Monday, June 27, 2011

All Ahead Flank

As many of you may or may not know I spend a considerable portion of my lunch hour and drive home listening to conservative radio. The likes of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Mark Levin dance through my head as I digest my pizza and traverse the rush-hour traffic. The reason for such self-abuse? To quote Michael Corleone, “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.”

The latest buzz in that deranged echo chamber of the Right stems from the expected persecution their favorite daughter – Michele Bachmann – is going to get in the weeks and months ahead. Witness the backlash over the Chris Wallace interview when he had the nerve to ask the queen of the Midwest if she was a flake. Now I'm no Wallace fan, and the question was out of line, but he's the only one at Fox News even attempting to ask probative questions these days.  His interview with Carly Fiorina, in which he asked her what programs she’d be willing to cut in order to balance the budget, and her subsequent deer in a headlight’s response, virtually wrapped up the election for her rival Barbara Boxer. Every once in a while I get the feeling Wallace actually wants to be a journalist. It’s just a shame he works for Roger Ailes.

Of course the greater issue – the thing that drives the wingnuts absolutely over the edge – is the fact that even in Iowa, their beloved champion is in a statistical dead heat with Mitt Romney, the man the Right loathes with all the passion of an exploding star. The latest poll shows Romney holding a one-point lead over Bachmann. If Bachmann can’t beat out a “RINO” in America’s heartland, how can she be expected to win the rest of the country?

Which brings me to the heart of the matter. The Right’s whole take on what they view as “pure” conservatism and how it will prevail, while appealing to the frenzied and restless hoards who hang on their every utterance, is flawed and counter-productive to their overall objective, which is winning a general election. They would have you believe that the reason George H.W. Bush and John McCain lost is because they strayed away from the message and abandoned their core principles; principles, mind you, that the electorate fully embraces, naturally. The 2010 midterms prove that point brilliantly. Don’t you just love convoluted logic? Especially when it’s wrong.

The truth is that George H.W. Bush lost for two reasons. The first was an economy that was bottoming out after eight plus years of Reaganomics; the second was Ross Perot. As Jimmy Carter found out the hard way, third-party candidates have a nasty habit of hurting incumbents. And as far as John McCain goes, he was actually running neck and neck with Barack Obama when he chose the witch queen from the north as his running mate. After a brief bump in the polls, which is normal after a convention, McCain’s approval ratings began heading south as more and more people – especially independents – began taking a closer look at the Governor of Alaska.

The simple fact is that ideology almost never determines the outcomes of general elections. When you break down the electorate what you find is that roughly one third is conservative, one third is liberal and one third is somewhere in between. It’s that last third that has the biggest say in who wins and who looses. The 2010 midterms was a referendum on an ailing economy, nothing more. The wave of Republican victories was far more an anti-incumbent sentiment than a pro-conservative mandate. Just like Democrats had done in the elections of ’06 and ’08, Republicans have overreached in their conclusions about cause and effect and, as a result, seem poised to embrace a path that will inevitably lead to failure in 2012.

The good news for them is that apparently, despite all the hysteria from the talking heads, registered Republicans seem less concerned with ideology than with picking a nominee who gives them the best shot at defeating Obama next year. That Bachmann is trailing Romney in the one primary she should be decidedly ahead in, indicates a willingness to bend somewhat on orthodoxy and embrace a sort of pragmatism, heretofore thought impossible by yours truly. And that is bad news for the White House. As I mentioned in a previous post, Romney is the only Republican candidate at the moment who stacks up well against the President and who actually has a chance of beating him in the general election. If enough Republican voters start to figure that out, they may well swallow hard and pull the lever for Mitt, regardless of what El Rushbo and Little Lord Fauntleroy say about it.

Of course it’s way too early to predict where all this is headed. The “recovery” is on life support, Iowa is still months away and anything can happen between now and November, 2012. Let’s not forget that at this time in ’07, Hillary Clinton was the presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party. We all know what happened the following year. To predict anything based on a recent poll is absurd, given the volatility of the economy and the general angst of the voters.

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