After Iowa: Handicapping the GOP Candidates

by: Andrew Tripp

Good news, everyone: just like all of the previous not-Mitt Romney frontrunners in the Republican primaries, Newt Gingrich is once again slipping into irrelevance, losing poll numbers and forgetting/failing to get enough signatures to get on the ballot for the Virginia primary. And thank fuck for it, too, because I don’t think I could deal with having to write about him for an entire election season. I just cannot bring myself to talk any more about what an appalling excuse for a human being he is. It’s just too depressing, and I drink enough as it is.

Where does his demise leave us, you ask? Well, the Republicans have already run through Rick Perry, Herman Cain, and to some degree Michele Bachmann as they have tried desperately to run a comedy candidate instead of Romney, he of the professional and uncharismatic bearing. If the pattern continues, and it seems like it is, the last two possible people they can turn to are Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman, both of whom have been largely ignored so far.[1] Why, though?

First off, I want to examine briefly the anybody-but-Romney syndrome that has been evident since this race began. I’ve heard and read several times that it is simply down to two things: his record as Governor of Massachusetts, in which he crossed several Republican no-no lines: his social policy was pretty progressive by modern standards, and he ran on the claim that he was a rational, non-partisan Republican. The other line is that he’s a Mormon, and thus not a Real Christian™, which is, regardless of party, the number one requirement for being elected President of the United States.

These are both valid, I think, as the Republican party is nothing if not a hive mind of irrationality and bigotry. But honestly, I think that there is a third aspect to their rejection of Romney, and that is because he is an intelligent, well-educated person. He’s got joint master’s degrees from Harvard in law and business, was a very successful yet not too evil CEO at a management consulting firm that he led out of crisis, as well as making the Salt Lake City Olympics profitable. He’s not prone to claiming vaccines cause retardation like Bachmann, or that atheists are not to be trusted like Gingrich, or any such absurd claims that the GOP loves.

Because of all this, he has managed to severely weaken his image as a confident candidate precisely because of his party’s anti-intellectualism; he has chosen to pander to the perceived base in order to get the nomination, doing total U-turns on most if not all of his progressive stances, criticizing Obama’s healthcare bill, which is more or less identical to his own in Massachusetts, and claiming that the President has cut defense spending, when in fact he has raised it. He has to pretend he shares the the Republican’s ignorance, because he knows that intelligence is not valued by his own party.

All in all, Romney just has too many qualifications for the Republican party to be comfortable with him. So what about his remaining competitors?

Let’s start with Ron Paul, the long-time Texas congressman, obstetrician, and darling of the libertarians and some Tea Partiers. At a glance, he seems like he would be a candidate that even some on the left could support: he wants out of all foreign wars, would legalize marijuana, repeal the PATRIOT Act, etc. Andrew Sullivan practically wets himself over the Congressman’s perceived decency, managing to, as he seems to do so often these days, ignore reality. Fear not, dear readers, Ron Paul scores plenty of wingnut points too: he wrote, or at least signed his name too, some very racist and homophobic conspiracy-theorizing newsletters in the 90s, he wants to pull out of the United Nations, he’s a climate change denialist, and supports all sorts of other wonderful batshit Randian things.  All of these things add up to a candidate with a lot of dedicated support; his fans are probably the most diehard in the entire U.S. political realm.

The issue then is taking that support and widening it enough for primary success. And herein lies the rub of why he will never be the Republican nominee, much less President: Ron Paul is healthily right wing, but he’s just a bit too old school right wing for the party. Even though, as Sullivan trumpets, he is currently polling well, this is only because of the current sample size on offer: Paul’s campaign is very good at getting its own fans to turn out for things like the Iowa Caucus and straw polls, and thus he does well. Nationally, this just cannot be replicated. The Republican party loves war way too much to ever vote for Paul, even though he’s severely anti-gay, anti-woman, and beloved of the John Birch Society. The fairytale just ain’t to be.

What about Jon Huntsman then? Well, he essentially suffers from the same problem Romney does: he’s intelligent, professional, and holds lots of rational beliefs amongst the conservative ones, like believing scientists on things like climate change and evolution and thinking gay people should have equal rights (sort of), but he doesn’t have the frontrunner’s history of changing his platform to pander to the base. Ultimately, what Jon Huntsman is, in short, is an old school conservative fiscal policy nerd. For this reason, the right-wing intellectuals [2] love him, especially George Will, who trumpets Huntsman’s economic platform for a few paragraphs like he’s the savior of the party.

The problem is, as Ben Adler points out in The Nation, that the Republican base just does not understand, much less cares to understand, fiscal policy. They don’t want an encyclopedia, or someone who speaks in full, thought-out sentences like Huntsman: they want an Amurrrrrrrican. Huntsman is polling poorly everywhere except for New Hampshire, where his daddy is bankrolling his campaign’s advertising. Winning there is really his only hope to stay in the race, and it’s looking like a stretch at this point in time.

In closing, what is ultimately handicapping Romney, Paul and Huntsman is the fact that each one of them holds just a tiny few rational, non-party line beliefs, and in today’s Republican party, that is unconscionable. At this point in time, Romney will almost certainly end up with the nomination thanks more to his money and recognition more than anything. With Iowa behind us, it is going to be very interesting indeed to see whether or not the Republican base can stomach a moderately rational, non-wingnutty candidate for the long haul. Get out your popcorn, people, the real show’s about to begin.

Andrew Tripp is a scoundrel, raconteur, and all around roguish individual who is studying Philosophy and Art History at DePaul University. He is the co-founder and President of the DePaul Alliance for Free Thought, the university’s first and only group serving its population of nonreligious students. You can find him on a barstool cheering on Manchester City Football Club on the weekends, at his blog and on Twitter @ahtripp.

[1] Yes, pedants, I am well aware that Rick Santorum almost won Iowa, but that’s another post for another time.

[2] I know, I know.

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One response to “After Iowa: Handicapping the GOP Candidates

  1. I like this! This is fun! I really don’t understand where the initial surge for Gingrich came from. People seem to have forgotten his nasty history. Despite being the anti-Romney, maybe his numbers in the polls will continue to fall.

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