Bad Fiction: GOP ’12
The prospect of Donald Trump moderating a debate is what finally made things click.
It occurred to me the other day as I was leaving a comment elsewhere: if someone had written a TV show and the plot followed the current Republican primary, I would have some serious problems with it. Namely, I would pan the show as unrealistic. A joke. Liberal Hollywood’s parody of what the Republican Party is. Herman Cain? Who the hell acts like that. There is no way that a party would seriously give a serial-adulturing, ideologically muddled, lobbying-compromised former House Leader a shot at the nomination. Hollywood couldn’t devise a more repugnant figure as the potential head of a party that they want noting to do with. The comparisons between Rick Perry and Rob Ritchie have, of course, frequently been made. But in some sense, Ritchie would seem downright normal compared to a lot of the candidates. And though the connection hasn’t been made, I see some similarities between Mitt Romney and Bob Russell, the simply unpalatable (to many) candidate who doesn’t belong there but is there because he’s there and his biography doesn’t entirely discount his presence.
Of course, what would be missing from a TV plot is the “good guy” Republican. Which is to say, the Republican that demonstrates his commitment to morality and apple pie by spending his time criticizing other Republicans (as opposed to Matthew Santos, who demonstrates his commitment to morality and apple pie by being well to the left of Democratic Party candidates). Jon Huntsman comes close to this, but more recently has revealed himself to actually be pretty roundly conservative and the sense of “moderation” is more about temperament than policy. Also, whatever else might be said of him, he is not “leading man” material in the way that even Bob Dole was. Unless it was all a comedy. And, for that matter, maybe it is.
The degree to which the GOP seems to really be becoming as unhinged as the Democrats always said it was is actually somewhat hard to determine except out of hindsight (if Romney wins the nomination and runs a conventional campaign, this will all be forgotten and the equivalent of an adolescent phase and not any sort of genuine threat to the republic). Indeed, it’s that my entire adult life I have heard over and over again that the GOP is truly unhinged that makes me skeptical that it’s genuinely true, all evidence to the contrary, in a “boy who cried wolf” sort of way. I’m still in wait-and-see mode. If anybody but Romney (or Huntsman or maybe Johnson, haha) gets the nomination, at this point, they will have made their critics case for them. (I am thinking of the GOP as a “they”; this is not a promising sign).
It’s worth noting the various twists and turns that lead us here. Were it not for a Hike Down the Appalachian Trail, there is a good chance that Mark Sanford would already be the presumptive nominee. Or at least fighting it out with Romney over it in a fight he would ultimately win (or, alternately, a fight that would make Romney look better than he currently does on Mitt’s path to victory). This actually echoes 2008, where but for the word Macaca, George Allen would have been re-elected and would have been in a great position to win the Republican nomination. Or, if McCain would have pulled it out anyway, it would have put Allen in the catbird seat as the next in line for 2012. So Sanford or Allen could be the nominee, but aren’t. And instead we have Romney-Gingrich-Paul.
And, of course, there was Tim Pawlenty, who was my choice early on. Some people have said that he has to be kicking himself for having dropped out. Indeed, had he stuck around, his turn might have come eventually. I think he will be an object lesson in “sticking it out” for future campaigns. But most future campaigns will not be like this one. And, truth be told, Pawlenty’s time may never have come anyway. The carousel of anti-Romneys fit a particular mold (fundamentally unserious – bad liberal Hollywood fiction) and he simply doesn’t fit it. I would actually like to think he’d gotten his turn, if only because he isn’t Trump-Cain-Gingrich and it would make being a (nominal) member of the party a little easier to stomach. But we could be well on our way through the primaries before people start to get serious. Or it might never happen.
The press always salivates over the prospect of an open convention. Which, of course, is more unrealistic fiction (as in The West Wing – also, like someone as disgraced as John Hoynes would ever get that kind of second… oh… yeah…. Gingrich). But it would be a fitting end to the most bizarre political theater I have ever seen. And who knows, maybe we could find an Eric Baker (such as Pawlenty, for that matter). By that point, little more than a lamb to the slaughter, but absent an end to the madness coming up, a less offensive or problematic lamb than some.
Eight hundred words later, and I’m still not sure of the answer to the fundamental question of how we found ourselves in the twisted plot of a writer that doesn’t know the first thing about how politics actually works.