“Bill Nye is as much a scientist as I am. He’s a kids’ show actor. He’s not a scientist.”
Dr. Sarah Palin, M.Sc., Ph.D., Dum.Ass, at a climate skeptics wingnut welfare gig.0 comments)
Yesterday was a paradigmatic day in the GOP nominating contest: Mitt Romney underperformed in the state the media played up the most while still moving another big step down the road to his inevitable coronation. Which will continue a recent GOP streak of, frankly, horrible presidential nominees for another four years. Romney, like John McCain and George W. Bush before him, is a deeply flawed nominee, but what’s odd about these three men is how each time, Republicans have found a person that is flawed in a different but equal way. G.W. Bush was perhaps the most flawed of the bunch, someone who was qualified on paper (though most of his qualifications were overblown when not comical) while being absolutely unprepared to be president, and having some personality traits (e.g. machismo, overcertainty, ignorance) that made his presidency an unending series of calamities. McCain had better qualifications and was probably more prepared to do the job, but he also happened to be an erratic, crazy person who would trust the nuclear codes to someone he just met. Romney, funny enough, is probably the least flawed of the three. He’s well-qualified and prepared for the job, and his personality in many respects seems a good fit. But–there’s always a but–he is a craven, calculating hack who lacks both courage and integrity. Nominating someone for president is an act of trust–after it’s done, you give up most of your leverage over him (or her), so you have to be pretty darn sure that your candidate is going to protect your interests. Mitt Romney can’t be trusted to take any sort of stand that works against whatever electorate he faces. Republicans will live to regret this one.
Still, though, it’s pretty amazing to think that, assuming they pick someone decent in 2016 (which might well be an off-base assumption), Republicans will have gone 20 years between picking a respectable choice for president. In the 20 years before that, Republicans regularly nominated solid candidates, vote-getters with ample resumes and broad appeal. During roughly the same period, Democrats regularly nominated deeply flawed candidates. In retrospect, there is a pretty compelling explanation for why the Democrats–beginning in 1976 and ending in 1992–regularly nominated such poor candidates for the presidency. After losing two elections with relatively bold candidates who had actual ideas and visions and such, while facing an increasingly-conservative nation with deepening divides within their own party, Democratic party actors decided that the best way forward was to nominate bland technocrats who vowed to run things better than the other guys, who are just totally nuts, don’t you know? A boring, static party generates boring, static leaders, and the party of the time wanted it that way. It wasn’t until 1992 that the Democrats decided to be about something again, and while I’m of the opinion that the DLC experiment has largely failed, at least it was something, and didn’t involve continually fantasizing about some weak-kneed liberal hero candidate jumping into the ring.
So, the Democrats’ candidates during this period were really just a reflection of the crisis within their party. Republicans’ recent candidates say something about where they are as well. Well, a couple of things, actually:
Really, though, the idea that relative polling advantages are the sole indicator of electability is nuts. Bush’s 2000 campaign was in retrospect a slipshod thing, given the antipathy toward Gore displayed by the media. He didn’t wear well and had to have the Supreme Court hand him the election, didn’t win the popular vote and dropped what was once a huge polling lead against Gore (who, again, ran one of the most awful campaigns in modern history). It’s hard to imagine that a different candidate (McCain?) wouldn’t have done better. OTOH, McCain’s 2008 weakness with his own base forced him to bypass his preferred choices, Joe Lieberman and Tom Ridge, and instead to pick someone who would help him solidify what he should already have solidified. Sarah Palin helped destroy McCain’s chances of being president, disobeyed orders and introduced a new strain of viciousness into the public sphere that has not yet abated. Ironically, Romney is better than those two and the best of a bad lot this year, but he’s still a Wall Street guy who can’t connect and can talk himself into anything. This is not an advantage. Which basically goes to show that Republicans have a pretty shallow grasp on the electability concept.
I tend to think that nominating solid presidential candidates is a sign of a healthy party, one that is connected to it’s own side’s needs as well as to what the mainstream wants. And even the Democrats’ 70s and 80s picks weren’t awful so much as bland and uninspiring. Any of them would probably have done credit to the office, and arguably the least prepared for it was the one who actually won (i.e. Carter in ’76). Republicans, though, continue to nominate people who shouldn’t be let within a mile of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and Mitt Romney is really just another symptom of a worse disease.