Electability and the Republican Field
If all the poorly articulated political and economic philosophy and the multiple contradictory and confusing major issue stands of George Herbert Walker Bush, Bob Dole, and John McCain were tossed into a blender, and the device were turned on high for a minute, the result would be a smoothie whose taste would be indistinguishable from the murky concoction that's been served up by Mitt Romney for the last five years: saccharine, bland, and utterly forgettable five minutes after it's choked down.
Is it so late in the 2012 nominating process that anyone can say with even quasi-certainty that this pasty, unidentifiable mush, served up by the Republican field's sole polished moderate manikin, is the only beverage Republicans can sell in 2012?
The anxious GOP Establishment, which has detested every conservative would-be Republican presidential nominee -- Ronald Reagan not excluded -- since 1952, is desperately trying to sell this argument right now. On September 28, David Frum, who seems to have morphed from a conservative into a water-carrier for the Country Club set, wrote a spectacularly conclusory, banal, and unpersuasive piece arguing the Republican Establishment's default position, and even AT's Mercer Tyson joined in on October 1.
Don't believe any of it.
If for no other reason, don't believe it because the same electability narrative -- less blatantly but with equal vigor -- is being peddled by the MSM, which has been carpet-bombing Rick Perry from 30,000 feet for some three weeks now. Does any reader of this site believe that the MSM is trying to help the Republican Party avoid an electability mistake in choosing its nominee?
Or...is it not rather just slightly more likely that the MSM would try to kill off whom they fear? Has a negative word been uttered by the MSM in recent weeks about Mitt Romney? Think long and hard about what that benevolent silence might mean.
In short, this early in the game, be wary of Republicans bearing electability arguments...that just happen to be perfectly congruent with the position of the MSM, and that boil down to the timeless, predictable, dreary advice of both: nominate the substantively elusive, terminally boring moderate.
Since 1972, by my reckoning, the moderate-conservative scorecard for Republican presidential candidates looks like this:
1976: Gerald Ford (moderate): Lost.
1980: Ronald Reagan (conservative): Won.
1984: Ronald Reagan (conservative): Won.
1988: George H. W. Bush (conservative, by the good fortune of association with Ronald Reagan): Won.
1992: George H. W. Bush (moderate, by the misfortune of having been himself for four years): Lost.
1996: Bob Dole (moderate): Lost.
2000: George W. Bush (conservative -- I'm talking perception): Won.
2004: George W. Bush (conservative -- see above comment): Won.
2008: John McCain (moderate): Lost.
Am I hallucinating, or is a pattern discernible?
Since 1972, I make it 5-0 for conservatives (and those perceived to be), and 0-4 for the moderates. Some might think this recent history unsurprising in a country 40+ percent of whose electorate since 1968 has consistently self-described as conservative, compared with 20+ percent that has similarly self-described as liberal. Maybe they're right -- when deep analysis performed by those trying to hack their way to a favored conclusion fails...trust the obvious. "Conservative" simply doesn't look like a scary label for a presidential candidate in this country, whether one relies on logic or historical experience.
Yes, I know -- the alleged outcome-producing circumstances of each of these elections could produce endless debate, but the overwhelming correlation between perceived philosophy and electoral outcome can't be dismissed as the exclusive product of unique historical circumstances. In recent decades Americans have repeatedly elected conservative Republican presidents with clear messages, and, almost equally dependably, rejected moderate Republican presidential candidates with mushy messages. Whether the pattern will extend itself in 2012 no sensible person would try now to predict, but it's transparent nonsense to say at this point that this deeply established pattern will be shattered in a year when there's every reason to believe that the electorate is especially well-disposed to a limited government message.
The candidates need to be subjected to much more public exposure and electoral process torture before Republicans and conservatives should come to any decision about who their "most electable" 2012 standard-bearer is, or whether that person should be their nominee.
And while I'm at it, may I suggest that Republicans (particularly establishment types) and conservatives could profit our cause greatly by ceasing to whine about the supposedly weak and unsatisfying Republican field? That too is a risible MSM storyline, which our side should be smart enough to laugh out of the room. When did the MSM ever say anything different about a Republican field -- a political identity that to them is by definition shallow and unintelligent?
The field as now constituted includes the following:
- a silky-smooth moderate who succeeded, à la Scott Brown, in getting elected governor of Massachusetts and has been running for the presidency since biblical times, all the while creating absolutely no impression of what his philosophy of government is, what his stands on the major issues are, or what he really believes -- that's political skill that the most ardent Obamaphile could admire;
- an explicitly and credibly conservative long-term and, at least outwardly, highly successful governor of Texas, with a plethora of positive traits, including a compelling personal story, an obvious authenticity and ability to connect with people when given more than thirty seconds to answer a hostile and inane question, and, perhaps least important but still relevant, good looks;
- a seventy-something, long-serving congressman with established conservative libertarian credentials and a consistent and original critique of the American economy;
- a well-spoken conservative congresswoman closely connected to the Tea Party and America's social conservatives, which, whether the MSM likes it or not, collectively are still among the most vital forces in American politics;
- a truly eloquent, compelling, and highly successful black American business executive, who did more work and made more tough decisions in a month of his working life than our current president did from birth to assumption of office, and a man with great personal presence (who actually majored in math);
- a former United States senator from a large east-coast state with impeccable conservative credentials, who also has strong connections with the party's social conservative wing and is generally solid on domestic issues;
- and the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, who happens to be the intellectual and organizational author of one the greatest conservative political achievements in American history and, without question, has been and remains one of the best-informed and most articulate political figures on the Republican/conservative scene during the last two generations.
What's to dislike about this field? It contains more substance, relevant experience, intellect, articulateness, and policy good sense than could be found on a Titanic-sized vessel passengered and crewed exclusively by Ivy League Ph.D.s (a low bar, I concede).
The field is not perfect; each of its individuals is flawed in some way, and each already has disappointed in one way or other. In the blood sport of American presidential politics, this is news? I thought it was Republicans and conservatives who always sensibly reminded people not to make the perfect the enemy of the good, thereby ruining any chance for either.
It is not possible to name a presidential field during the last forty years, of either major party, that has had more substance, ability, and presidentially relevant accomplishment than the current crop of GOP candidates. Whether all, some, or only one of these individuals will prove to be electable remains to be determined. But all are highly qualified for the highest office, and, from the also-rans, half of a great cabinet could be assembled.
Republicans and conservatives need to observe the ongoing process long and closely, to disdain the self-interested narrative of the MSM about the imagined/hoped-for weakness of the field, and to avoid rushing to the disqualification button when the inevitable mistake is made, unfortunate phrase uttered, or disappointing position taken.
More particularly, over the next six months, conservatives and Republicans need to never forget: first, the Republican Establishment, from time out of mind, has delivered the message of moderate electability and conservative unelectability, and, nearly always, has been dead wrong -- like the left, it has an amazing capacity to be slapped in the face time and again by reality, and to remain sound asleep; and, second, the MSM is not trying to help us avoid mistakes when it decides, for example, that Rick Perry is terminally inarticulate or Herman Cain not to be taken seriously because he's never held elective office (a resume attribute he shares with Dwight Eisenhower), or clues us in on whatever next fatal flaw its collective unerring eye detects.
Above all, conservatives and Republicans need to judge their own candidates themselves, and to pay little or no heed to self-interested Republican spokesmen and their de facto allies among MSM experts, who are perpetually eager to tell us how and why the leading conservative has most recently failed.
It's a long road to the spring of 2012, the earliest date by which the candidates will have been sufficiently widely exposed to allow us to make our own informed judgments. This writer, and most readers of this site, I expect, devoutly hope that one of the conservatives will prove by then to be both possessed of authentic leadership that so many people in America seem finally to be seeking (see Peggy Noonan's surprisingly sensible article), and, at the same time, be eminently electable, as confirmed by the spring 2012 polls, which will be the first to have serious predictive value.
In the meantime, we need to stay positive about an excellent field while we keep our eyes and ears open and our powder dry.