The Implosion of the Republican Candidates for President
Not long ago Michele Bachmann was riding high on her win in the Iowa straw polls. The straw poll, which actually hasn’t been a very good predictor of who wins the Iowa caucuses or the nomination, was for some reason seen as a watershed moment. Bachmann wins! Bachmann rises to the top of the field! Bachmann got less votes than she had paid for in tickets! Oh. Since then Bachmann’s fortunes have run down like an unsuspecting sucker at a curbside craps game. In fact, “since then” was immediate, as in when Rick Perry declared his candidacy the very same day as the Iowa straw poll. And since then her campaign manager has dumped her (and trashed her), her campaign is racking up debt, and now her New Hampshire campaign team has resigned en masse (or not, depending on who you ask). Other campaign staffers haven’t been paid in at least a month. So the tea party backing of Bachmann is back to back-stabbing and backward glances as Bachmann struggles desperately to keep her head above water.
Then there is Rick Perry himself. He flashed onto the scene and immediately was elevated by the tea party crowd as their newest savior (claiming that he was their first choice all along, well, after all the others who said no). Then Perry did something he regretted. He showed up at a Republican debate. Big mistake. Perry’s performance was at best uneven. And it was all downhill from there. Half the time he seemed to barely there in ensuing debates. And when he did say something it usually made him sound like he didn’t have the foggiest what he was saying. Not the kind of performances that inspire the passion of the zealots on whom his candidacy must rely. And so he sank from the top to somewhere in that middle where former top people go before they disappear into the ooze with the rest of the bottom feeders. His most recent performance woke up the zealots, but showed that he could counter his lack of knowledge and debating adroitness with arrogance and pettiness. Good one.
The latest to implode is Herman Cain. What’s surprising is not that he is imploding but that the tea party had chosen him to inflate beyond all proportion in the first place. Cain made a name for himself early in the debates by declaring that he is an anti-Muslim bigot. Since then he has stolen a ridiculous catch-phrase (9-9-9) from a video game and even more ridiculously suggested that it was a serious attempt to fix the tax system. Which he would do by raising taxes on the working poor and the middle class while virtually eliminating taxes on the very wealthiest. That is exactly in line with what the tea party has pushed with nearly all of its hostage-taking tactics, so there is no surprise they love it. [It’s also in line with how he made Pizza Hut profitable – by closing half of its stores and laying off thousands of workers.] Clearly a serious contender for the Presidency can’t have such a complete lack of awareness of his own silliness, but there it is every day. And now he’s devolved into Palinesque incoherency where, as one conservative commentator and former Republican congressman put it, Cain is just making stuff up as he goes along. Cain isn’t very able.
Which leaves who? Mitt Romney, of course, who other than this last debate came off as being one of the few adults in the room (not counting the journalist moderators). In the “adult” category you can add Jon Huntsman, but he seems way too reasonable for the tea party (not to mention his comedic timing is really really bad). There is Newt Gingrich, who sort of sounds like an adult because he uses bigger words than the others, but also has a tendency to sound petulant. There is Rick Santorum…oh, never mind. There’s those two or three guys who are running that no one knows because they can’t garner enough support to even qualify for the debates (which is pretty sad given that Herman Cain is there and so is Jon Huntsman, who can’t seem to get much more than his immediate family to notice him). And let’s not forget Ron Paul, who has a loyal following amongst the more libertarian folks who think the American government is some communist plot to steal all of our freedoms.
So we have the tea party running the Republican show these days and latching onto every incompetent nutjob they can find to be – in succession, – “The One.” And each and every “The One” sprints to the front of the pack only to be run over by the pack as they flame out and drop into the mud of their own creation. Then there are the also-rans that run also, but nowhere fast. And then there are the serious candidates. Right now the closest thing to a serious candidate the Republican party can muster is “the next guy in line,” Mitt Romney. And the tea party (rightly) hates him. Romney epitomizes everything the tea party says they hate about government – the slick establishment politician, the “say anything to get elected” candidate, the “compromiser,” and OMG, he’s not the “right kind” of Christian.
So will the tea party prove themselves to be hypocrites and vote for Romney knowing that Romney would actually not do any of the things the tea party wants him to do? Or would they “stick to their principles” and make sure Romney doesn’t get the Republican nomination. After all, Romney is “one of them establishment” politicians and “not one of us.”