The Republican Establishment has a problem. The real issue is that no one seems to like their designated choice for President, Mitt Romney. The personification of this problem is Newt Gingrich, running what seems to be more of a grudge match than a real Presidential campaign, but it runs much deeper. Republicans have counted on a base that did what they were told and stayed together in the “11th Commandment” of Ronald Reagan – thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican.
Coming into this cycle, the party was hoping to take the Presidency and the Senate. If this keeps up they could lose 25 House seats and control of that body. That could happen for a number of reasons, starting with a terrible candidate at the top of the ticket, one way or another, and an exhausted and broke base that has completely lost interest in “politics” as it is being practiced today.
That might cut a number of ways.
As a Democrat, I have to confess that I have mixed feelings about Newt Gingrich’s run. The man himself is utterly repugnant in his personal life, but that’s his thing. To then speak about the “sanctity of marriage” is hypocrisy and should not be tolerated in public life. But to then go after the press for an interview with his ex-wife, whining that it was only days before a primary (with this calendar it will be only days before something) is another level of arrogance. Combine this with racist code language on food stamps and his record as the first Speaker of the House to be disciplined for ethics violations, and you have a seriously toxic candidate by any measure.
Do I really want this man to have a chance at becoming President? It should destroy the Republican Party if he gets the nomination, so there’s always that to look forward to. And if you don’t believe me, you should hear what the Republican establishment has to say – quoting here from George Will:
All across the country this morning, people are waking up who are running for office as Republicans, from dogcatcher to Senate, and they’re saying, “Good God, Newt Gingrich might be at the top of this ticket.”
But this is not Gingrich’s race in many ways. He has not laid out any program that would define a potential Presidency, as he did with the very successful “Contract with America” in 1994. Gingrich has always been at his best as a man with a plan, and voters typically favor those who seem to have a strong course of action that guides them. He is also living off the land, constantly broke yet scraping up serious bucks even as the establishment tries to cut it off. Yet these are the least of his worries.
What defines this race is that many Republicans simply do not like Romney – which makes me wonder if there’s a general election slogan in there for Romney “Vote Mitt, because Republicans Hate Him.” Gingrich is little more than the latest dark horse and there could yet be another who jumps in and siphons the “Not Romney” angst away. Why don’t they like Romney? It’s very hard to say, but what we do know is that the bile unleashed against the man in the primaries will leave a nasty first impression in the minds of many people who are not Republicans. The longer this goes on, the worse it is for the party even if Romney wins.
Then there is the Ron Paul contingent. It appears now that Paul will not catch fire, but you can be sure that his people will stay in until the convention, hoping to make their statement. They could wind up being the power brokers if the party stays hopelessly split. Somewhere in here is a real dream scenario for Democrats where there isn’t a functioning “Republican Party” in the near future.
For all of this talk what we can predict is that the Republican Establishment will have to show their hands in public far more than they want to if Gingrich’s momentum continues. We will all get to know just who is really operating the levers of power as the ratty little dog named Gingrich pulls back the curtain. They might be able to get this back on track with a wounded Romney ready to square off against Obama, who will likely benefit from a strengthening economy and simply staying out of the fight – but it will no longer be a private game to them. They, and the American people, will have to get their hands dirty.
Maybe that Citizens United ruling wasn’t so bad after all – in a really strange way.