The Rise (and the Inevitable Repeated Fall) of the Conservative Savior™

Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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110 Responses

  1. Will Truman says:

    Was Gary Hart really supposed to be a factor in 1992? I thought 1988 was his shot.Report

    • Tod Kelly in reply to Will Truman says:

      I think there were a lot of eggs in the Hart basket. When he (and then Dukakis) cratered, it left something of a void. Go back and look at that ’91 field: Clinton, Brown, Tsongas, and some other I know I’m forgetting. They never really had anyone in their bag after Hart, so it was pretty easy pickings for a politician as skilled and charismatic as Clinton.Report

      • Rose Woodhouse in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        As I remember it, Clinton won because most of the bigger Dems (e.g., Mario Cuomo) had taken a pass, thinking that it was a shoo-in for G.H.W.B. Is that right?Report

        • That’s kind of my thinking, too. Cuomo passed because Bush looked daunting, Gore passed for personal reasons (and perhaps because Bush looked daunting) and that’s why the 1992 field was weak and a relative unknown got the nod. (Granted, I was 14 at the time, but that’s what I picked up on later as it was the most recent election during my coming-of-political-age.)

          Seems unlikely to me that even if he hadn’t bust in such spectacular a fashion, that Gary Hart would have been a two-time loser by 1992 and no longer the future of the party.

          It’s a minor point, but one that jumped out at me.Report

        • RTod in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

          @rose-woodhouse Very true! Good memory, I’d forgotten all about that.

          I remember at the beginning of primary season SNL did a sketch that was The Debate to See Who Will Lose to George Bush. All the non-running big names were there giving reasons not to write in their names.

          I can still remember Phil Hartman as Cuomo looking I got the camera and telling voters why they shouldn’t vote for him: “I have two words: Mob ties.”Report

    • greginak in reply to Will Truman says:

      Hart was popular with a lot of people and in Washington. He was highly regarded and had some bipartisan appeal. He would have been a good candidate most likely.Report

      • trumwill in reply to greginak says:

        Yeah, but in 1988. Or 1992 had he not run in 1988. But would the Dems have really looked to a two time loser in 1992?Report

        • greginak in reply to trumwill says:

          True. 88 was his chance. 92 was a weird election. Hart’s boat trip was what sank him. He wasn’t really going to get back into the first tier after failing out due to that. Which is retrospect makes the fact that Clinton won and his, ummm issues, ironic. Hart was probably sitting around his home cursing a blue streak.Report

        • LeeEsq in reply to trumwill says:

          We nominated Bryan thrice and lost with him thrice.Report

  2. Rose Woodhouse says:

    Interesting post, especially the contrast with Obama. This seems related to Marco Rubio’s answer to his thin resume. Which was basically the declaration that Hillary was more qualified than any of them to be president. And everyone just let this slide!Report

    • Morat20 in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

      I think it’s simpler: Reagan happened to be President during the collapse of the Dixiecrats and the end of a large, long-underway, political realignment.

      Reagan wasn’t magic. He was just President at the right point to ride that wave.

      The GOP does need a shift — they’re locked into a particularly nasty set of impulses between the business conservatives, the social conservatives, and the nativists — it’s really hard to bridge. Dubya was actually fairly close, in the sense that he managed to get the social and business conservatives to both trust him. Neither Bush Sr, nor McCain, nor Romney managed that. He even made inroads to Hispanics and other minorities. Pity about how much he screwed that up once he won…

      So this all goes back to the same thing: The GOP base is getting whiter and older, and the country is moving on. Their hard-core base is starting to die off, and the younger voters — they just don’t have anything like the right numbers. But to tack towards the younger voters would anger their older voters — and they’d lose. Or they can court their older, whiter voters — and eke out victories in off-years when a lot of the country doesn’t bother to vote. But lose the big years.

      They’re hoping for a miracle. Jindal! Fiorina! Someone to help them escape the trap — attract younger voters without alienating the old, attract minorities without alienating their white voters. Get some leverage in the city without losing the country.

      Of course they’re hoping for a miracle. And what they’ve got is…I guess Rubio and Jeb. That’s…not gonna cut it, I don’t think. Half the party doesn’t trust one, and the other half doesn’t trust the other, and both have all the crossover appeal of a less-charismatic Mitt Romney.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to Morat20 says:

        a less-charismatic Mitt Romney.

        Errr, no. Whatever else one might say about Rubio, that’s not really a thing to be said. Rubio has his weaknesses, but charisma is not one of them.Report

        • Morat20 in reply to Will Truman says:

          To each his own. *shrug* I don’t find him terribly charming and I think he’s got more problems with his base. He’s violated a few GOP orthodoxies and had to atone, and in the process he’s collecting serious baggage.Report

          • Will Truman in reply to Morat20 says:

            You seem very intent on seeing a mad dash to the right and a replay of Romney’s actions in 2012. That’s not what I’m seeing. That’s aside from the charisma issue, which is the major non-weakness he has. You may not see it, but you aren’t the target audience. (Neither, for that matter, are those he alienated on immigration reform, because he is continuing to alienate them.)Report

            • Morat20 in reply to Will Truman says:

              I do to an extent, because I haven’t seen an iota of change from 2012 in the GOP — except doubling down. Because they won in 2014, didn’t they? They won by running True Conservatives. Just like they did in 2010.

              So why is 2012 gonna be different? You have an even larger cast of crazies. Even the serious people are on record with highly…problematic…viewpoints.

              What I don’t see is months of “Anyone but Rubio/Jeb” like it was with Romney. What I do see is months of red meat and trying to “out conservative” each other on every issue the GOP doesn’t want to make the general election about, until someone is left standing.

              So it’s not like 2012 in some ways. A lot like it in others. There’s no obvious candidate while the GOP keeps desperately searching for someone — anyone — else. It’s gonna be an ugly brawl involving a LOT of the issues the GOP likes to downplay in the general election.

              You think Rubio or Jeb wants to run against HRC on a platform of “Deport all the Mexicans” and “End every exception for abortion”? They’re not stupid. (They also don’t want to run on income inequality, women’s rights, contraceptive access).

              What I think is gonna happen is pretty simple: This entire primary is gonna revolve around issues that are critical to the GOP base, but ugly to everyone else. And when the winner marches out the door to face Hillary Clinton, he’s gonna be stuck defending that ground.

              Bush won on compassionate conservatism, on Hispanic outreach — see a lot of that out of the guys on stage? Outreach to women?


              Heck, check what got reactions from the crowd. If they want to win the primary, that’s ground they gotta cover. Because the guys voting in the primary don’t give a crap about ‘electability’. They’re tired of picking ‘electable’ candidates that lose. And heck, they’ve been told over and over by Fox news that they’re the real Americans and that America agrees with them.

              And 2010 and 2014 seem pretty solid proof they’re right, doesn’t it?Report

              • Will Truman in reply to Morat20 says:

                Perhaps it’s by standing closer to the party that I am better able to see movement than you from over there.

                If this were 2012, the candidates would be talking about gay marriage because who cares if it’s a lost cause. At least a few would be sending feelers out about vaccines. And almost everybody would be taking Deport Them All pledges or at least none of them would be talking about giving them legal status. The Confederate Flag would have had more allies.

                The environment seems quite different now than then. Enough to win next November? Probably not (I have HRC at 2-to-1 odds). And could all of the above change and go back to the 2012 dynamic? I fear it could. But hasn’t yet.Report

              • Morat20 in reply to Will Truman says:

                They wrote off gay marriage. They’re still trying to “repeal and replace” the ACA, but have nothing to replace it with. They’ve decided to handle the “War on Women” by going dispensing the careful “anti-abortion enough for the base, but not quite so anti-abortion as, you know, obviously kill women and/or make rape victims carry their rapists baby to term or anything”.

                They ARE talking about “deport them all”, still. They have not suddenly gone soft on immigration.

                Their fiscal plans are all still the same variations of tax cuts (flat tax! 10% tithe tax!) that boil down to “cut taxes on the rich” that has had less and less appeal to people, and deregulation. They’re still denying global warming.

                Half of them have continued with the “people are poor because they don’t work” approach to income inequality. The rest or more or less either pretending it doesn’t exist or that tax cuts for the rich will fix it.

                Yeah, maybe you see some big changes. But what’s the middle gonna see? They see Donald “Too many Mexicans” Trump getting loud applause for it. They see — Walker? Carson? I dunno — alterating between sending in the FBI or the IRS or both to shut down PP (apparently State’s Rights and/or Jackbooted Federal Thugs are only an issue when Democrats control the White House).

                Again: What have they changed in an attempt to broaden their appeal? Who, of the entire cast, is positioned to win over a single voter who picked Obama over Romney?Report

              • Montaigne in reply to Will Truman says:

                Dude, they’re talking about shutting down the Government unless Planned Parenthood is defunded. The crazy is still running strong, certainly as much as in 2012.Report

              • Will Truman in reply to Montaigne says:

                If you want to make a bet that it actually occurs, I will take the other side of it. Without hesitation.Report

        • Kim in reply to Will Truman says:

          Rubio is irrelevant, and lucky to not be in jail.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Morat20 says:

        Reagan wasn’t magic. He was just President

        when the Soviet Union was at the point of total economic collapse.

        You know, it’s better to be lucky than good, so we need to elect someone really lucky. Is Barbara Boxer running?Report

  3. CK MacLeod says:

    I think this depiction of Quayle’s initial reception is distorted. I don’t believe that anyone ever treated Quayle as a potential “savior”: From the initial announcement he was seen as too small for the big job. Here’s the first recollection I could dig up on a quick search: It compares him to Ryan, who was treated by some as a potential GOP savior, mostly by those in my opinion too easily impressed by his reputation for “wonkery.” He was supposed to what Newt was also once supposed to be, the whole package.Report

    • Will Truman in reply to CK MacLeod says:

      I kinda remember it this way, too, though I was ten when that happened. But to the extent that I absorbed it, Quayle was seen as kind of weak from the get-go and it went downhill from there.Report

    • Kolohe in reply to CK MacLeod says:

      I agree with CK and Will, my recollection (as a teenager) was that Quayle was picked as a sop to the base and maybe a new rising star, but had not established his bonafides as the Next Big Thing. He was not only no Jack Kennedy, he was no Jack Kemp.Report

    • I recall the same. Quayle was seen as a lightweight from the first, a rich kid that had no accomplishments of his own, and an empty suit whose wife had all the family brains.Report

    • Krogerfoot in reply to CK MacLeod says:

      CK MacLeod’s memories match my recollection of the initial conventional wisdom about Quayle. Reporters had barely heard of him, and seized on an aside in a CQ (?) bio or something that described him as “not overly cerebral,” which sadly for him was not overly inaccurate. I definitely don’t remember him being regarded as a GOP savior, and anyway the party went on to win its third consecutive presidential election with Quayle on the ticket.Report

  4. greginak says:

    Well i think you pretty much hit is with identity politics, not that the conservative folks here will like it being called that. I think the R’s have already decided all their beliefs and policies essentially; those things are set in stone with some minor variation mostly in what is emphasized. The saviors are the people that can sell the message well based on having the right bio. It is about being the right symbol and mouthpiece.Report

  5. Stillwater says:

    why do conservatives continue to do this to themselves, year after year, election after election? Is it a Media Machine thing? Is it related to their insistence that the person most qualified to run a large bureaucracy is someone who has zero track record of successfully running a large bureaucracy? Or is it, as I suspect might be the case, that it’s just the inevitable result of choosing to be a populist party?

    It think it may go a bit deeper than that, actually, back to what conservatism is really often claimed to be all about: putting the brakes on “progress” and “change”. When it’s all said and done, it’s very difficult, I think, to be a charismatic leader for a politics derived from reaction to normal cultural evolution. And as the conservative movement continues to flounder and flail against … whatever it’s flailing against (Cleek’s Law!) … the temptation to lament what’s being lost, even if only on a mythical level, becomes increasingly emotionally compelling.

    That said, Reagan arrived on the national political scene at a very unique time, one in which the excesses of Democratic policies had clearly passed a tipping point and returning the country to more basic conservative principles (at least rhetorically but also in policies as well) was the equivalent of progressive change. Ever since then, tho, conservatives have been more focused with rhetorical populist appeals without advancing anything like a coherent policy platform. Something which Reagan, whether you agreed with him or not, actually did. So I agree with you that contemporary conservatism manifests as populism, but only because constructing a coherent set of conservative policies in the complicated crazy post-Reagan world of ours is a very difficult thing to do. Especially when conservatism, in political practice, is effectively defined by Cleek’s Law.Report

  6. InMD says:

    My thesis is that the search for a hero (combined with a certain strain of know-nothingism) is the result of conservatism becoming more about culture and less about policy combined with the consolidation of a ‘conservative’ media. Fox News and Talk Radio create heroes designed to appeal to the demographic from which they profit. These figures end up overshadowing more normal politicians when it comes to election time until they’re inevitably exposed as, at best untested for a national stage.

    The Democratic coalition I think is far too fragmented to suffer from this particular pathology.Report

    • Murali in reply to InMD says:

      For a while, wasn’t Elizabeth Warren the democrat’s hero? I mean she’s gone a bit into the background now that Clinton has taken centre stage. But I’m pretty sure 6-7 years from now, she’ll pop back up in preparation for elections 2024 if Clinton wins or in 2-3 years time if Bush does.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Murali says:

        For a while, wasn’t Elizabeth Warren the democrat’s hero?

        Not “the” Democrat’s hero, but “a” hero. I don’t think Democrat’s have had a hero in a really long time, actually. Certainly not Mr. Clinton. Not even Obama, if you take my word for it. He wasn’t a hero, just a charismatic leader who spoke about issues that not only mattered to lots and lots of people, but did so without any (perceived) condescension.

        Edit: Oops. I somehow edited out the part about why Dems like Warren. She spoke about the role Big Finance played in the economic collapsosis of ought 7 in a way that people could not only relate to, but get on board with. No one else was doing that at the time.Report

        • zic in reply to Stillwater says:

          Below, I said, No matter the other stuff going on, Reagan and Clinton, each, had a great gift of taking incredibly complex things and explaining them in ways that made a path forward simple and obvious.

          Warren, given time, might get there, I think. But she’s doing just fine where she is right now; and I think if HRC wins, it might shut the door for Warren; I suspect it will be sometime before the nation’s ready to elect another woman.Report

          • Murali in reply to zic says:


            I see it as being the other way around. A successful Clinton presidency would put to rest a lot of subconscious sexism regarding the ability of women to be presidents. Just as knowing an out of the closet gay person often inclines people to be more supportive of gay marriage, having lived under a woman president is going to do lots to quell any lingering misgivings people may have about women in that position. I think that the Obama presidency has made people a lot more colour-blind in terms of their assessment of presidential candidates. I don’t see why the same wouldn’t apply to women. And I suppose that the first gay or trans president is going to make it easier for future presidential candidates who are gay and or trans.Report

            • Mike Schilling in reply to Murali says:

              Yes, the Obama presidency has convinced much of the country that there’s nothing wrong with a black presidential candidate, so long as he’s not a Kenyan Muslim racist socialist illegal immigrant.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                It’s the community organizer business that folks just can’t seem to let go of.Report

              • zic in reply to Stillwater says:

                Speaking of community organizers, this gave me some hope for a brighter future.

                Such a novel idea, too. It’s almost conservative.Report

              • Murali in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Stupid and crazy will always exist, but no one is worrying about angry black man in the white house right? Whether or not you like his domestic policies, it seems that Obama has pretty much done what you expect any competent democrat pol to do in office, and it will become obvious more or less two weeks after he steps down. Obama derangement syndrome is played primarily for the proles, who would probably vote for Trump anyway.Report

            • Zac in reply to Murali says:

              “And I suppose that the first gay or trans president is going to make it easier for future presidential candidates who are gay and or trans.”

              We already had the first gay president. It was James Buchanan.Report

              • Murali in reply to Zac says:

                I don’t think Gay became a distinct social category and identity until the 20th century. At the very least, Buchanan must have been in the closet. An openly gay president in the era of social media would be a very different thing.Report

              • Zac in reply to Murali says:

                Fair enough: we have not yet had our first openly gay president. Although Buchanan was really about as close to “out” as you could be at the time without…you know…getting murdered.Report

            • KatherineMW in reply to Murali says:

              I agree with you. For all my reservations about Hillary, a part of me wants her to win just so that we can be done with the continual and vastly outdated question of “Is America ready for a woman president?”. If Hillary wins, the answer will be “yes”, and we can all move on.

              After Hillary, no other woman will have to be the “first woman president” and plow through all the sexism associated with that.Report

              • zic in reply to KatherineMW says:

                I’m suggesting this after seeing Maggie Thatcher replaced by white men, first and foremost.

                But I think it’s like CEO of Fourtune500’s — there will be other women; it will be rare.Report

              • Will Truman in reply to zic says:

                @zic I suspect this is correct.Report

              • LeeEsq in reply to zic says:

                It’s statistically more likely for Maggie Thatcher to be followed by white men as Prime Minister because of the United Kingdom’s demographics. It is a much whiter place than the United States. Getting upset about a bunch of White Prime Ministers and politicians in a European country is about as useful as getting upset at the fact that every Japanese prime minister has been Japanese or that most if not all of the legislatures in South Korea have been ethnic Koreans.Report

              • zic in reply to LeeEsq says:

                Getting upset about


              • Kazzy in reply to LeeEsq says:


                That explains the white part. But what about the men part?Report

              • aarondavid in reply to Kazzy says:

                I would say that the level of hatred, pure visceral hatred, of Thatcher on the British left precluded any woman for a long time, in fear of being even remotely labeled Thatcheresque.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to aarondavid says:


                Oh, I certainly would not argue that seeing as how I know nothing about British politics. My point was simply that looking at demographics doesn’t get you very far in terms of gender gaps in leadership since most societies are pretty much 50/50 splits.Report

              • aarondavid in reply to Kazzy says:

                True @kazzy but you also have to have a bench. No bench, no team.Report

        • veronica d in reply to Stillwater says:

          Both Warren and Obama feel like heroes to me. Which, I like to think I have a nuanced view of this, along with reasonable expectations. But still, I literally cried in the voting booth when I voted for both of them.

          I don’t know why. It’s just — that’s what happened.Report

      • InMD in reply to Murali says:

        I didn’t mean that they don’t have their heroes (Obama had his own interesting cult of personality thing going in 2008) but I don’t think they have something like Fox News producing contenders for the presidency.Report

      • DavidTC in reply to Murali says:

        For a while, wasn’t Elizabeth Warren the democrat’s hero?

        If she was, that only proves that it doesn’t work for the Democrats the same way it works for Republicans.

        Warren didn’t flame out the second she opened her mouth, or get proven incompetent, or all the various things that happen to the right’s heroes. In fact, she was the one who backed off going further.

        In fact, it’s possible that she is, on the left, what the right-wing media machine keeps trying to *create* on the right, but keeps failing at.

        Of course, the actual problem on the right is that the intersection of ‘electable by the base’ and ‘electable by the general population’ is very very hard to find, and no amount of fluffing someone up is going to fix that. That needle might be thread-able, but I’d be amazed if the fricking right-wing media (Which lives entirely inside their own bubble) is able to spot the person who can do it.Report

  7. Kolohe says:


    • Murali in reply to Kolohe says:

      But I doubt HRC would stay for only one term. If she gets in, she’s going to stay for a second term. (Barring any unforeseen health issues)Report

      • Kolohe in reply to Murali says:

        There’s going to be a hiccup in the economy in the latter part of HRC’s first term, which, when combined with left wing infighting, will prevent her from getting a second term.Report

      • Gabriel Conroy in reply to Murali says:

        I obviously can’t predict the future, and you may be right. But my spidey-sense tells me that if a Dem wins in 2016, he/she will be a one-termer.Report

        • North in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

          To play the devils advocate if HRC gets in and the economy continues to recover barring a major recession the narrative becomes that the GOP wrecks everything then the Dems clean it up again. Also the GOP can presumably be expected to lose their fishing minds if they (as seems likely) nominate a Bush or a centrist and lose to HRC. Their next candidate might be a fire breathing right winger finally.Report

          • Will Truman in reply to North says:

            They say that every time. If it’s ever going to happen, this is the year as the establishment types have picked a truly dreadful candidate. And if that candidate wins the nomination anyway, no establishments friendly presidential aspirant has any reason at all to fear a right-wing insurgent candidate ever. Or at least for a very long time. Report

            • North in reply to Will Truman says:

              It seems to me that every time the establishment picks a candidate and that candidate loses the wingers get stronger and angrier. Look at McCain to Romney to now with Trump on his rampage. It seems to me like the GOP establishment is struggling to keep control of the coach far more than they needed to in the past (and in my opinion this is due to monsters and forces they themselves cynically invited and nurtured so from the outside it looks quite karmic).Report

              • Will Truman in reply to North says:

                Not stronger. More unhinged. So unhinged here they are biting off their limb.

                With Jeb soaking up the establishment money, they have a better chance of winning than they have had in a very, very long time. But you can’t win with your viscerals. They do things like make you think Donald Trump is a good idea (however fleetingly). And when you think Donald Trump is a good idea, you can only lose.

                Trump blip aside, they’re weaker than they were four years ago. Further, rather than closer, to seizing control of the House caucus. And further from being able to dictate the nominee, which they never succeeded in doing when they were stronger.Report

              • Kim in reply to Will Truman says:

                Jeb’s nobody’s pick, not even Mr. Establishment himself.Report

              • My strength is as the strength of ten: Because my brain is batshit.


  8. Burt Likko says:

    Jeez, @rtod . Was Walker really that bad? In one debate? He didn’t walk into a trap the way Quayle did or step on his d**k the way Hart did, or say something collossally dumb like William “Who am I? Why am I here?” Stockdale. He’s not caught in an existential trap of his own creation like the first President Bush or exposed as a hopeless lightweight like Sarah Palin or facing the inevitable consequence of poor strategic decisions like Rudy! Giuliani or, most on point, trying to recover from a Rick “Oops” Perry gaffe.

    He just failed to excite as one guy in ten who got asked a total of four questions while the spotlight was on someone else, is all.

    It’s a bit early to be giving a Dan Quayle Award to the Walker candidacy. His campaign may well flame out, but it’s An entire year before the GOP convention yet. Rather a long time.Report

    • Tod Kelly in reply to Burt Likko says:

      No, he wasn’t a disaster; not even close. He was just bland, uninspiring, and seemed to have little charisma. Think: Fred Thompson.

      Is it possible that he normally is this incredibly dynamic guy, and that that will shine through next time round? Well, sure. Heck, it’s possible that Perry will suddenly become a dynamic speaker that inspires audiences to forget everyone else on stage next time he has the chance.

      But my experience is that bland is bland and charismatic is charismatic, and even on off days it’s hard to confuse one with the other.Report

      • Tod Kelly in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        In fact, I think the best way I can describe it is to go back to all the conversations I had with everyone here four years ago about Huntsman after I saw him debate: People here loved Hunstman’s positions, so they kept telling me that I was being harsh for judging him on one debate performance… and I kept saying positions aside, this isn’t someone who’s going to break through and capture the country’s imagination, because he’s just not that guy.

        Exactly the way I felt watching Walker the other night.Report

        • Michael Drew in reply to Tod Kelly says:

          I agree, Tod. The difference is that people never felt about Huntsmann the way they do about Walker. The party faithful probably would have been bummed out if Huntsmann had turned out to have That Thing. OTOH, they’re buzzing that maybe Walker does have it. That’s because Walker is a hard-core conservative, while Huntsman was a hard-core moderate. They’re going to want to give Walker every chance to show he has It, and be very open to defining It in any way that can make it so that he has it.

          I don’t even think Walker eventually turns out to have that thing (the one which would merely excite conservatives, not the whole rght-to-moderate side of the country). No one thinks right now (I don’t think) is that Walker has the thing where he actually captures the imagination of the country. (The way Trump has – I’m convinced Trump’s engorged numbers largely reflect enthusiasm among conservative-type people who, however, usually don’t vote in GOP primaries). The question is whether Walker eventually shows That Thing that connects with the core of the solid, primary-voting GOP base. And his positions (and accomplishments) really help him with that: they lower the bar. They make conservatives want him to have That Thing. He could end up being that guy.

          I just think he won’t, because he’s really That Dull. So, essentially, I think you’re right to on your extrapolation of his charisma, but that’s based on background assessments of my own. I don’t think you’d be right to be confident about it just based on Thursday; and it also sounds like you’re applying too high a bar at this juncture. He doesn’t have to capture the imagination of the country; he just has to capture the imagination of conservatives who are looking for a conservative to capture their imagination. Problem is: he’s too dull even for that, IMO. But we don’t know for sure yet, and definitely not on the basis just of Thursday. And moreover, we should both be deeply discounting our ability to predict how hard-conservatives will respond to him regardless, no matter what his eventual overall performance looks like, given how much they’re hoping he is what they think he might be.Report

        • I’ll confess that I don’t find debating ability to be all that important for me, except as a measure of how a candidate I want to win/lose will appeal/not appeal to others. As someone who’s usually poor at witty comebacks and as someone who has a hard time thinking on my feet, I can empathize with someone who’s not a good debater, and I don’t automatically assume he/she will be a poor leader.Report

    • Important point from @burt-likko here.

      I’m on the record with what I expect Walker’s path this cycle (and nationally thereafter) to be. But I do think that what’s most important to understand about Walker’s night Thursday is that his camp was committed to not becoming Rick Perry in the course of the very first debate of the cycle. And I think it’s undeniable Walker is this cycle’s Rick Perry of 2012 (before the fall, if not also thereafter). The hard-conservative, hard-punching governor of a raucous state who many people expect to consolidate conservatives against the squishy middle, get some religious-conservative and Tea Party support along the way, and be a major, if not the major, force in the race. In other words, the smart-money candidate for a GOP nomination in which there is an moderate establishment favorite – very conservative but presentable. (Presentable I’d say in Perry’s case because of his polished appearance, and in Walker’s case because of a regular-guy persona.)

      For that guy, first national impressions are very important. At least, Perry’s was. (Oops!) More to the point, avoiding a disastrous first impression is much more important than making a positive initial splash. Just preserve that sense that you might still be that sleeper conservative dynamo that will emerge when the field clears out a little bit. So long as you don’t show your cards early, you still might be that guy. I’d contrast this to someone like Kasich or Christie who really need to come out and remind people they exist, because they don’t have any of that low-level, excited buzz that Walker does (the best thing to have in politics and entertainment, I guess other than just world-beating, kick-ass, total fame).

      Walker will eventually have to demonstrate that he has That Thing that people think he might have. Everyone can pace their bets as to whether, when that time comes, it will be there or not. But I don’t think he needed to show it last night: would have been way too early to. He still got the buzz of “Maybe. Maybe.” That’s really all he needed out of Thursday night, was not to lose that. I definitely don’t think he did.Report

      • Kim in reply to Michael Drew says:

        Is “that Thing” a brain? Because he’s amply demonstrated that he doesn’t have that.

        My money is still on him winning the nomination, barring multiple uniquely ill-timed strokes or heart attacks.Report

    • SaulDegraw in reply to Burt Likko says:

      I think Walker’s big issue is that what got him elected in Wisconsin is not going to play nationally. Walker’s rise is because Millauekee went through white flight late.Report

  9. Michael Cain says:

    …I kept thinking that the GOP’s constant reliance on the Conservative Savior™ over those in their midst with long track records of successful governing is looking like it’s going to kill their chances at a White House stay once again.

    But the Conservative Savior™ isn’t supposed to govern — he/she is supposed to dismantle large parts of the federal bureaucracy. Which is not the same thing at all. Depending on individual preferences, some subset of the Department of Energy, the Department of Education, the Department of Commerce, the EPA, the SEC, and the Bureau of Land Management. You know, like Reagan did.Report

  10. aaron david says:

    I think you are barking up the wrong tree here @tod-kelly Unless you can provide something of substance that shows that conservatives are waiting for “some plucky, charismatic leader that would bend Republicans and centrist Democrats alike toward an era of conservative prosperity,” I think you are wrong. They aren’t waiting, they are like Warren fans, trying to build a savior. Manufacture one out of whole cloth.

    I think those waiting for a savior are the RINO’s, the DINO’s and the mushy middle.

    In other words, of course the conservatives in this country think this someone, if they can just get the message out, just say the right words, will make the country go “Eureka!” This is no different from Libertarians, Socialists, Netroots etc. Every extremist group has a Sanders, a Warren, a Santorum.

    The concept of capturing the middle by charisma, of being a Kennedy or a Reagan, has always been the dream of the near left and near right. It’s the dream because they remember it, both fondly and bitterly depending which decade and which party you are looking at. But they are remembering it mostly because it really is doable, as long as the far reaches of the party aren’t weighing in too much. Either party. The Democrats thought they had this in Obama, but it only lasted about a year or so and they are hoping that HRC will have it. Bill Clinton had it a bit, but W not at all (except right after 9/11.) And that is why it won’t happen right now. The country is too divided, it’s trench warfare, attrition. Both sides are trying to manufacture it, but that isn’t how it happens. That gives you Hillary. That gives you Romney.Report

    • nevermoor in reply to aaron david says:

      I actually agree with this. I think Krugman’s point that these saviors are media creations is closer to the mark.

      In the media’s desperation to be centrist, it needs to invent a reasonable conservative politician worth listening to. Given the party’s lack of such people, the media pretends as hard as it can that (for example) Paul Ryan is that guy until that guy proves to be so vapid the pretending becomes impossible.Report

    • I personally think W was very charismatic. YMMV and no accounting for taste, etc., etc. Even though I opposed most of his signature policies and found the GOP politics of his era very dark and disturbing, I usually rankled whenever I heard a liberal friend make fun of his accent or malapropisms.Report

    • Stillwater in reply to aaron david says:

      but W not at all (except right after 9/11.)

      When he was reading “My Pet Goat” to the youngsters during the attack or when he told a national TV audience a few days later to “go shopping”?Report

      • aarondavid in reply to Stillwater says:

        When he picked up the bullhorn at the wreckage of the world trade centers, @stillwaterReport

        • zic in reply to aarondavid says:

          When he told me (and everyone else,) “You’re either with us or you’re with the terrorists?”

          Made me feel like I was a terrorist because I didn’t believe in going to war; and I participated in some stuff — acts of journalism and performance art — that were surveilled by government in ways that reinforced that notion.Report

          • aarondavid in reply to zic says:

            And… Your point is?

            At that moment, his approval went threw the roof. Did everyone like him? No, of course not. But just because you didn’t like him, well, that changes nothing.Report

    • North in reply to aaron david says:

      I don’t know of any D’s who maintain the delusion that HRC will be a broad reaching mass popular savior. I believe the consensus is she’ll be a hard bitten fighter.Report

  11. zic says:

    No matter the other stuff going on, Reagan and Clinton, each, had a great gift of taking incredibly complex things and explaining them in ways that made a path forward simple and obvious.

    I’ve been aware of politicians since Johnson was president; and nobody else, in my lifetime, has had that particular quality, including Obama. I think a lot of the right-hype about Obama was, in fact, fears that he would be a communicator on that level (remember how the called him The Messiah?).

    Nobody running this cycle is that gifted, or if they have the potential, they haven’t unlocked it yet.

    So yes, I agree, the right (and the left) is each looking for a savior; or more precisely, another great communicator. The big difference I see is that the right’s primarily interested in winning and has no plan for actually governing (with the possible exception of Jeb!, and I predict he’s going to drop out). The left seems more interested in the work of actually governing, and because of that, has even more difficulties finding a great communicator — too many competing interests in the coalition, leaving splinters of the coalition ‘thrown under the bus.’ This is likely going to become a problem for the GOP over the next decade as they seek recruits to replace their aging voting bloc.

    What’s weird here is the predictions of savior; a hype that pretty much means the learning curve politicians need to go through to be great communicators is stymied by the hype; the politicians cannot afford to fail, since they’ve already been anointed savior. If anything, this is an indication of the problems the well-entrenched GOP media machine, and not just FOX, but all the high-paid bobble heads from think tanks that fill the broadcast hours, have become a detriment to developing talent to its full potential.Report

    • KatherineMW in reply to zic says:

      Why do you think Jeb’s going to drop out? I mean, it would make me happy if he did, but currently he’s the frontrunner.Report

      • He’s not really the frontrunner, though. He’s more “a” frontrunner. I think he’s got a better chance of winning the nomination than anyone, but I’m not sure it’s more than a plurality of a chance.

        I thought there was a good he was going to drop out until a couple months back. Now I don’t think he will, but a lot depends on how things unfold going forward.Report

      • Kim in reply to KatherineMW says:

        Snotty’s the establishment pick. Because the Right has only one head, and at this point, it’s pretty much the Kochs. Time was it was Scaife, and there were moderates before then… but right now, who’s in charge wants Snotty, like they wanted Romney last time and McCain the time before.

        Been a while since the money’s frontrunner hasn’t won in a Republican contest.Report

  12. Kazzy says:

    I think part of the issue is the Right Wing Media Machine’s victim complex. It’s not enough to favor a candidate… They have to talk about how the “lamestream” media is ignoring him or how the liberals are conspiring against him. This shifts the candidate grom, “Hey, we like this guy” status to “Underdog freedom fighter who must be vigorously defended” mythology.

    Breitbart is caping for Trump and just perusing their headlines would make you think he is simultaneously a God Among Men *and* a bully’s victim. Remarkable, really.Report

  13. trizzlor says:

    See stage 4 of Donald Trump’s Six Stages of Doom. The winnowing seems to happen fast enough that Trump-like eccentrics still don’t stand a chance. If he’s *very very* lucky, Trump will keep the 20% he has now and end up like Ron Paul 2012: a seemingly potent candidate by the numbers, yet zero chance of being president. I say this as a liberal voter, with disappointment.Report

    • Murali in reply to trizzlor says:

      I say this as a liberal voter, with disappointment.

      Why? Shouldn’t it be reassuring that crazy racist nutjobs don’t have a chance of getting into power?Report

      • trizzlor in reply to Murali says:

        As far as I’m aware, Trump doesn’t differ substantially from the other candidates in terms of policy. If anything, he simply combines the red-meat bits of the other candidates: nativism, fetishizing wealth, incoherent healthcare, and shoot-first foreign policy. I think it would be a net-positive for these issues to be discussed and voted on without the usual obfuscation.Report

        • Will Truman in reply to trizzlor says:

          Two of the three most prominent candidates on the GOP side support legal status and the third supported it a couple years ago.

          That’s not even getting in to the nationalized medicine thing.Report

          • trizzlor in reply to Will Truman says:

            Sorry, I should have been more precise: Trump may have positions that differ from those of individual candidates, but if you plotted the candidates in some multi-dimensional space that corresponds to all their issues, Trump would not stand out the way you would expect a “crazy racist nutjob” candidate to stand out.

            For comparison, Bernie Sanders supports bank nationalization, protectionism, and isolationism that would make him clearly stand out relative to Clinton or previous Dem primary candidates. That’s why I think the Trump == Sanders argument is flawed; Sanders is advocating for far-left positions while Trump is advocating for center-right positions but making them sound far-right.

            The nationalized medicine thing is not a part of Trump For President’s agenda, nor is it unusual for a serious Republican candidate to have formerly supported it (see: Gingrich).Report

            • DavidTC in reply to trizzlor says:

              That’s why I think the Trump == Sanders argument is flawed; Sanders is advocating for far-left positions while Trump is advocating for center-right positions but making them sound far-right.

              Yes, except no. Let’s not play the Overton window game by calling the position of the GOP ‘center-right’. 😉 The entire GOP field is actually clustered between right and far-right.

              Trump is advocating far-right positions (Which is pretty much the GOP baseline at this point) but *not* attempting to disguise them like all the other candidates know they’re supposed to during the primary so they can walk them back later.

              Which is totally screwing up how this is supposed to work, and, really, where Trump is doing the *actual* damage to the GOP’s chances in this election.

              Likewise, I’m not sure that Sanders is actually far-left. There are a suspiciously large amount of moderates and even conservatives that agree with him for him to be ‘far left’.(1) I’d argue he’s just plain left, and Clinton is more center-left. But, yes, they actually occupy different political points, unlike the GOP noms.

              1) Sanders is proving my theory that a lot of the people voting against the left are doing so because they have been taught to dislike specific *people*. They’ve learned Obama is bad, they’ve learned Clinton is bad. Throw someone like Sanders in there that they don’t know about, they listen to the guy and make up their own minds (And it doesn’t help the sexist and racism are gone also) and we now see *exactly* how popular the left’s ideas are.Report

              • Brandon Berg in reply to DavidTC says:

                Trump isn’t identical to Sanders—he’s analogous. He is to Republicans what Sanders is to Democrats: a populist pushing ill-conceived policies to low-information voters who don’t know any better, based on a narrative with limited basis in reality. They’re also both xenophobes.

                Sanders is proving my theory that a lot of the people voting against the left are doing so because they have been taught to dislike specific *people*.

                So why haven’t they been taught to dislike Sanders? Sure, he wasn’t a household name before this, but neither was Obama.

                That said, I can see why Sanders’ ideas might be popular with people who are only just beginning to think about actual issues. I’m not sure why you’d want to advertise that fact, though.

                To be fair, I think much of Ron Paul’s support came from the same source. As Congress’s Dr. No, he was a national treasure. But his presidential campaign was a cult of personality driven by voters who had no idea what was going on.Report

              • DavidTC in reply to Brandon Berg says:

                He is to Republicans what Sanders is to Democrats: a populist pushing ill-conceived policies to low-information voters who don’t know any better, based on a narrative with limited basis in reality. They’re also both xenophobes.

                …you say, failing to address the point being made that Trump’s political positions and policies are not *actually* that far from the other Republican candidates, whereas Sander’s policies *are* pretty far from other Democrats.

                That said, I can see why Sanders’ ideas might be popular with people who are only just beginning to think about actual issues. I’m not sure why you’d want to advertise that fact, though.

                I didn’t ‘advertise’ that fact, in fact, I didn’t say that at all. I believe you have confused ‘taught to dislike specific people’ with some sort of intelligent behavior, when in reality what goes on is the right wing media playing negative word association games with liberal politicians. Not their policies, not things they’ve actually done, but just connecting negative impressions with liberal pols.

                A lot more people dislike Hillary than can *articulate* why they dislike here beyond something vague like ‘scandal-ridden’ or ‘untrustworth’. And the Obama-hate is even *more* diffused and vague, often because the words they’ve connected with him are not things people want to say aloud because they’ve been proven wrong…but the words are still there inside people’s head, contributing to some vague sense of ‘foreign’ about him.

                This is not any sort of positive direction for politics. This is not something people should be ‘taught’.

                So why haven’t they been taught to dislike Sanders? Sure, he wasn’t a household name before this, but neither was Obama.

                Because Sanders *just* appeared on the national scene like five minutes ago, and the right-wing media is currently busy with the Republican primary. It will happen eventually.Report

      • nevermoor in reply to Murali says:

        The craziest positions I heard in the debate (e.g. no abortion exception to protect the life of the mother) weren’t coming from Trump.Report

      • Zac in reply to Murali says:

        Why? Shouldn’t it be reassuring that crazy racist nutjobs don’t have a chance of getting into power?

        As long as right-wing parties exist in this country, crazy racist nutjobs are, and will continue to be, in power.Report

  14. KatherineMW says:

    a once-in-a-generation politician with such a staggering amount of charisma, brains, and move-star good looks that columnists actually wondered how the Oval Office would be able to get anything done after the election with all of America fawning so over [him]…what was delivered fell so short of what was promised.

    These particular lines strongly reminded me of Obama in 2008 versus Obama of the last six-and-a-half years. He’s not Quayle, and he’s achieved some good things (as well as some bad things), and he’s refrained from doing some disastrous things, and on the whole it could have been worse…but when he was running in 2008 he was Superman, and now he’s just a guy. Yes, he had to fight his way through a tough primary, but by the time he was the Democratic frontrunner, the expectations and hype were so high that nobody could have met them.Report

  15. SaulDegraw says:

    Hmm. I am largely with Morat20 here. I think the GOP base is largely getting older and whiter. There will always be conservatives in each generation but the demographics split. The Greatest Generation tended to the left because they grew up during the depression and WWII. FDR and Truman got them, Kennedy was one of them.

    The current GOP base came from the Silent Generation. Too young to remember the Great Depression but old enough to be freaked out by the social changes in the 1960s like those druggy hippies. McCain is a silent generation Republican. Bush the Elder represented the last of the GOP East Coast establishment controlling the party. The Northeast wing of the GOP is largely dead. I think LePage is a freak exception.

    There is always a contradiction in democratic politics when you know and realize that the majority does not support your ideas and ideals. Doing a 180 is called cynical and craven. There are still liberals who hate Bill for the Sister Soulja moment and signing Dogma and triangulation. Yet keeping with your ideals might just mean losing a lot of elections. This is where the GOP is now and they seem to be doing the anti-Clinton thing. I think this is because the base is big enough that they can’t move yet.

    Also the GOP seems perplexed by the existence of true-believing liberals. What do you mean you actually believe in the welfare state? Conservatives do seem to think they have a monopoly on the natural order.Report

  16. SaulDegraw says:

    One thing I have noticed is that GOP pundits are scared shitless about Trump. Jonah Goldberg had a column about how rudeness wasn’t a part of conservatism. Erik son of Erik had a post about Trump’s sexism.

    Pardon me while I issue a sardonic laugh but I find this rich. Erik son of Erik called David Souter a “goat-fucking, child molester”

    The chickens are coming home to roost.Report

    • Stillwater in reply to SaulDegraw says:

      I hear ya about the chickens. I think the political origins of much of this trace back to Rove’s effort to reduce conservative politics to single issues, which were essentially cultural issues, while losing sight of the governance/policy side of the equation. To their credit (I guess) conservatives have been doing much better at the state/local level of electing people with actual policy platforms. (Walker, Brownback, Kasich, etc.) I think the worry is that those platforms will be drowned out by all the culturally based, rabid, single issue type noise. And Trump-noise is doing exactly that. And as Tod would probably agree, Trump is a creation of and not [merely!] a grifter riding on contemporary conservatism.Report

      • SaulDegraw in reply to Stillwater says:

        Walker and Brownback are very far to the right socially and economically. They both benefit from some unique parts of their states. Kansas has always been a Republican friendly place and even his republican legislature is getting fed up Brownback’s no taxes policy because of huge budget shortfalls.

        Walker’s big base is in the suburban and exurban counties around Millwaukee. From what I hear from my Wisconsin friends and articles, white flight happened here later and Walker is able to use anti-city rhetoric that hasn’t been heard in the rest of the country since the 1980s.

        I think the pundits just think Trump is too uncontrollable and unmoldable. They can probably make Walker more palatable even though Democrats hate him. Trump has too much fun being trump.Report

        • Stillwater in reply to SaulDegraw says:

          I think the pundits just think Trump is too uncontrollable and unmoldable.

          If you mean that they think he’s not deferential enough to their powah! then I’m right there with ya. My guess is that the media doesn’t like him because he clearly doesn’t view ’em as any sort of gatekeeper.Report

      • aarondavid in reply to Stillwater says:

        ” I think the political origins of much of this trace back to Rove’s effort to reduce conservative politics to single issues”

        Like Udall’s Vhar on teh Vhimins?

        ETA a better use of my grandmothers supposed accent.Report

  17. I think Morat and Stillwater have a good point above when they point to the historical moment when Reagan came to office. I’ll add that in a certain sense, Reagan was only the “savior” conservatives make him out to be because Goldwater and even Nixon–perhaps with an assist from Wallace–cleared the way. Also, Reagan did a lot of work before becoming the “savior”: he built cred with the conservatives beginning with Goldwater’s campaign and got national prominence as California governor. He sparred with the liberal Republican establishment in 1976 (and before). Many of the purported saviors(tm) now don’t seem to have that history and in some sense just seem to come out of the blue red.

    As for Quayle, I agree with those above who say he wasn’t seen as the savior, although I was only 14 in 1988. I still think he got a bum rap, though one largely of his own making.Report

  18. Roland Dodds says:

    Could it also be that many of this “saviors” were very good at playing their local political field (the tone, issues, etc.) and simply could not transition to a larger national stage? Perry and Jindal seem like the both fit this mold. I simply could not see what anyone saw in these jokers, but enough residents of their states found them to be the best in the room.Report

  19. zic says:

    I’m not sure if I should say this here or on the ‘is it possible’ thread but I opted for here because it’s why I think at least some folk on the right think Trump is that savior:

    I don’t think you heard me. You’re having a hard time tonight.”

    I’ve never watched Donald Trump’s TV show; but I suspect this is totally in character with his ‘you’re fired’ persona. Trump’s comfortable with creating reality for others, he totally believes he can take charge of their mental space. And when he doesn’t, he’s enough a clown to suggest he didn’t really mean to. This might be comforting qualities for a leader to hold, particularly when you can fill in the blanks that hi’s created reality aligns with your own interests.