The Iowa straw poll yesterday marks the beginning of the active phase of the Republican presidential contest—as opposed to the preliminaries, which have been going on for several months. Not coincidentally, yesterday brought the addition to the field of an important candidate, Rick Perry, and today brings the retirement of one who was supposed to be important (but wasn't making the grade), Tim Pawlenty. I think this is a good time for a review of the progress of the Republican nomination contest.
The Republicans' politicians are a scurvy lot, full of false prescriptions for our society and our economy. With the exception of a few moderates from the Northeast, I have no use for any of them, and even those few are usually opposed by Democratic candidates who are just as good or better. They would do better to be honest with themselves and their constituents and admit that their national party is irredeemable. Their backers—the ones who count, the political pros and the big-money manipulators, are no better: self-justifying and selfish. I consider them phonies or fools. My fondest wish is that their party disintegrate and be replaced by something better, something sincere and worthy of debate, whether libertarian or moderate.
Their national leadership has once again been exposed as posturing scoundrels in the current manufactured crisis around raising the debt ceiling, but it is far from clear that they will be punished, certainly not sufficiently. I am contemptuous of their behavior and their policies, but I can not dismiss the possibility that they could win the next election.
It is therefore an important matter to consider the Republican Presidential contest and who wins the nomination. The goal is to advocate the candidate who would do the least damage if elected, who has the least chance of defeating President Obama, and someone who has a chance of getting the nomination. (Otherwise, I'd just endorse Fred Karger, the obscure Republican candidate who is the first openly-declared homosexual to seek the office.)
After the Iowa straw poll, the pundits have already narrowed that last criterion (who can win the nomination) down to three: Mitt Romney, yesterday's winner Michele Bachmann, and fancied new entrant Rick Perry. I watched several programs reviewing the event today, the day after, and all the talk was of the winner, and the third-place finisher, Tim Pawlenty, who quit the race today.
Not a word was mentioned of the person who finished second, barely a percent behind Bachmann in the poll. To the press, Ron Paul is dismissed as a crank, certainly not a person with a real chance; he is someone who has won the straw poll in the past to no great effect; however, he speaks honestly, coherently (if errantly), is more Christian than most of these in his tolerance and unwillingness to judge others, and gets some of the major issues right. His followers may not be the most numerous, but they are loyal to him and he to them; unlike Pawlenty, he will stay the course. His greatest problem is not that his views are too outlandish, but that his positions have been co-opted by much of the Republican “mainstream”. I see him as the one who would do the least damage of all of them if elected; it says here that he also meets my other criteria, of being unlikely to win the general election and of being a serious contender for the nomination.
I find the policies he advocates as being much less harmful than those of Bachmann, or Rick “Sanctimonious” Santorum, or the black redneck millionaire, Herman Cain. It's pretty clear that Rick Perry's candidacy is likely to swallow up their support in short order, anyway, particularly that of Santorum and Cain—their backers have just been biding their time waiting for someone like Perry to come along. Bachmann has outperformed expectations, but I think she will have a hard time holdiing her support beyond Iowa, unless Perry makes a major gaffe, which probably for him would be either failing to handle his little Texas/secession remarks tactfully (accidentally revealing his contempt for the rest of the country), or somehow letting his facade slip and showing a bit too much sensible moderation. I consider the former more likely than the latter.
If, as I fear, Perry smites down his opponents on the right, reduces Paul to irrelevancy, and Mitt doesn't drop the ball (allowing Jon Huntsman somehow to make an impression), it will come down to Romney and Perry. There, I'd have to go with Romney: not so much because I think he'd be an easier opponent for Obama—my opinion is that the opposite is true—but because Perry would be such a dangerous person to allow anywhere near the White House. He's basically George W. Bush all over, but worse.
See also my previous posting, on "Mitt and the Seven Dwarves".