Saturday, March 8, 2014

Ted Cruz's Most Excellent Adventure To Fantasy Land

Normally I don't pay much attention to what goes on at CPAC. Seriously, if I wanted to hang out with a bunch of strange people trapped in a make-believe world, I'd attend Comic Con. But I just had to comment on something Ted Cruz said.

Cruz, who is on the glide path to be his party's next Jesse Helms, got on his soap box once again in his plea for political purity by taking some swipes at former GOP presidential nominees - the failed ones, naturally.

"All of us remember President Dole and President McCain and President Romney — now look, those are good men, they’re decent men, but when you don’t stand and draw a clear distinction, when you don’t stand for principle, Democrats celebrate."

I can't imagine what it must be like to live in such a bubble where up is down and down is up, but Cruz's take on history, like his principles, has some serious flaws. Yes, each and every one of the above mentioned candidates lost to their Democratic opponents, but not because of a lack of principles, but because of external forces that had almost nothing to do with them.

For those who remember the 1996 election, Bob Dole, the presumptive GOP winner, had been closing the gap between himself and Bill Clinton. At one point, Clinton's lead was down to single digits. What happened? Newt Gingrich, that's what. Gingrich forced two government shutdowns in late 1995 and early 1996.  That stunt badly damaged the Republican brand, which, up to that point, had been very popular with the electorate. Dole could not extricate himself from the political fallout that ensued. In the end, Clinton routed him in the general.

John McCain had two huge problems to overcome in 2008. The first was the current occupant of the White House, who, by that point, had all but reduced the GOP to the political equivalent of a punch line. So tarnished was George Bush's reputation, he didn't even make a personal appearance at his own party's convention. He had to deliver his speech via video tape.

But it was McCain's decision to tap Alaska governor Sarah Palin as his running mate that all but sealed his fate. Few remember, but prior to the Republican convention, McCain, who still had some sympathy among moderates over the way he was mugged in the 2000 primaries by Bush and Karl Rove, was within striking distance of Barack Obama. Some polls even had the race a dead heat. Then Captain Maverick chose Palin and the roof fell in. Yes, Palin solidified the party's base, but she put off a good many moderates who saw her not only as polarizing but thoroughly unqualified for the job of Veep. The result was Obama comfortably won the election.

And now we come to Mitt Romney, aka Thurston Howell, III. Those who followed Romney's career closely, especially his tenure as Massachusetts governor, knew him as a center-right Republican who was a pragmatic and heady politician, willing to work with his Democratic opponents. His healthcare law became the boiler plate for Obama and centrist Democrats who were weary of a single-payer delivery system. The smart money in 2011 not only had him winning the GOP nomination, but posing a serious challenge to Obama.

So what happened? In short, the GOP's own primary process pulled Romney so far to the right he was never able to successfully pivot back to the center every presidential candidate needs to win a national election. Despite his admittedly impressive performance in that Denver debate against Obama, which prompted many viewers to ask, "Who is this guy and what has he done with Mitt Romney?", the simple fact was that the dye had been cast. Romney was shackled with his party's image: an image that might've been effective locally, but when exposed to the spotlight of national scrutiny, looked more like a diseased horse needing to be put down. Like Clinton before him, Obama easily won reelection.

So you see, it wasn't a lack of principles that caused Bob Dole, John McCain and Mitt Romney to lose. If anything, the argument can be made that it was their party's obsession with adhering to principles, regardless of the cost, that was the primary culprit.

For the better part of the past three decades, the GOP has been desperately trying to exhume the ghost of Ronald Reagan and bring him back to life. But in their pursuit of that goal, they have been guilty of missing the forest for the trees. Yes, Reagan was a staunch conservative whose principles and positions were well established. Those who attempt to paint him as some pragmatic realist who sought middle ground, either were not alive during his two terms as president or were simply not paying attention. As Bill Maher correctly pointed out, he was the first "tea bagger."

But, contrary to what the far Right says, that was not the reason for his political success. Reagan knew how to play a room. He was a master at crafting words and delivering them in such a manner that even his critics begrudgingly tipped their hats to him. In fact, Reagan was so adept at this, he earned the title "Great Communicator." Among his contemporaries, only Bill Clinton and FDR equaled or surpassed him.

Reagan was pro-life, to be sure, but could you imagine him saying anything as stupid as "legitimate rape" or "vaginal probe" in a sentence? He was about as anti-government as any Republican of his time, yet he defended Social Security and Medicare and resisted any attempts at privatizing either. And, while he vehemently fought Democrats on just about every issue imaginable, from defense spending to taxes, he thought the idea of the government defaulting on its obligations "irresponsible."

"The full consequences of a default – or even the serious prospect of default – by the United States are impossible to predict and awesome to contemplate. Denigration of the full faith and credit of the United States would have substantial effects on the domestic financial markets and the value of the dollar in exchange markets. The Nation can ill afford to allow such a result."

And, speaking of taxes, Reagan did the unthinkable. He raised them a total of eleven times in eight years. Can you conceive of a Republican today who would even contemplate such a thing, yet alone say it publicly? Vampires have an easier time greeting the sunrise.

It took the Democratic Party a good many years before it finally woke up. From 1968 through 1988, Republicans won all but one presidential election. And one could argue that, had it not been for Gerald Ford pardoning Richard Nixon, the GOP might well have swept them all. That's how far the Democratic Party had drifted from the mainstream. Then, in 1992, the Party got smart and nominated a centrist by the name of Bill Clinton and, surprise surprise, it won. In fact, since that election, the political fortunes have reversed for the respective parties. The GOP has lost the popular vote in every presidential election save for 2004. It is now the Republican Party that is outside the mainstream.

Whether or not the Republican Party will find it within itself to wake up and do the smart thing remains to be seen. Based on what took place at this year's CPAC, I'd say the odds don't look good. The only glimmer of hope was offered by beleaguered New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who said, "We don't get to govern if we don't win."

That's the sort of horse sense the Gipper would be proud of.


No comments: