I had two competing imperatives in my column today, my burning desire to trash George Pataki and to make a serious point about the GOP primaries. I hope I struck the right balance. Here’s a bit about the serious point:
I suspect that the main reason many conservatives are so dismayed by the field is not that they find the current crop so unacceptable. It’s the sense that the contenders aren’t up to beating Obama, or, if they are now, that they wouldn’t be after a bruising primary battle.
But I think that’s wrong. In 2007, the idea that Barack Obama could beat Hillary Clinton, never mind be the next president, was laughable. The 2008 Democratic primary was the most bruising primary contest in years. And guess what? The Democrats emerged stronger from it. Not only did the fight make Obama a better candidate, his ultimate victory over Hillary actually became one of his biggest selling points. Whenever Obama was asked if he’d ever run anything of significance, he’d point to his presidential campaign. (What else could he point to?)
In fact, my worry is not that the GOP will have a bruising primary fight that almost goes to the convention; my worry is that it won’t have one. It would generate massive resentment on the right if we have the same old coronation ritual for the next Republican in line. But if everyone’s allowed to have their say and take their best shot, only to lose in the end, odds are the party will be in better shape.
Also, Obama wants an opponent as soon as possible. He’s never had to run on a record, and he’s desperate to make the election a choice between him and someone he can demonize. The longer it is before an opponent emerges, the more the election becomes a referendum on Obama.