‘Oops!’: How an ultra-Conservative Republican base look set to nominate a moderate, and why he won’t beat Obama

‘Oops!’ It was a moment so generous in schadenfreude that it is tempting to brush off the wider political significance of Rick Perry’s infamous gaffe last week.

Perry should be allowed some sympathy simply for the fact that any of us would struggle to keep our sanity in the unprecedented miasma of awful that is the build up to the Republican primaries. His brain freeze when attempting to name federal agencies he planned to cut at one of the many agonising debates is, however, genuinely unforgiveable from the man seen by so many as the likely candidate when he entered the race.

Though Perry’s implosion was shocking, it was also not entirely surprising. If ‘oops’ marked Perry’s nadir, then his campaign had long been in free fall. A series of weak debate performances were followed by a bizarre speech so off kilter that it appeared at times to be comic brilliance, but left many wondering whether he was drunk. This all after the revelation of his rather un-Republican, and therefore quite obviously ‘un-American’, stance on immigration while Governor of Texas.


Perry’s fate is not, though, unique within the Republican field. Indeed, it appears something of a trend. Michelle Bachmann led the polls and found success at the Iowa Caucus, then proclaimed that the HPV vaccine led to ‘mental retardation’. Perry was next to head the field, and well before his most notable gaffe there was time for Herman Cain to rise to the top, and then fall amid a deluge of sexual harassment claims and the apparent realisation that he actually didn’t know very many things that a Presidential candidate maybe ought to.

The most recent opinion polls indicate that, as with Bachmann and Perry before him, the self-proclaimed ‘Herminator’ will not be coming back from this.

It is impossible, within the confines of this article, to capture the sheer comedic value of Cain’s campaign, let alone that of the entire Republican field.

All aboard the Cain train: Herman Cain's campaign is one of many that has seemingly been derailed by scandal and a lack of substance

As I write this Herman Cain is brushing off criticism of his grasp on foreign policy with the claim that “the people that get on the Cain train, they don’t get off because of that crap”. As Cain becomes the third high-profile candidate to crash and burn, his status at the top of the polls has been claimed by Newt Gingrich.

A former House speaker, those pundits who predicted Gingrich’s rise also asserted that he perhaps had the staying power his rivals did not. It would appear, though, that even a lengthy political career has not been sufficient to illuminate the skeletons in his closet, with controversy now abound over payments of over $1.6m dollars to Gingrich for advising a mortgage company illegally. It remains to be seen whether Gingrich’s problems prove fatal to his campaign or not, but in all honesty it matters very little.

What you may have noticed is that in addressing the respective rise and fall of many of the candidates to challenge Barack Obama for a position as ‘leader of the free world’ I have not actually mentioned their policies. There are three reasons for this.

Firstly, the actual policies of the Republican candidates matter less than their ability to present themselves as sufficiently right wing on any given issue. Secondly, had any of their policies come under any serious scrutiny then they would by and large have been revealed to be utter nonsense. The third one is…hang on… erm…let me see here…ergh…nope sorry can’t recall actually. Oops!

Cheap shots aside, my point is this. The Republican race has so far been so ridiculous that a series of candidates have been catapulted momentarily into the lead, only to fall flat on their face once people get the merest glance at their baggage, let alone the actual policies that lie inside the briefcase.

As the brilliant Jon Stewart said of the farce: “It’s amazing what paying attention to a candidate, can do to their candidacy”.

In all this drama, one man remains conspicuous by his absence. Mitt Romney’s campaign has thus far been a master class in saying nothing of meaning; such as “corporations are people”, and offending absolutely no one. In cowering to the Tea Party phenomenon Romney has allowed himself to stand above his rivals and appear the only credible candidate. With Jon Huntsman tainted by his association with Obama, that is because Romney is the only credible candidate.

But if Romney’s incessant ambiguity and downright flip-flopping looks set to work as his rivals collapse neatly in front of him, will it impact upon any future Presidential race?

In short, yes. Beneath the joy with which the Romney campaign will no doubt have greeted the collapse of any and all credible opposition heading into the Republican primaries lies a hard truth. The sheer desperation with which the Republican Party has cast around for an alternative does not bode well for Romney’s chances of ‘getting out the vote’ or ‘energising the base’.

Behind this unease with Romney is not simply the fact that he is, as one Conservative blogger put it, ‘a man devoid of any principles other than getting himself elected’. Romney is a Mormon, always problematic in the US but even more so given the Tea Party’s rise and the recent trend of the right towards social conservatism and more fundamental Christianity. Most importantly, perhaps, his ability to secure those crucial electoral college points in the swing states may be fatally compromised by his willingness to compromise.

Obama has the natural advantage of incumbency. His poll ratings may be low at around 40%, but as the West Wing taught us (I am assuming here that we are all civilised enough to have watched it at least twice), then that is that a sitting President has every chance when starting from that figure. With the economy so stagnant and the voters seemingly venting their anger at whoever they happened to have invested their futile hope in the last time, a Republican candidate who can present a moderate yet fundamentally different stance to Obama’s would probably pose a serious threat.

Romney’s apparent inability to stand for anything but electability may be what ultimately renders him unelectable.  Talk of a general election is for a years’ time, though. For now, he has a Republican candidacy to win. Let’s all enjoy that.

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Posted on November 18, 2011, in Foreign Affairs, Looking Forward, US Politics and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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