Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Unelectable Republicans Update: McCain and Giuliani campaigns collapsing; Romney and Thompson try to outrace each other to the extreme right-wing

McCain is bleeding more staffers every day and dropping like a stone in the polls (more on exactly why, below). The big unreported story so far though is the collapse of would-be GOP frontrunner Giuliani's campaign following close behind. Get this: according to the Gallup polls, Giuliani has dropped steadily in support the past four months in a row, from 35% of GOP respondents in March to just 21% now.

That leaves Romney, never that popular to begin with, and Thompson, not yet in the race, trying to outdo each other in pandering to the extreme right-wing of the base. Although even there, Thompson is an odd choice as the GOP's savior, being a mere one-term Senator as a one-time side hobby to his full-time careers as a lobbyist and actor; while those among the GOP base who don't have a problem with Romney being a Mormon are now getting treated to an intra-party smear job trying to associate him with pay-per-view porn at the Marriott, where he was on the board. Keep on slinging the mud at each other in the primary, GOP candidates, and keep on scorching each other before one of you emerges for the general election.

More on the obstacle of Romney's Mormonism: if the GOP base were enlightened, they would see that Romney's active Mormonism makes him the most committed of hard-core social conservatives, and their natural ally in the issues they are most fervent about. Take that from me, as someone who was raised Mormon myself. But then again, if they were enlightened, they also would not be in the GOP base. As it is, what they are most fervent about includes the "correct" interpretation of their Christian religion, by which a Mormon is a strange heretic. They will never get over that. Romney has also shown that he's not going to try to face it and deal with it head-on. Instead, more new sensational stories about Mormon arcana are going to keep popping up throughout Romney's run for office, and he's going to keep trying to dodge them, or address them piecemeal and weaselly when he is forced. It is going to stay a millstone around his neck and doom his campaign. Our good professor Mark Kleiman is insightfully correct (as usual) about this effect in general: far-right-wing religious extremists are inherently compromised in their effectiveness by their innate urge to sabotage each other as dire enemies, spoiling their capability to organize in pursuit of their identical social-conservative agenda - and therein lies a great bulwark of democracy.

It's easy to see why Giuliani's campaign was doomed from the start, despite the head start from all the 9/11 afterglow effect among a certain mass of Republican voters who haven't been paying much attention. McCain's downfall though, has been blamed variously on his enthusiastic support for the Iraq war (such as by Arianna Huffington), or, quite the contrary, on his departures from the orthodoxy of the far-right-wing GOP base, as well argued by Glenn Greenwald. I think both effects are working simultaneously though, and it's important not to see this as an either-or situation. McCain was peculiar among GOP candidates in drawing a lot of his support from independents and moderates of both parties, who were drawn to his narrative as a maverick and rare straight-talking politician, although of course this appeal as applied to centrists and independents always depended heavily on their not paying too much attention to what were always his very conservative positions on most issues.

McCain has been really outspoken lately about his enthusiastic support for the trickle - er, the "surge" - in Iraq, and his enthusiastic rear-end-kissing of social conservative extremist hypocrites to whom he used to apply his withering, rare straight-talking. All of this has dramatically alienated the moderates and independents that were his core constituency. Simultaneously, he has been really outspoken about his enthusiastic support for Bush's immigration reform plan, restrictions against torture of detainees, campaign finance reform, and other GOP heterodoxies. All of this has dramatically alienated the core, right-wing GOP base. The result of which, his only remaining supporters are people who haven't been paying attention - but among whom, the story is continuing to diffuse, which is going to continue driving his poll numbers ever closer to zero, no matter what else he tries from this point on.

Think about it: what would a current McCain devotee be like? What kind of person would be inspired by the strange combination of actions and positions listed above? The combination could only have been created by a paradox of half-hearted duplicity, and does not occur in the honest priorities of any constituent. His campaign could only have retained life by now if he had gone all the way with embracing the deranged agenda of today's core GOP orthodoxy. Even if he had tried to stick all the way with his honest, heterodox, straight-talking views, those are crucially different now than they were in 2000, for including his stridency for war and urge to escalate with Iran. Is there anyone at all who would appreciate his moderate positions on immigration and campaign finance who would also love and admire his constant, earnest calls for ever-increasing military escalation?

To recap, that leaves us with a Mormon and a career lobbyist racing each other to the far right for the GOP nomination. Or, given both their fundamental weaknesses, I wouldn't rule out the chance for a late upset by Huckabee or Brownback - who might pull out a win by racing to the far right-wing with better credibility.

No matter what the outcome of that, though, the result is the same - the GOP base is now so extreme and so distant from the large majority of the American people, that anyone who emerges successfully from the GOP primary is going to have done so by riding so far to the hard-right that they are poisonously unelectable in the general election.

While all the GOP candidates try to avoid mentioning Bush, they all respond to the absolute need among the GOP base to embrace and to go even further to the right of all of Bush's positions. Whoever emerges from the GOP primary is going to have done so by promising more escalation in Iraq, aggression against Iran, further erosions in Constitutional freedoms and the rule of law, further explosion in the federal debt and downward pressure on the U.S. dollar, and little if any distinction of illegal immigrants from presumed terrorists. Between now and then, an ever greater majority of Americans is going to develop an ever greater revulsion to the Iraqi occupation and to exactly these positions.

Both primaries are really up in the air at this point, but the general election is going to be a massive landslide. The Republican candidate is simply going to be toxically, pathetically unelectable.

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