There still exists a possibility that, come Jan. 20, 2013, we could have a Republican Senate and House, and a Republican president.
But there is also a possibility that a Goldwater-Rockefeller-type family bloodletting could sunder the party and kick it all away.
America is bored with Barack Obama. The young and the minorities are still with him but exhibit none of the excitement or enthusiasm of 2008.
Moreover, we have been through three years of 23-25 million unemployed or underemployed. Our national debt is now larger than the national economy, approaching Italian proportions. The class warfare rhetoric is beginning to grate. A huge majority believes the nation is on the wrong course.
Who wants four more years of this?
Democratic hopes for 2012 hence hinge on that party’s ability to portray the Republican alternative as unacceptable if not intolerable. And the Republicans have begun to play into that script.
The GOP field of candidates suddenly seems headed to a finale that will call to mind the last scene of Hamlet, the dead and dying everywhere, but no Fortinbras to restore order in the house.
In the Sunday debate, Jon Huntsman accused Mitt Romney of virtually questioning his patriotism, when Mitt asked how he could serve as Obama’s man in Beijing and be a credible opponent of Obama.
“This nation is divided … because of attitudes like that,” said Huntsman.
Newt Gingrich, who promised in Iowa not to go negative, now calls Mitt a liar. A super-PAC supporting Newt is about to paint Mitt as a Bain Capital corporate predator, a Gordon Gecko whose modus operandi was to swoop down on troubled companies, loot them, fire workers, leave a skeleton crew and move on.
Newt’s bitterness is understandable.
A month ago, he was surging. He had opened up a lead in national polls, moved ahead in Iowa, South Carolina and Florida, and, with the backing of the Manchester Union-Leader, was closing in on Mitt in New Hampshire.
From his crisp debate performances, Newt had steadily risen from his disastrous debut, while one after another of his rivals – Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain – had taken the lead and lost it.
Newt had engineered a spectacular comeback, seemingly peaking at exactly the right moment, only weeks before the Iowa caucuses.
Came then the Iowa blitz, round-the-clock air strikes from a Romney super-PAC. Millions were dumped into attack ads portraying Newt as a Beltway bandit who had exploited his speaker’s ties to enrich himself, pocketing $1.6 million from Freddie Mac and millions more from Big Pharma to promote the Bush prescription drug benefit for seniors, the largest unfunded entitlement program of the century.
After weeks of unreturned fire, Newt’s poll numbers had been cut in half. He finished a distant fourth in Iowa. Having come back from the dead once in this primary season, it is hard to see how he resurrects himself a second time, given the depth of his fall, his seemingly uncontrollable anger and the little time he has left.
Five weeks ago, Newt looked like the GOP nominee. Now, his political career seems about over. Hence the desire for revenge. And with his friend Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson dumping $5 million into a super-PAC for Newt, his allies have the resources to exact retribution on Mitt for what Mitt’s friends did to Newt.
Nor is this the only bad blood.
In Iowa, Ron Paul’s ads charged Newt with “serial hypocrisy” for claiming to be a conservative but leaving Congress to make millions working the system. In New Hampshire, Paul escalated, calling Newt a “chicken hawk” who clamors for war on Iran but ducked service when he could have gone and fought during Vietnam.
Newt has said that, should Paul become the nominee, he, Newt, could neither endorse nor vote for him. Paul’s supporters would reciprocate, were Newt to become the nominee.
Paul’s ads also charge Rick Santorum with being a “corrupt” politician who exploited his 12 years of Senate service to make millions on K Street.
Santorum’s reply: “Ron Paul is disgusting.”
The Republican candidates have gone beyond challenging each other’s records and positions to impugning their character.
Sunday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Romney surrogate, directly questioned Huntsman’s “integrity,” implying he had plotted his presidential campaign against Obama while serving as Obama’s man in Beijing.
He had taken the king’s shilling and then sought to dethrone the king.
Such wounds take time to heal. Some never do, and some will not be closed before the Republican convention opens in Tampa, Fla.
Then there are the policy divides. Paul may well run second to Romney in delegates and demand that his ideas – shutting U.S. military bases overseas, downsizing the American empire, getting a declaration of war from Congress before any attack on Iran – be written into the platform.
How will a hawkish Republican majority finesse that one?
To bring this crowd together at Tampa, the GOP nominee may need the diplomatic skills of a Talleyrand or Metternich.