During the debt ceiling debate of July 2011, I wondered aloud if Republicans had already given up on taking the White House from Obama. At the time, the president’s reelection campaign had raised over double the amount of money as had his competition and the right was abuzz with doomsday reelection predictions. There didn’t seem to be a great Republican candidate in the mix, and I wondered if at a very high level, they had made the decision to let this one go. It was too conspiratorial, I knew, and probably demonstrably wrong, but it would have made sense. John Boehner was stuck with the enormous headache of trying to rein in the cartwheeling Tea Party members, who seemed very prepared to cause the United States to default. The GOP, primarily a representation of monied interest, had realized that the dress-up game of populism had gone on too long, that the natives had gotten too restless.
The Republican congressional caucus is nothing if not serried lockstep behind their leadership; order had to be restored. Furthermore, there could scarcely be a better time to correct the party than during this coming term, all of which will likely be spent struggling to return to full economic strength. Let Obama be the recession president. It was to be the reorientation of the party.
At least, that was a hypothetical. The fevered efforts of Karl Rove, Sheldon Adelson, the Koch brothers, and others proved a keen enthusiasm for the election of the blank that was eventually filled by Romney, the Republican version of the display picture inside a new picture frame. Now that he’s been re-relegated to the scrap heap, have the Republicans lost much long-term?
They had a chance to test Paul Ryan on the national stage, they didn’t waste any charismatic capital by trying an unseasoned candidate, and most importantly, some of the extremists that needed to go, went. And yet, half the country still hates Obama with a fiery passion. The base is trying to secede, for crying out loud! Things may not be looking up for Republicans at the moment, but they’re not looking down.
Talk about how the Republicans got whupped seems melodramatic in contrast. Romney didn’t win the presidency, but what chance did he ever really have? He was a default entry, an even emptier and more elite suit than Obama, a Massachusetts money man who had five sons to every one idea. If the comparison to Kerry is old now, it’s because it was first made at the outset of the campaign, when Romney clearly stood out as the safe choice among eight people onstage trying to be more hateful and incredulous than the rest.
It reminded everyone of the similarly weak primary field on the other side in 2004, when the biggest threat posed to Kerry was the previously unknown governor of Vermont. Both Kerry and Romney are wealthy political hacks to the core — they’re what TV presidents used to look like — and both ran on the same platform: I’m not the other guy. That argument rarely works. And Romney had a significantly tougher primary fight than Kerry. Talk freely flowed about him being the last-resort option, about him having no charisma and running as human troubleshooting software.
The odds were always stacked against him. At least now there’s another serial candidate flushed out of the system. They’ll have a much more vibrant field in 2016, ready to appeal to a much healthier country. Meanwhile, their power in Congress is about the same as it was and the same as predicted, with the notable change of having gotten rid of a few extremist candidates.
Don’t cry, Republicans. Reports of your death are greatly exaggerated. So quit whining, you look like Democrats.