The Permanent Campaign
The 2012 “invisible primary” is looking likely to end just how and where it began: with Republican ideologues anxiously looking to Iowa for signs of an electable “true conservative” alternative to Mitt Romney. Depending on whom you ask, they have found no such candidate, or have found too many of them. In either case, despite their fevered hopes the First-in-the-Nation Caucus is not likely to play its intended role as an all-important arbiter where ideological squishes are disciplined or destroyed and the faithful find their champion.
In an invisible primary where it seems everyone other than Jon Huntsman and Rick Santorum is fated to have his or her brief day in the sun, two new polls from Iowa show the indefatigable Ron Paul now leading the field among likely caucus-goers, with just two weeks left before actual voting occurs. The media, much to the consternation of fanatical Paulists, is already writing him off as another flash-in-the pan, his libertarianism too extreme to gain the support of moderate conservatives and too at odds with social conservatives to win over their vital support.
As the 2012 invisible primary lurches to a close, the Republican Party looks more likely than ever to be in the process of presenting its caucus and primary voters with the choice between one candidate they don’t want to nominate and another their fellow-Americans don’t want to elect. Mitt Romney simply hasn’t grown on primary voters; if anything, in recent weeks, he’s soured. And Newt Gingrich, for his part, would enter the general election as the weakest GOP nominee since Barry Goldwater.
In the lead up to voting in the presidential nominating contest, the only thing that reliably rivals the scrutiny received by Iowa is the disparagement expressed against the tyranny of the Great Corn Idol. With its unrepresentative electorate, its peculiar demands on candidates, and its odd procedures for making its preferences manifest, the Iowa caucuses have been singled out by many as an ill-conceived ritual whose time is long past.
At present, the Republican presidential campaigns opposing Newt Gingrich must look at the unlikely front-runner as something of a piñata: a big, fat target ready to explode, showering votes on his rivals, once it is decided which angle offers the most decisive blow. There are plenty of ripe lines of attack, most notably Gingrich’s endless flip-flopping on global climate change punctuated by his notorious 2007 ad with Nancy Pelosi.
Rebutting the main argument in Doug Schoen and Patrick Caddell’s latest travesty of an op-ed column (“The Hillary Moment,” in Monday’s Wall Street Journal) would be a pretty egregious example of shooting fish in a barrel.
This weekend’s “Thanksgiving Family Forum” at a Des Moines megachurch probably seemed like a great idea to Iowa social conservatives when it was first developed. You’d have the presidential candidates arrayed around a “Thanksgiving table,” obediently waiting for a symbolic serving of activist support. In the pews would be thousands of stolid Iowans of the sort most likely to show up at the January 3 caucuses. Wielding the microphone would be focus-group king Frank Luntz, probing the worldviews of the candidates to determine their fidelity to a teavangelical, big-God, small-government creed.
In his pursuit of a presidential nomination that a majority of his party’s voters clearly do not want to give him, Mitt Romney has been extraordinarily lucky. Aside from the sheer number of potentially formidable opponents who chose to forgo a run in 2012, the rivals he has actually faced each seem to possess qualities that cast Romney’s own shortcomings in a more favorable light.
Last week was a difficult week for the Tea Party. Tuesday’s election results firmly rebutted the idea that the movement had touched off an irresistible rightward wave in American politics, one that would not subside until it submerged the Democratic Party and its union/liberal allies once and for all. Meanwhile, the process of choosing a champion to drive Barack Obama out of the White House is not going well at all.
Has Herman Cain’s campaign always been a joke, or were pundits right to take it somewhat seriously? In the wake of multiple allegations of sexual harassment levied against him, was the media asking the wrong questions by focusing on how it might help or hurt his supposed “candidacy”—as opposed to, say, his book sales? The question of what makes a “serious” candidate for the presidency is at least as old as such twentieth-century developments as state primaries and electronic media.