Gluttons for punishment watched this week’s GOP presidential debate in New Hampshire. Count me among the gluttons. There was nothing good on TV anyway.
In hindsight, though, even reruns of Family Guy would have had more memorable content. The event illustrated what a pickle the Republican Party is in as it tries to find a leader.
To say the has beens and long shots standing behind lecterns on the stage in Manchester were uninspiring is an understatement. Pundits may have debated who won, who wowed, and who generated interest to build on, but none of the candidates walked away with an Oscar.
I stuck around until the bitter end of the performance, which amounted to a prime-time preview of what to expect from the Barack Obama Haters Club. The attacks against the President were predictable, if not original.
Yet the seven GOP hopefuls resorted to such unimaginative rhetoric that even party stalwarts had to yawn. Candidates have got to become more creative than recycling vague talking points about “getting the economy going,” or “repealing Obamacare,” or “ending job-killing regulations.”
Same goes for simplistic drivel that the federal government is bad, the private sector is good, and more tax breaks “will let the wealth really trickle down,” as former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum put it. Here’s a tip to Mr. Santorum and others: The more campaigns voters experience in a lifetime, the less patience they have with assertions that could be successfully challenged by a fifth grader.
But politicians, more comfortable with the superficial, still insist on harrumphing without a hint of substance and wasting time.
During the debate, there was something for everyone eager to limit the Obama presidency to one term. From libertarian to social conservative, timid moderate to malleable Mormon, viewers saw the spectrum of political divergence in the GOP on full display.
What they didn’t see was a Republican who could win the general election. Each of the candidates appeals to niche factions, but not to the broad swath of voters needed for victory.
When former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, with his personal baggage and campaign mutiny, appears to be the figurative — as well as literal — heavyweight of the bunch, the GOP is in trouble. It needs to recruit the brightest prospect it can find not only to rev up its base, but also to energize the country the way a little-known senator from Illinois did for the Democrats in 2008.
The only thing that will defeat Mr. Obama is the economy. If relief remains wishful thinking at the height of the 2012 presidential campaign, the President could be defeated no matter how weak or worthless his competition.
But is that what Republicans want? Are they ready to settle for the least offensive? Are they willing to pretend Rep. Michelle Bachmann isn’t crazy, Mr. Santorum isn’t a loser, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney isn’t a flip-flopper, Rep. Ron Paul isn’t a conspiracy nut, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty isn’t boring, and businessman Herman Cain isn’t an amateur?
The GOP should not give a second thought to a pro-secessionist Texas governor or suffer any illusions about the scatterbrain who abandoned her Alaskan constituents to pursue fame, fortune, and reality TV. I don’t believe anybody-but-Obama can just walk away with the White House next year, even if the economy is limping, unemployment is persistent, and the housing market is stagnant.
This president stabilized an economic disaster before it had a chance to destroy the country. People are working and industries are surviving because he threw them a lifeline.
But the financial ruin wrought by runaway Wall Street greed produced multiple ripples around the globe that continue to obstruct recovery.
Republicans used to sing from the same choir book on policy and plans to strengthen the country. But that was before the bubble burst and suspicions undermined solidarity of purpose.
Now it’s every ideologue for himself or herself, in an upside-down universe only gluttons for punishment can appreciate.
Marilou Johanek is a Blade commentary writer.
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