Partisans that lost the last election—today’s Republican primary activists, for instance—can let bitter feelings get the best of them. In choosing their next standard bearer, they may try too hard to settle old scores, choosing what they think is their best response to their leadership problem—in the last election.
Ross Douthat uses this line of reasoning to explain the impressive rise of Newt Gingrich in the polls. In his Sunday column “Professor vs. Professor,” he imagines Republicans dreaming of a series of debates that demonstrate they have intellectuals too—and that Obama is bland by comparison.
“But Newt Gingrich’s recent rise in the polls is being sustained, in part, by a right-wing version of exactly the impulse that led Democrats to nominate Kerry: a desperate desire to somehow beat Barack Obama at his own game, and to explode what conservatives consider the great fantasy of the 2008 campaign — the conceit that Obama possessed an unmatched brilliance and an unprecedented eloquence.
Click on: www.nytimes.com/2011/12/11/opinion/sunday/douthat-professor-gingrich-vs-professor-obama.html?_r=1&emc=eta1
Is the Barack Obama of the conservative nightmares of 2008—the smooth naïf who’s seduced the media and their children—still poisoning their minds? The Republican Party’s most elaborate domestic intelligence operation—the pollsters and ghosts of Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign—doesn’t seem to think so. In Saturday’s ABC News Debate, Romney defined his case for himself and against Newt Gingrich in very different terms:
“I believe that for Americans to say good bye to President Obama and elect a Republican they need confidence that they’re electing someone who knows how to make the economy run again and create jobs again.”
This is very dry stuff. Romney’s critique of Obama, of course, is self-serving and his conviction that the presidency can create jobs is simplistic. Also, it’s not extreme, very personal, nor even Republic. In 1960, when Americans had almost forgotten about left and right, it was Jack Kennedy’s daily charge against Richard Nixon and other “tired” Republicans. Nevertheless, this bloodless managerial attack on Obama seemed to fit the mood of the Iowa Republicans in the hall.
It wasn’t out-distanced by the hyperbole of the other candidates in the debate. Ron Paul’s libertarian war cries, in fact, enjoyed far more vigorous audience applause than anything said by anyone about Barack Obama.
Is it not possible that Obama’s unsurprising, understated ways are not only frustrating Democrats, but cooling out Republicans?
Isn’t it increasingly obvious why Republican conservatives have been so hard on the early front runners: they want far more than an entertainer, a pure-heart, or an All-American, anti-Obama flame thrower? In exceptionally hard economic times they actually want to win a mandate to reduce the role of government. This is unprecedented. And will require a candidate that exudes competence, not just righteous furry.
(2010 cannot be a rerun of 1980. Ronald Reagan ran as a sunny experimental Californian. Today, Republicans can invoke his name but can’t re-invent his experiment: massive tax cuts have been tried numerous times and, for 30 years, have failed to balance the books and create sustainable economic growth.)
Certainly, if Newt Gingrich captures the Republican nomination, few liberals will continue complaining about Obama’s rather conservative persona. He won’t look very scary to anyone. But Democrats won’t have to worry about getting Democrats—and moderates—to vote.