In the early 1990s, frustration with boneheaded Republican moves led many conservatives to dub the GOP the “stupid party.” That did not mean traditional values and free-market adherents ever contemplated defection to the Democrats – who, in conservative jargon, were the “evil party” – but legions of right-of-center citizens were aggrieved at the tactical and strategic blunders that brought on eight years of Bill Clinton and squandered the legacy of Ronald Reagan.
Today, the Republican Party should be perched to ride an historic electoral tidal wave to power, reminiscent of their smashing victories in 1980, 1994 and 2010. Barack Obama’s first term in office has left voters with severe buyer’s remorse, as he doggedly pursued interventionist economic policies that drove his approval ratings to the nether regions. His foreign policy, presented to the nation in tones of highest idealism, has all too often seen his metaphorically “extended hand” greeted by the “clenched fist” of our adversaries. His flacks and spinmeisters ballyhoo even slight employment upticks as heralding economic boom times, while most Americans fear their financial future is a dystopian nightmare. Even his vacuous pledge to rid Washington of special-interest corruption was swiftly and unceremoniously cast aside. He opened the public purse to reward affluent campaign contributors, from Wall Street bankers to green energy firms like Solyndra.
This should be a perfect Republican year. President Obama’s approval ratings have hovered in the low 40s, while the vast majority of Americans believe the nation is “on the wrong track.” The polls show a generic Republican candidate beating President Obama handily, yet if one asks almost any national political prognosticator their prediction for the November election, it is hard to find more than a handful who would predict a win by any of the likely nominees. Why is that?
The last two times a sitting president was defeated for re-election in America, the challengers focused the nation on that incumbent’s deficiencies. When Reagan ran against Jimmy Carter, the key sound bite of the election was the question whether voters were better off than they were before Carter took power. The voters decided they weren’t, and Carter was returned to his Georgian peanut farm. When Clinton took on George Herbert Walker Bush, the focus was on the incumbent’s alienation from the average citizen and his tergiversation on taxes. Bush’s distracted and disconnected debate performances served to confirm voter’s concerns, and Clinton was sworn into office that next January.
Instead of focusing their communications on an historically unpopular president bent on leading his party to a 21st century Gotterdammerung, the Republican Party decided to stage a weekly reality television show – otherwise known as the presidential debates.
Week after week, on every conceivable network, a bizarre amalgamation of the Kardashians meets Survivor is played out before the American people. Where once there were two to three debates per season, now the Republicans seem like they’re having two to three debates a week. Last weekend, it was two debates within 10 hours! And, while it might have been posited that hearing the Republican candidates espouse their policy positions could only benefit the party’s electoral prospects, that’s not how it’s working out. Instead of the debates raising the stature of the Republican candidates, they are killing them off, as the intrepid Republican contenders are reduced to resemble some of the more odious waifs in “Lord of the Flies.”
I am not sure which strategic genius at Republican headquarters came up with the idea to parade the party’s potential nominees in front of America’s most acerbic liberal news anchors for a weekly waterboarding, but I have a feeling he’ll be getting the man of the year award from the Democratic Party when the dust settles. Each week, as the Republican candidates stand like eunuchs able to accomplish naught at the harem, the “moderator” unleashes a series of barbed invective thinly disguised as questions. A Fox News analysis of the last New Hampshire debate, hosted by NBC News “Meet the Press” host David Gregory, revealed that, of the 41 questions presented, 25 were decidedly left leaning, 13 were neutral, and only three were from the right. That’s a Republican debate?
Worse, the Colosseum-like atmosphere gleefully fostered by these hosts has caused the less successful Republican candidates to morph into liberal attack dogs, adopting the rhetoric and philosophy that undergirds the Obama administration assault on economic liberty. Millions of conservatives sat stunned this past weekend as they heard Newt Gingrich attack Romney’s business career with the class-envy vitriol emanating from Occupy Wall Street. One can understand Newt’s desire to win, but is a Gingrich presidency so vital to the conservative cause that it can be birthed with neo-Marxist flummery?
Like most citizens, I want to know the views and character of the people vying for the presidency, but the Republican reality show is just too much.
It is hard enough for a challenger to take on an incumbent president. The prestige and majesty of the Oval Office convey a gravitas that is hard to overcome. The inevitable flow of funds into the incumbent’s coffers makes it even more so. But when the Republican candidates are subjected weekly to the most base and vulgar assaults in a reality-show format geared to highlight and exaggerate any semblance of a human flaw, can they possibly compete with a president whose policies, personality and human foibles go virtually unmentioned?
The political doyens of the Democratic Party are probably pinching themselves in glee, as once again the stupid party has delivered to them the last thing they thought they would confront in 2012: a Republican nominee who has been hoisted by the Republican petard.