Friday, May 04, 2007

Republicans vie to choose 2008 presidential loser

A confession, I didn't watch the Republican debate last night.

I tried to, but I just couldn't, clicking off half way through Giuliani's first remark. I don't recall either the question or his answer, but I knew that moment that the next 90 minutes was going to be hell.

So, unlike all those rightwing parents out there who seem unable to do so, I clicked off the objectionable programming, opting instead for watching Anthony Bourdain snark his way through Malaysia (though truth be told, Mr. Bourdain was uncharacteristically unsnarky for this particular episode).

Now I realize that it's terribly intellectually dishonest of me not to give the opposition a chance to explain their positions on the myriad challenges facing our nation: how they would extricate us from the mess in Mesopotamia, how they would address our failing health care system, how they'd address the burgeoning potential disaster of global warming.

It turns out I needn't have bothered.

Apparently what I really missed was a 90-minute paean to Ronald Reagan, the last Republican anyone really liked.

From the Carpetbagger Report:

After any debate, the first and most natural question is “who won?” Last night, the winner was obvious: Ronald Reagan.

Look, I know Reagan is the only president of the 20th century that Republicans really like. And I know that the debate was being held at the Reagan Library in California. But over the course of 90 minutes, the candidates specifically referenced the 40th president 20 times. If you count more oblique references (Gilmore thanked “the president in whose name this library is named”), the number climbs to 25. If you include references to Reagan by debate moderator Chris Matthews, well, we get pretty close to triple digits.

And who was the loser? By the same reasoning it was George W. Bush. The leader of today's GOP garnered exactly zero mentions by his aspiring successors. (Seriously, I opened the transcript and did a ctrl+f search. The only references to W were my moderators, though one candidate mentioned HW and another mentioned Jeb).

What this tells me is that the GOP presidential candidates have no clue as to how to deal with the current state of the Republican party as it stands under Bush's decidership.

During today's online chat I put that very question to Chris Cillizza:

Pasadena, Calif.[that's me]: Love your coverage Chris, love these chats. Six-hundred-pound gorilla in the room: Playing up Reagan seemed the obvious thing to do, but do you think any of these people have any clue as to how to deal with the, um, legacy being bequeathed to them by George W?

Chris Cillizza: It's a VERY fine line that all of these candidates have to walk.

On the one hand, expressing support for President Bush's surge in Iraq makes sense because most conservative Republicans -- those most likely to vote in primaries and caucuses -- still support the policy.

On the other, none of these candidates wants to be seen as the Bush heir in the race if they wind up becoming the nominee.

The challenge for every Republican candidate is to offer enough praise for Bush that it doesn't turn off those voters still supportive of the president while offering enough criticism of his policies that people know that they would follow a different course in the White House.

A VERY tough proposition.


The Republican party is still very much Bush's party: authoritarian, Christianist, interventionist, corporate. No Republican can win the nomination without appealing to the very groups and ideas that independents (and needless to say Democrats) find abhorrent. And as the chasm between the heart of the GOP and the rest of us grows wider it is becoming increasingly clear that it may be a well nigh impossible gap to bridge.

So while I'll always believe it's possible for Democratic leadership to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, none-the-less, barring an unforeseen major reformation of the GOP, the race for the Republican nomination seems increasingly more like a face-saving measure rather than a presidential campaign.

It's a race Republicans have to contest, regardless that a win seems far from remotely possible.

(By the way, while writing this I remembered why I changed the channel. Virtually the first words out of Rudy's mouth were about America having the greatest health care system in the world. Seriously. If this is an example of the grasp the moderate branch of the GOP has on reality...)

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