My column today, sure to displease some, is how the GOP is going to stay in a ditch until the right personality comes along. An excerpt:
But here’s the thing. One of the most important, yet most frequently violated, laws of punditry is that your own priorities and preferences aren’t always relevant. I would love it if the GOP dedicated itself to cutting government by two-thirds, leaving only a minimal social safety net, a big honking military, and a few other bells and whistles for promoting the general welfare. My ideal ticket in 2008 would have been Cheney-Gramm. That’s right, Dick Cheney and Phil Gramm: two old white guys who would crush our enemies and liberate our economy while shouting, “You kids get off my lawn!” at the filthy hippies who would inevitably accumulate outside the White House like so much bathroom fungus.
But you know what? It’s not about what I want. Gone are the days when a great but uncharismatic president like Calvin Coolidge could get elected because he promised to do as little as possible. (“Perhaps,” he observed, “one of the most important accomplishments of my administration has been minding my own business.”) My ideal platform may be right. (If I didn’t think it was, it wouldn’t be my ideal platform, now would it?) But it is surely not popular.
And that, I fear, may be the key word: “popular.” In my darker moods, I suspect that American politics, at least at the presidential level, is ultimately just a popularity contest. In the television age, the more personally charming guy wins — or, at minimum, has a monumental advantage.
Okay, so what if we could build a candidate? You know, from scratch? As longtime readers should know, I loathe identity politics. But, again, my preferences are irrellevant for this exercise.
For starters, I think the ideal Republican candidate just might be Hispanic — and tough on immigration. The way our politics work, you need some kind of authenticity, some kind of membership, to go after sacred cows. Not just in the Nixon to China or Sista Souljah sense, but in the sense that only members of a “special group” can challenge the orthodoxies of the self-appointed (left-wing) leadership of that group. Blacks can challenge racial quotas in ways whites can’t. Women can attack feminism in ways men can’t. Jews can criticize Israel, Catholics can challenge the Church, gays can question gay marriage, and so on. Yes, they’ll still be attacked for their heresy. But the chief weapon — charges of bigotry — is severely blunted when “one of your own” leads the assault. I don’t like it, but it is what it is.
So, with that in mind, I think an Hispanic Ward Connerly could do wonders for the GOP. For starters, he could set the immigration debate right in a way that fixes much of the GOP’s so-called branding problem. He — or she, though my sense is it would need to be a he — could make it clear that legal immigration is good (though in need of reform) and that illegal immigration undermines not only continued legal immigration, but assimilation. More important, he could allow the GOP to reclaim at least some of the extremely good and noble narrative of immigration as a story of individualism, entrepreneurialism, and patriotic assimilation rather than group victimization. An Hispanic businessman could shake things up in all sorts of ways. He could send the signal that the GOP is still the party of opportunity and self-reliance. He would help with the deteriorating Catholic vote, with the Western states, and even some Eastern urban areas.
But most of all, an Hispanic candidate would help win back Republican moderates. Remember how important Colin Powell and the diversity pageant at the 2000 GOP convention were. It was never the intent to win over huge numbers of black voters. Rather, it was to send the message to soccer moms and the like that it wasn’t “racist” to vote for the GOP. An Hispanic candidate could have the same effect. The trick, however, is for the Hispanic to be a conservative who sells conservatism to Hispanics and others, not a Hispanic who tries to convince conservatives that La Raza is basically right and that Republicans need to get over their alleged racism.
Of course, it has to be the right kind of candidate and, you know, he has to exist.
Update: This reader has a suggestion for another way to go, and I like it:
• machine gun arm
• laser eye
• no capes