.
The Parallels are almost eery. A sitting President who got into office by making promises of change (Clinton’s “Third Way” offered a complete change to the status quo) and vilification of the Republicans while effectively saddling the Republicans, so far, with the country’s economic woes (“It’s the economy stupid”).
The differences in circumstances between 2012 and 1996 offer hope that
Republicans could take the incumbent by surprise. This time, there is no economic recovery short of a miracle that can save Obama. As hard as “Helicopter Ben” has been pumping out new notes, the jig is up and the dollar has finally run out of gas as the world’s reserve currency.
But who is the GOP trying to hold up as its unifying candidate? Somebody who could speak substantively to Obama’s failures and bring in voters from the left as well as the right to defeat him? No. They are once again indicating that the establishment country-club Republicans prefer Mitt Romney, a fate worse than Bob Dole.
Romney fails to excite on any conservative issue. On Gun control? He is on record signing a gun-ban while Governor of Massachusetts and was a supporter of the assault weapons ban, the passage of which Bob Dole made possible. On Abortion? Romney really has no coherent position on abortion other than to claim he is pro-life while admitting he once was pro-choice. On the economy? For some fiscal conservatives, Romney scores here due to his business experience and success turning around the 2002 Olympics. However, he is also very vulnerable on issues the left embraces.
While heading up Bain Capital, Romney oversaw the breaking up of failed corporations and selling off of assets, things which liberals cry were job-destroying. However untrue the charge, it will be a rallying cry for the anti-capitalists on the left. Progressive Newt Gingrich’s hit pieces against Romney can be considered a terrific inauguration present.
To add insult to injury, Romney’s economic plan is a bane to fiscal conservatism though it does give neoconservative hawks reason to rejoice. The cutting portion of his budget consists of ridding the federal bureaucracies of “red tape” which kills businesses ( tantamount to spitting in the wind in terms of fiscal savings) and promises to double down on defense spending to the tune of a whopping 2.1 trillion in total expenditures over 10 years with not even a whiff as to how this will be paid. Perhaps Romney believes that the reduction in red tape will cause new businesses to spring up out of thin air (like our currency!) and raise tax revenues but the chance of this occurring is about as likely as his dog getting a good seat in the family car.
Note that this massive increase in defense spending virtually cuts off at the knees any chance that Romney might have in bringing over support from the anti-war left, a constituency that he ignores at his own peril. This group is ripe for the taking given the Peace-Prize candidate’s vulnerability on the issue but Romney is still tilting at “global jihad” and “defense” windmills to rationalize the increase and thus gives this voting bloc no acceptable alternative to Obama.
For some in the GOP, it is unfathomable that a President with such a low approval rating and weak economy could possibly win re-election and thus it is overlooking the weakness of the candidate it currently backs as its nominee (prior to the convention). It’s this hubris and misunderestimation of the opponent that could be its demise in the fall.
The weakness of Romney is an 800 lb. gorilla that nobody wants to talk about, especially not Obama’s campaign team. The Obama campaign is raising money hand over fist while pretending that this is to battle a formidable challenger. While Romney attempts to assault Obama on the least substantive issues, to try and flog his poll numbers down, the results of this strategy are less than impressive.
After some 8 weeks of being the “presumptive nominee” and no longer having any acknowledged Republican challenger, Romney cannot seem to fire up enough excitement to beat the most unpopular President in history. That does not speak well for the GOP establishment’s current choice. If there are people out there thinking that a vote for Gary Johnson or some other third-party candidate is a wasted vote, don’t worry about it. No vote will make any difference at this point if it isn’t cast for Obama because Romney hasn’t got a snowball’s chance in hell of beating Obama with the platform he’s standing on.
Yet, there is still hope among a certain group of supporters who have been recently ridiculed and maligned for maintaining it.
In fact, the GOP would do well to pay attention and to allow the convention to run its course in August with no dirty tricks and no animosity toward the thousands of new faces it will be greeting.
Unlike Mitt Romney, Ron Paul has positioned himself to be not just a spoiler but the new voice of the GOP for decades to come. Whether or not he is able to walk away with the convention’s nod, this will be the outcome. But the GOP would do well to consider what it gains by playing fair and allowing a national debate to take place on the convention floor between two competing platforms; Mitt Romney’s re-hashed, neoconservative-pandering big spending platform or Ron Paul’s small-government, fiscally and socially conservative peace platform.
Paul has an economic plan that satisfies fiscal conservatives in both parties and leaves no room for Obama to terrorize seniors. It slashes 1 Trillion dollars in the first year, fully funds Social Security without changes in benefits and balances the budget before the first term of his Presidency is over.
Now, the only bloc that will object to the military cuts are the neoconservatives and neoliberals but this debate is one that could be the demise of the Obama campaign. Unable to substantively defend Obamas pre-election campaign promises, the campaign will have to repeat rhetoric the McCain campaign used to justify continued war spending or to rehash old Bush speeches from 2004.
Unlike 2008, the roles would be reversed and Obama would not be able to position himself as anything other than a status-quo candidate. This hands over to the GOP virtually all of the anti-war left and right.
Before the GOP considers that the neoconservative bloc will carry them to victory, it should examine the Senatorial coup it scored in Kentucky, though not by its own actions. The National GOP backed the hawk and lost decisively to the Tea Party candidate who was able to build a coalition between anti-war Ron Paul supporters and the majority neoconservative-leaning base in that state, willing to compromise and relax its desire to keep around such liberty-eating legislation as the Patriot Act in return for some fiscal responsibility.
And that brings us to another Obama vulnerability that Romney has no chance of exploiting: civil liberties.
Romney can’t even exploit this within his own party. He has repeatedly suggested he would support the NDAA and even more draconian Patriot Act additions to “strengthen it” while civil libertarians in both parties are ready to ditch both in favor of sanity and liberty.
In fact, even die-hard neoconservatives are starting to abandon the ideas they once embraced. Charles Krauthammer has come over to the side of Ron and Rand Paul on the matter of drones. Whether this is due to a philosophical epiphany or self-preservation is not important. The important thing is that the danger of a President who is given unilateral authority to assassinate his own citizens and to spy on them from above can no longer be ignored even by the most hawkish of war apologists. Romney meanwhile hasn’t gotten the memo and still soldiers on carrying water for the current President while pretending to be different.
To make this long story longer, Romney cannot win in November by trying to flog Obama’s poll numbers utilizing a platform that has no substantive difference to Obama’s other than health care (that Romney helped to design and now says he’ll repeal). With the economy still lagging, the notion that a nation of unemployed will cut off the only personal safety net they’ve been given recently merely because they don’t like the current President is absurd.
The only chance that the GOP has in November is to play fair in August and let the debate between war and peace, bankruptcy and prosperity and security vs rights occur, allowing the delegates to decide the outcome. It also couldn’t hurt to give the only Republican candidate who has beaten Obama in a head to head national poll a real voice at the convention. Only then will it have the moral authority and the candidate with which to unite the country and heal its economy.
If it fails to do this, it can glumly look on as Obama celebrates in November.