The more I ponder the chimerical presidential campaign of Mitt Romney, the more I’ve become convinced it was all a practical joke played on gullible suckers by the GOP’s krack kadre of kampaign konsultants, a phantom “run” designed to hoover as much money out of the fat cats’ wallets as possible and deliver almost nothing in return aside from a few swing-state ad buys. How else to explain the nomination of a man long out of office, with a proven record of failure at the ballot box, who stood far from the intellectual center of contemporary conservatism or even establishment Republicanism? Who crushed his flawed and sometimes bizarre Republican competition for the nomination with money and scorched-earth tactics, but then mysteriously refused to engage with President Obama on all but the most timid, anodyne level? And who, having lost, promptly vanished from the discussion?
Writing yesterday in the Wall Street Journal, Dan Henninger notes the GOP’s tongue-tied inability to articulate a coherent philosophy and then wonders:
Where is the Big Picture? Why is it not possible for John Boehner or anyone else in this party to articulate for the dumbstruck public watching these dreadful cliff negotiations what the Republican Party stands for? Who speaks for the GOP?
No end of people keep saying of the Republicans that “they” should do this or “they” should do ted hat. Who’s “they”? It is no one. With the Republicans, there’s no “they” there…
… in the absence of a compelling conservative voice, the party is defaulting to a chaos of voices. They are letting their despondent supporters in the country sink deeper than they were the night of the election. They’re going to leave a deep philosophical hole for every candidate in 2014 and any conceivable presidential candidate in 2016.
The GOP needs a person of stature and credibility to provide the public with a clear sense of the Republican purpose, no matter the negotiation’s outcome. If people start talking about that person and the presidency, so be it. A cliff is no place to look shy, timid or lost.
Which brings us back to Romney. Had the nominee been a man of some standing within the party, we could reasonably expect him to stay in the public eye: Bill Clinton’s been out of office for twelve years and we still can’t get rid of him. Nor Al Gore and Jimmy Carter, for that matter. GOP presidents 41 and 43 headed back to the bushes upon the expiration of their terms, but John McCain, thanks to a safe Senate seat, continues to speak out on matters of national policy, as Susan Rice knows so well.
Instead, Romney waved good-bye after he lost — which we were assured by Dick Morris and Karl Rove wouldn’t happen — and went home to La Jolla (a ritzy San Diego northern suburb, where the weather is perfect and the beach is right outside the door). Why? Surely the former Bain Capital turnaround artist has something interesting and worthwhile to say about the “fiscal cliff” and the dire economic straits in which the nation currently finds itself. Or is it that, having lost a Senate race to Ted Kennedy in 1994, the 2008 nomination to McCain, and the 2012 race to Obama, his opinion is no longer considered worth much? Or perhaps it’s that the “severe conservative” of 2012 only became a Republican in 1993, and his philosophical bona fides were always suspect to a great many on the right.
Fortune favors the bold, as the saying goes. The Romney fiasco should be the death knell of the Washington Generals approach to competing against the Democrats, and the whole lot of the Old Guard — starting with weepy John Boehner — should be tossed out and replaced with those who can distinguish between strategy and tactics and who understand that the only acceptable strategic outcome should be total victory over the modern Left and its alien, imported ideology. After all — that’s certainly the other side’s goal.
Of course, that depends on whether you see the current conflict as simply politics-as-usual, in which both sides share the same basic values and aspirations, and differ only in methods (the Boehner approach); or as a struggle between individualism and collectivism, which has been going on in Europe since Rousseau and his evil love child, Karl Marx, but is still relatively new to these shores. But extending the olive branch toward an opponent who’s not prepared to extend to you the slightest shred of moral or political legitimacy is suicidal. Unless, of course, you think it’s all a big game, a racket in which both sides have pretended to fight in order to divvy up the near-boundless swag of the federal treasury and keep the suckers back home happy come election time with a little kabuki and pantomime.
Accordingly, over the past two decades, the establishment Republicans — who knew the Rockefeller wing had such tenacity? — have nominated a string of reach-across-the-aisle types, and where has that gotten them? In the aftermath of 9/11, the author of the No Child Left Behind act was pilloried as a warmongering beast, McCain was savaged by his former “buddies” in the media as the walking dead, and Romney stood by mildly as he was accused by the Democrats of murder and Obama cried for revenge.
You can’t win a fight unless you’re prepared to credit your enemy with the will and the capacity to achieve his stated objectives, and as long as the Republicans continue to treat the Democrats as just a slightly more extreme version of themselves, they’ll continue to lose. On November 6, conservatives received a valuable object lesson in living inside their own bubble, slurping up what Fox News told them and believing that the ghost of Ronald Reagan’s 1980 electorate would once again show up at the polls, like the phantom army in Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings. Meanwhile, in the 40 years since they seized control of the Democratic party, leftist radicals have honed their divisive message and perfected their blunt-force tactics — all in the service of a strategy, as the actions of President Obama make abundantly clear.
The reason no one speaks for the GOP is that there’s nothing to speak for — no principles other than accommodation, and thus no message. And until it gets one, something at once fundamentally American and electrifyingly appealing, it’s not going to find its voice.