Every politician needs a base. Mitt Romney has the business establishment. Ron Paul has libertarians. Rick Santorum has social conservatives. Michele Bachmann had Tea Partiers for a while, before Herman Cain won them over. But who’s behind Newt Gingrich? ’90s nostalgics? People with a penchant for shoddily researched history? His rise in the polls—from about 6 percent to 12 percent—has only made the question more intriguing.
The headlines from Wednesday night’s Republican presidential debate will be about Rick Perry and his “oops” moment. In case you missed it, Perry was describing his economic agenda when he mentioned that he wanted to eliminate three federal agencies – and couldn’t remember the third. He got Commerce and Education, but flailed about for a painful few seconds, trying to think of the other. Ron Paul jumped in, suggesting maybe it should be five agencies. Another candidate said maybe Perry was thinking of the EPA.
Nor was I for Ross Perot, a man who (as of 1992) had made a $3 billion dollar fortune and headed a major hi-tech corporation, actually two. But he was—let’s be frank (and rhyme)—a real crank. Frankly, I can’t remember whether many people took him seriously as a thinking politician. Still, with his money he seemed able to stake a claim on the attentions of the electorate and attracted the support of millions of voters who would not have gone to the polls were their choice limited to either George H.W. Bush or Bill Clinton.
It’s hard to fathom who could be excited by the recent revelation that an additional 13 nationally televised Republican presidential debates have been scheduled to take place between now and the end of January. We’ve already endured eight thus far; four are scheduled for this month, then another three in December, and possibly as many as six will take place in January. Indeed, Rick Perry was almost certainly not alone when he complained (but later was forced to backpedal) about the sheer number of the debates this election cycle.
[Guest post by Isaac Chotiner] November has begun. The first voting in Iowa starts in almost exactly two months. Mitt Romney is the front-runner, but he can't crack 25% in the polls. (It's hard to remember a front-runner with any comparable ceiling). Rick Perry has a lot of money, but is suffering from laughably bad debate performances and poor strategic campaign decisions. Herman Cain leads some polls, but even before the sexual harassment allegations that arrived last night, no one seriously thought he had a sliver a chance to win the nomination.
In a famously flawed Republican presidential field, Newt Gingrich somehow manages to combine all his rivals’ shortcomings. Like Herman Cain, he seems more interested in selling books than in running for president. Like Mitt Romney, he struggles to connect with real people. Like Rick Perry, he has offended conservatives with a major policy heresy. Like Michele Bachmann, he often comes across as a theocratic crank. Like Ron Paul, he is a pedant who doesn’t know when to go away. Like Rick Santorum, he is a has-been who would disappear if not for televised debates.
In the magazine's last issue, I wrote about Mitt Romney's success in wearing down New Hampshire over the past five years with his relentless personal attention and his equally relentless check-writing to Republican candidates at all levels, all the way down to sheriff and district attorney.
During a Republican presidential forum in South Carolina on September 5, the conservative Princeton political philosopher Robert George asked the candidates a provocative question. George, the intellectual architect of the campaign against gay marriage and abortion rights, has long argued that Congress should declare war on the Supreme Court by passing a federal ban on abortion that clearly violates Roe v. Wade. Would the candidates be willing to sign such a ban—intentionally provoking a constitutional crisis?
With former pizza magnate Herman Cain suddenly running second to Mitt Romney in most national polls, a Cain Mutiny was as inevitable as the Iowa caucuses moving into the Christmas season. The rebellion against Cain as a top-tier candidate was led by three lagging GOP contenders who must know that they will never be president—Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul. The occasion for the rhetorical caning of Cain by his jealous rivals was Tuesday night’s forgettable theater-in-the-round Dartmouth debate featuring the candidates all seated at the same circular table.