CHARLESTON, S.C. – You have to see it on the ground to believe what a mess Republicans have made of this election. It’s the worst way to run a primary campaign – unless your goal was to lose the election, in the first place.
The Republican Party started out with one big advantage: Despite getting off to a gangbuster start in 2009, just one year later President Obama looked like he’d run out of gas. His popularity plummeted. Democrats got shellacked in the mid-term elections. Obama’s legislative agenda never got off the ground. Even liberals – no, especially liberals – were disappointed with his failure to fight for or deliver on several key issues. Consensus among many political observers: Obama was a weak president whom Republicans could easily deny a second term.
Given such a golden opportunity, how did Republicans blow it? Let me count the ways. Six of them. First, they took too much for granted. They convinced themselves that Obama was so unpopular that all they needed to win was to stand as “the non-Obama.” After three years, they had nothing to offer. They never came up with any agenda of their own except voting “no.” That’s never enough to win, especially when you’re up against such a crafty opponent.
Second, they left most of their best players on the bench. Seriously, nobody can argue with a straight face that this year’s posse of nine candidates was the best the Republican Party had to offer. Chris Christie, Mitch Daniels, Jeb Bush, Haley Barbour. Any one of them would have provided Republicans a stronger horse to ride in 2012.
Instead, third, they fielded a bunch of clowns. Any self-respecting Republican must be embarrassed to call Donald Trump, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, or Ron Paul a candidate for president of the United States. The very fact that any member of the public or media would take them seriously shows how low politics has sunk in this country. And yet every one of them had a turn, however briefly, on top of the pile.
The worst of them, by far, is Newt Gingrich, who reinvents himself faster than Mitt Romney. And that’s no mean trick. Newt appeared in a national TV spot with Nancy Pelosi warning about global warming; now he doesn’t believe in it. He advocated an individual mandate for buying health insurance; now he opposes it. He warned that passage of President Clinton’s economic plan would cause a recession; now he takes credit for all the jobs created during the Clinton administration. He sucked all the money he could out of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac; now he wants to shut them down. He was a serial adulterer; now he campaigns as a Christian conservative.
No matter what happens in South Carolina, there is no way Newt Gingrich will be the party’s nominee. Republicans should have laughed him off the stage long ago.
Meanwhile, fourth, Republicans rejected and tossed overboard the strongest candidate of them all. Jon Huntsman looks presidential. He’s smart, articulate, and good on his feet. He has the best resume, as businessman, governor and ambassador. He was the one candidate who stood a good chance of beating President Obama and the one candidate Obama feared most. Unfortunately for him, but fortunately for Democrats, Huntsman had everything it takes to win – except the support of his own party, which Republicans will soon regret.
As a result of all of the above, their fifth mistake was to settle for Mitt Romney, who may be the strongest one left standing, but is still a very weak campaigner and the worst possible nominee for 2012. When the No. 1 issue is jobs, the last thing Republicans need on top of the ticket is a man who spent 15 years destroying jobs, who admits he only pays 15 percent in taxes and who considers the $375,000 he made last year in speaking fees “not very much” money. You could not be more out of touch with middle-class Americans.
As if that weren’t bad enough, Republicans couldn’t resist a sixth and final mistake: mercilessly beating up on Mitt Romney over his record at Bain Capital to the extent that he will be known, from now to November, as a “corporate raider,” “job destroyer” and “vulture capitalist.”
All in all, it’s a heck of a way to run a primary – and lose an election.