Mitt Romney's choice of Paul Ryan as his running mate was, in many respects, consistent with, and a reflection of, Romney's political views and political style. Romney's decision to put Ryan on the ticket is being heralded as a bold move by much of the conservative media. The main reason this is such a bold move appears to be because the media keeps repeating it. Putting Paul on the ticket is not so much a bold move as a coward's idea of courage, or more charitably a timid candidate's idea of risk taking. A bold move for Romney would have been to put a liberal Republican who might have infuriated some of the Republican base, but given the ticket a better chance of winning centrist voters in November on the ticket.
Should Obama win, Republicans could blame the nominee, regardless of who it is -- Mitt Romney for being insufficiently conservative, Michele Bachmann for being too amateurish or frighteningly right wing, Tim Pawlenty for being too boring, or whoever else ultimately wins the nomination for some other flaw. This, however, will be an exercise in avoidance allaying responsibility for a Republican defeat at an imperfect, even weak, nominee and it obscures other significant questions. The real questions Republicans should ask themselves if they lose in 2012 is how they managed to lose a presidential election during a time of poor economic conditions with the country embroiled in at least two, and possibly three, wars. The corollary question they will need to ask is whether their strategy of attacking President Obama nonstop for four years while offering few useful solutions and giving in to the party's most extreme and ugly elements was really the wise decision. If the answer to the last question is no, the Party will have to determine how and why they allowed that to happen.
While there are numerous potential running mates who can provide ideological balance to the ticket, Romney cannot make the same mistake McCain did and choose somebody who will alienate swing voters, not because of his or her ideology, but because of his or her ignorance. The first question Romney should ask about any potential running mate is whether or not that candidate is able to speak intelligently and fluently about the major issues. This should not be a difficult standard, but at least three of the party's major candidates for the nomination, Cain, Bachmann and Perry did not meet this standard. This will be a difficult needle to thread for Romney because a large proportion of his party, appears to view ignorance as an important and desirable trait in a politician, often mistaking ignorance for toughness. Romney will have to find a way to win these voters through finding a running mate who appeals to their conservatism, but not their ignorance.
Romney's victory, in addition to being an important win for the candidate himself, is also a triumph of the older, more traditional Republican Party. Romney, like other Republican nominees including John McCain in 2008, Bob Dole in 1996, George H.W. Bush in 1988 and Ronald Reagan in 1980 is a figure from the Republican establishment who finished second in the last open Republican primary, making him next in line for the nomination. This pattern of orderly succession with regards to nominees had existed for decades before 2012, but this year was supposed to be different. This was the year that the Tea Party and other radical Republicans were going to change the Republican Party. The faces of the Republican Party in the age of Obama were supposed to be radicals given to extremist rhetoric, a populist contempt for big government and a distrust of political and financial insiders.
Fidel Castro, who has not had much experience with political competition of any kind has referred to the Republican primary campaign as a “competition of idiocy and ignorance.” Sadly, the longtime Cuban leader has a point. The race to the intellectual bottom and the loutish demonstrations of intolerance which havecharacterized the Republican race for the presidential nomination has been entertaining but also disturbing. Four years ago, the world saw the American political process at its best as the American people peacefully turned the page on the disastrous Bush administration and elected a new and very different president. The race this year, at least on the surface, is very different, but there are still elements of the campaign which demonstrate the strength and resilience of democratic systems of governance.
Despite efforts by candidates and the media to create a story that Mitt Romney -- despite having won Iowa and New Hampshire, and having more money, endorsements and organization than any other candidate in the race -- has still not wrapped up the nomination, Romney has, in fact, all but clinched the Republican nomination for president.
The Obama White House probably watched the Republican primary season with some dismay as a series of candidates including Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul, each more bizarre and unelectable than the others, briefly donned the mantle of front-runner before giving way to Mitt Romney. Romney, the likely Republican nominee, feels like a generic representative of his party from a generation ago. He was born to privilege, made a lot of money, is committed to making his rich friends richer, uncomfortable with the more radical social conservatives who constitute the Republican Party base, awkward when confronted with ordinary working Americans, but extremely comfortable with the financial and foreign policy power elite.
2012, like most years, promises to be an interesting political year. Some of the stories which were so significant in 2011 will continue, while others will fade away. The tragicomic reality show which was the Republican nominating process will quickly give way to a presidential election with two candidates who, unlike Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry -- who horrified us, made us laugh and otherwise entertained us in 2011 -- have a real chance of being president in 2013. The campaign between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama will likely be very close with a great deal of drama as the US engages in the quadrennial event known as "The most important election of our lifetimes."
Rather, the main story of the Republican primary season has been that the race has been extraordinarily uncompetitive. Despite the absence of a Republican incumbent or even sitting vice president, the sense among many in the Party that President Obama is very vulnerable and a base energized by the Republican victories in the 2010 midterm election, Mitt Romney has been the front runner for the nomination almost since the day John McCain lost in 2008. With two weeks to go before the first votes are cast, he still occupies that position.
The absence of any personal narrative around Romney does not mean there is no narrative to his campaign and the image of "All-Business Man, the world's most boring superhero" which, according to the New York Times, he has cultivated. Romney is not the first GOP candidate to present himself as a leader from the private sector uniquely positioned to rebuild the country and the economy. The businessman as savior is a popular Republican theme, which is consistent with the Republican's ideological preference for business interests over those of working people, youth, senior citizens, the environment or anything else.
During recent weeks the Tea Party has only received media attention when it is being compared to Occupy Wall Street, but the Tea Party continues to have an influence on politics, particularly in the Republican primary for president. The big stories around sexual harassment charges against Herman Cain, as well as that candidate's bizarre statement of fealty to the Koch brothers, for example, are also part of the story of the Tea Party.
The Democratic Party finds itself in a different situation as the sitting Democratic president is running unopposed for the nomination and already has a sufficiently enormous lead in fundraising and organization that any primary challenger who would emerge at this point would be badly defeated. The Occupy Wall Street movement is wisely not even talking about running somebody against President Obama in the Democratic Party, but this would be about the best thing that could happen to the Obama campaign. If such a candidate were to emerge, Obama could move to the center now, run up a string of impressive primary victories and use his ample resources to marginalize the Occupy Wall Street, largely through attacking the credentials and credibility of whichever flawed candidate was supported by the Occupy Wall Street. This would put him in a strong position for November especially as once he secured his nomination Obama would then be able to use his resources to again court the activist wing of the party. Additionally, running somebody against Obama would, in of itself, erode much of the Occupy Wall Street movement's support because many liberals would see the movement as seeking to destroy President Obama and behaving counter-productively.
“Trying to have it both ways, while running up massive debt” may not be the successful slogan for the Republican Party, but it would be accurate. The Republican refusal to see the obvious contradiction between preaching the need to balance the budget while advocating for policies that would increase the debt is neatly captured in Mitt Romney’s recent foreign policy speech.
The approaching collapse of Rick Perry's candidacy is not, in and of itself, particularly surprising, but the speed and lack of drama with which it occurred is striking. Perry, of course, is still in the race; and may recover his footing and grow to be a strong candidate, and even win his party's nomination, but that is looking increasingly unlikely. Perry was not undone by some unexpected revelation about his past or major political scandal, instead it is occurring simply because of his inability to make the transition to the national stage, unimpressive debate style and a defeat at the hands of Herman Cain in a minor non-binding straw poll that are contributing to his likely demise.
Despite President Obama's latest poll numbers showing that his approval rating lags behind his disapproval rating by a roughly seven points, the numbers are not all bad for Obama. A more significant indicator, at this time, is that the President has raised more money than all of his opponents combined. Similarly, all of the Republican candidates lag far behind where both candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were at a similar time in 2007.
Rick Perry has shaken up the Republican presidential primary because he seems to be taking the mantle of Tea Party favorite and far right darling away from Michele Bachmann. Before Perry joined the race, Bachmann seemed to be the most likely to be the last Tea Party candidate standing against Mitt Romney. Now Perry is more likely to be in that position. On the issues, Perry is not more moderate than Bachmann. Both are fundamentalist extremists with radical anti-government views who have evinced little understanding of a modern state or economy and demonstrated little interest in or knowledge of foreign affairs other than their belief in a strong America. Perry seems to have eclipsed Bachmann's popularity because he is less prone to gaffes than Bachmann, is slightly better at keeping his mouth shut sometimes and is enjoying something of a bump in the polls because he is the new candidate about whom voters may not yet know very much.
In the last week, three things have happened in the race for the Republican nomination for president: Texas governor Rick Perry officially became a candidate, Tim Pawlenty's candidacy officially came to an end, and Michele Bachmann won the Iowa Straw Poll. While none of these developments involved him directly, all three of these developments collectively were a victory for Mitt Romney, moving him slightly closer to his party's nomination.
The coming election will also present voters with a choice, not between two sets of ideas or competing visions for America, but between one party, the Democrats, that has failed to either solve the myriad problems facing America or even demonstrate a genuine ability to govern, and another, the Republicans for whom solving problems and governing are simply not priorities. Over the last two and a half years, the Republican Party, even after winning back control of the House of Representatives in 2010, has remained focused on defeating President Obama and refusing to veer from their extremist and dangerous economic ideology of low taxes and cutting spending as the overriding priority.
The problem the Republicans have created for themselves is that by empowering the far right of their party to lead the battle against Obama in 2009 and 2010, they have unleashed a flood of candidates who enjoy high name recognition and pockets of intense support on the far right, but no broad support from the electorate more generally. More damagingly, for the Republican Party, the far right may be sufficiently powerful to stop the nomination of any candidate who deviates from their extremist views. This is the test which Romney and the party face; and it cannot be avoided by Jon Huntsman or Rick Perry, jumping into the race fresh from Texas, Beijing, or anyplace else.
A few months ago, Paul Ryan was considered something of a rising star in the Republican Party as he sought to address the federal deficit through serious, non-ideological approaches. Ryan created an image for himself as a thoughtful centrist interested in tough solutions to tough problems. It turns out that was mostly just spin. As people became more familiar with Ryan's plan, it became clear that he was essentially just another Republican seeking to balance the budget by placing an unfair burden on lower income Americans. Like most in his party, Ryan sought to cut programs for poor Americans while refusing to raise taxes on the wealthiest, thus forcing those who have already sacrificed the most, to sacrifice even more.