Tuesday, January 24, 2012

I Am Not An Americanist But Have Played One ...

I am not a scholar of American politics but have been interviewed occasionally in Montreal on American politics since our department does not have anyone who publishes in this area.  So, I have gotten into the habit of speculating wildly about American politics. 

Anyhow, I raise this now because I have a big question and I am only going to guess at the answer.  The question is: why do the GOP candidates suck so very much?  Romney has an off-putting personality and is absolutely the wrong candidate for a Tea Party pandering party--he made $20 million dollars on his investments and his utterly out of touch on $$.  Joking about $10,000 bets and saying he was only paid $357000 for something, as if that some is beneath being noticed?  Gingrich is a philander who helped get Clinton re-elected and then lost his job due to an ethics scandal.  Santorum is a hateful, narrow-minded guy who could not get re-elected, something 98% of incumbents manage to do, so what is wrong with him?  Ron Paul is obsessed with the gold standard, has a history of racist newsletters, and often appears to be smarter than he is and crazier than, well, hmm, more than he should be.

I am not the only person pondering where the good Republican candidates are.  This is not always a puzzle.  When a potential candidate thinks that he or she has little chance of winning, he or she waits for a better time.*  Notice no Democrats running for President--this is not just about respecting the party's leader and the President but about an estimate of the probability of winning.  Ted Kennedy versus Jimmy Carter is the exception that proves the rule.  McCain was the best of another mediocre lot perhaps because most Republicans realized that Bush had done so badly that any Republican would lose in 2008.  Maybe.  But 2012 is about as good as it gets for any Republican--Obama has not been that successful in getting heaps of policies past,** the economy is still mighty weak with high unemployment and uncertain growth, and the war in Afghanistan is not going so well.***
* I have a good friend study candidate emergence, which informs my pondering here (thus, this is a shout-out to Cherie Maestas--the best colleague I ever had [yes, shocking that it is someone who studies American politics]).
**  Of course, a big reason for this is that the Republican Party has preferred that Obama fail than see the US do well.  I have been tempted to call the GOP treasonous for putting party so far above the country's interests.  It is one thing to want your party to do well.  It is another thing entirely to try to deny the President any success at all when there are opportunities to improve the condition of the country.
*** On the other hand, this is really a lousy time for the Republicans to complete on foreign policy as Obama did pull out of Iraq as Bush had promised (and the Republicans pushing for the US to stick around? Talk about a position that is destined to lose votes!), made the decision to kill Bin Laden, cheaply facilitated the end of Qaddafi, and so on.
So, where are the good Republican candidates?  The only thing I can think of is that such folks may not have wanted to go through the process of pandering to the far right to get through the primary process.  Otherwise, I am flummoxed.  Is this really the best the GOP has to offer: Romney, Santorum, Gingrich, or Paul?  I am having deja vu to the days of Dukakis and Kerry. 

Anybody got a better idea?


Anonymous said...

The odd thing is that many Republicans seem much more unhappy with their candidates than Democrats were with Kerry and Dukakis. Some are talking of a brokered convention -- the last candidate of brokered conventions (Adlai Stevenson in 1952)) lost. The winner should be someone willing to battle for the nomination.
On the bright side, Obama could just be one lucky guy. His Republican opponents for the Senate seat self-destructed. So I'm hoping he's just lucky!

brianS said...

You know, it is kind of funny that we are seeing Romney as such a terrible candidate (with which I agree) when you consider that Bill Clinton gave one of the worst convention keynote speeches in memory at the 1988 Democratic Convention. More than a few people thought that that speech likely ended his chances for higher office.

Anonymous said...

I think you successfully answered your own question. The more moderate Republicans simply didn't want to pander to the nominating crowd of the Republican base. Probably why Daniels and Christie, objectively more pragmatic (and therefore, better) candidates sat it out.

Or maybe the power of the incumbent is enough of a deterrent and the only candidates willing to challenge it are those with nothing to lose. Santorum, Cain, and Gingrich certainly fit this bill. Christie and Daniels do not. And based solely on his personal wealth, Romney could probably afford to run in the next few Presidential elections if he wanted.

Looking back, I'm not really sure why Huntsman decided to run at all. He must have known he didn't stand a chance as the less-inflammatory clone of Romney, never attempted to pander, and was fairly indifferent throughout the campaign. Perhaps it was just to test the waters or give himself some campaigning experience for a possible 2016 run.

The GOP has, objectively, shifted much further right than the Democrats have left over the past decade. In short, the GOP candidates suck because the people they're pandering to also suck (in terms of their ass-backwards ideology). Again, objectively, of course ;)

Suzanne Lanoue said...

You know I'm not a polisci person, but here are my thoughts.

Maybe since the party is so split between tea party people and more moderate Republicans, it is hard to find any candidates that both sides would like. Romney may not be that likable, but he's the most "normal" of the group and that's why he's been the frontrunner to a certain extent; plus everyone knows who he is. The others all seem crazy. Huntsman might have had a chance if Romney weren't there and he had been a little better at getting his message out.

The better question might, what is keeping better candidates from running? Maybe there isn't anyone who would be normal enough and want to put him or herself through the process. I can't imagine it's easy even if the prize is really good. Running for president is like the world's worst reality show. And even if you win the prize then you still have to try to fix what's wrong with the country without everyone hating you. Tough either way and much worse now with 24/7 media.

Anyway, I think for the tea party types (like my brother), they are feeling like we did last time: any one is better than the current president. They just hate him so much, they don't care who or what they elect.

MShugart said...

Thank you. It is what I have been saying all along: there would be better candidates if said (potential) candidates saw good prospects of (1) getting the nomination and then (2) winning in November. And this year, for any candidate who might be able to do step 2, step 1 was a huge obstacle.

I have not said so in public, because I am not an Americanist. Maybe I should not let that stop me...