The Obama administration doesn’t know whether to scream for joy at the thought of facing the human grenade, or to cling to its assurance that Romney is the candidate. The character-assassination squads, though their ranks are now so deep they are the largest such work party since the scores of people who crowded into the firing squad to execute the Ceausescus, couldn’t believe their good fortune. But despite a replication of the 25-battleship sustained bombardment of Okinawa, they haven’t brought Newt down. There is a sci-fi quality to him and there always was, and it is little wonder that thoughts of Frankenstein come to mind.
Newt could not have arisen earlier, because the Republicans were not desperate enough, and has endured despite the $1.6 million for history lessons from Freddie Mac, his incoherent fumbling on health care, and a retrospective national soap opera on his marital infidelities. The Republicans are clinging to the last device of deliverance from a Mitt-Obama vortex, and such a prayerful hope will not be vaporized by the mere crackle of sniper fire or choreographed triumphs over amnesia by aggrieved women that sent Herman Cain to the showers or the innovative blundering that will dispatch Rick Perry back to the Texas morning-jog/coyote shootouts.
If Mitt couldn’t set anything on fire to this point, the tinder isn’t there, and efforts, even by first-class commentators such as Holman Jenkins, to perceive Newt’s destiny as warming Mitt up for the main event don’t make it. At this point — 235 years on from the Declaration of Independence, with much of the U.S. economy, public education, health care, and justice system in shambles — history will not be mocked by a Mitt-Newt death struggle for the honor of helping to affront nature and reason by reelecting a failed administration. Hegel has come to the rescue of James Madison. Newt is not the nominee; he’s the negation of Mitt, and the nomination will be deferred to the timely decision of the none-of-the-above majority.
Either Newt, too weighed down by darts, buckshot, and self-detonated combustion, will start to fade before the caucuses and primaries are too advanced, and one more declared non-Mitt, possibly Jon Huntsman, will arise; or the absence of a contender with a commanding lead will prevail until it is so close to the convention, or even at the convention, that there will be a draft of one of the non-runners, probably Jeb Bush. There will not be endless balloting until the deadlock is broken by selection of a dark horse, as with Warren Harding in 1920, or John W. Davis by the Democrats in 1924. But the process that has produced a nominee easily for both parties at every convention since 1952 now looks likely not to work this year; there is no bandwagon, and there could be the first real draft since the Democrats chose Adlai Stevenson in 1952, and, on the Republican side, since Wendell Willkie in 1940.
The genius of the American system produces a serious leader when the country has to have one, and substitutes an improvised selection process when the normal procedures don’t work. If the country were happy with the administration, the Republicans could nominate an ill-favored candidate like Davis or Goldwater, or Alfred Landon (1936), George McGovern (1972), or Walter Mondale (1984). A large enough number of Americans is uneasy with four more years of Obama that the system has magically, intuitively, dragooned the amiably preposterous ex-speaker to produce a deadlock. Out of this astonishing showdown of able non-presidents, either a mid-primary inspiration or a convention-eve groundswell will identify the right candidate. The office is seeking the man, or woman, but so far without success; so the search will continue.
Hegel should be generally known for something more substantial than the truism (often mistakenly attributed to Goethe) that “no man is a hero to his valet,” especially as the generally unremembered next line was: “not because the man is not a hero, but because the valet is only a valet.” I’m sure there is an application of this to the current Republican race, but can’t immediately think of it.
— Conrad Black is the author of Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom, Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full, and, just released, A Matter of Principle. He can be reached at [email protected].