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The Race Is On

We’re still habitually writing 2014 on checks, but already the 2016 presidential race is underway. The Democrats still haven’t decided whether they’ll have a race or just hand a crown to Hillary Clinton, but there’s more than enough going on with the Republicans to keep the press happy.
There was a big confab of conservatives in inordinately influential Iowa that attracted many of the likely candidates, a few more likely candidates were conspicuous by their absence, a pair of very famous people have indicated an interest in joining the fray, and there seems to be a very wide and diverse field forming. All of it neatly serves one or another of the preferred press narratives, and while the potential Democratic candidates are dithering all the respectable media attention can be paid to those crazy Republicans and their traveling freak show.
The spectacle of Republican hopefuls seeking the support of conservatives, of all people, was almost too much for The Washington Post to bear. That oh-so-respectable publication’s report from Des Moines frets that the gathering of conservatives there “highlighted anew the thorny patch ahead for candidates as they try to attract support from the party’s conservative base without compromising their hopes for a general election.” They note that former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who was being lauded elsewhere in the paper for promising “adult conversations on big issues,” and former Massachusetts Governor and past presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who is ruefully described as a past casualty of conservatism, declined invitations to the event, and one can’t help noticing the “tsk-tsk” between the lines as they contemplate the notion that such pillars of the party establishment did not feel welcome among such rabid Republicans as one finds in places such as Iowa.
As much as we appreciate The Washington Post’s deep, deep concern that the Republicans might be endangering their prospects of winning a presidential race, we think their worries are unwarranted. The conservatives’ insistence of stricter enforcement of immigration law and preference for lower taxes, the two issues the paper cites as reasons for Mitt Romney’s defeat in ’12 election, will likely prove a benefit to any Republican candidate after Romney’s resulted in tax hikes and amnesty for trainloads of unaccompanied minors from Central America. The reporters can’t seem to think of anything else on the conservative agenda that would compromise their hopes for a general election, and neither can we. A greater worry would result from nominating a candidate that fails to bring out the conservative base, as happened with Romney.
There’s still abortion, same-sex marriage, and a host of other social issues, including almost daily new ones involving acronyms and neologisms and exceedingly rare behaviors that are still unfamiliar to most Americans, so the quadrennial stories about the Titanic of the Republican party ramming into the iceberg of conservatism can always make do with that. In yet another Washington Post dispatch we learn that Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal skipped the Iowa event not because he was insufficiently conservative but in order to accept an invitation to speak at a “controversial” prayer rally in his home state, where he “called for a national spiritual revival and urged event attendees to proselytize on behalf of their Christian beliefs.” This particular prayer rally is apparently controversial because it was organized by the American Family Association, which hews to traditional Christian beliefs about sexual morality, but the paper doesn’t go so far as to find anything controversial Christians retaining a freedom of speech. Once again there’s that deep, deep concern that the Republicans might be making a mistake, but if opposition to abortion was such a challenge to general election chances the party wouldn’t have won anything in the last 43 years, and while same-sex marriage is polling a bit better than even these days we don’t sense that the public wants to start enforcing proper opinions on the matter, and by 2016 the Democratic party’s association with all the craziness that’s going on in the cultural left won’t do it any benefit. Jindal has also lately been outspoken about the Islamic roots of Islamic terrorism, and we can’t expect that the press will also find that controversial, but it shouldn’t prove a general election problem.
For the benefit of the press caricaturists who wish to to portray the craziness of the Republicans, however, we might see the entrance of former Alaska Governor and past vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin as well as real estate mogul and television reality show star Donald Trump. We rather like Palin, and delight in the way she drives all the right people insane, but after too few years in office and too many years of relentless ridicule by the late night comics of the left she’s unlikely to win the nomination and all too likely to distract from the more accomplished candidate who does. We don’t particularly like Trump, and find no reason whatsoever he should be president and see no plausible argument that he ever could be president, but he does have an undeniable ability to attraction attention to himself. Between the two the press could easily pay diminished attention to an otherwise impressive slate of candidates, and those late night comics of the left will surely do so.
Among the candidates that have impressed us is Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, whose bold reforms have so enraged the public sector unions that he was forced to survive a recall election that featured state legislators fleeing to other states as rowdy mobs rampaged through the state capitol, as well as a bruising but successful re-election campaign, and we note from the oh-so-respectable but frequently reliable The Hill that Walker a big hit at the Iowa gathering. The paper went so far as to say he “shows fire,” a significant compliment given the governor’s reputation in the press as a rather blandly polite midwestern sort of fellow, although we think blandly polite might play well after eight years of the world’s greatest orator and most petulant president, and it further noted that he stressed his own conservatism, which we sense they did not intend as a compliment. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel in Walker’s home state reported that he told the Iowans to “go big and go bold,” but over at the National Review they note that Wisconsin’s legislative agenda includes a right-to-work law and a gambling casino, and worry that the governor’s presidential ambitions might prevent him from going big and bold on either issue. We’ll be watching to see how the governor responds, and will be disappointed if he doesn’t back the right-to-work bill in order to prevent a round of drum circles and hippie sleep-ins at the capitol building. Right-to-work is good economics and, well, a right, and even in Wisconsin it’s good politics these days, and nightly newscasts full of dirty hippies protesting your policies isn’t going to hurt a bit. The gambling thing is trickier, as even conservatives are split on the advisability of the government getting into the monopolized gambling business, but after all Walker’s been through he should survive any outcome on the issue.
Walker’s just one of several Republican governors who have brought greater prosperity to their states with conservative reforms, however, and at least three senators who have an expressed an interest in the presidency also warrant consideration. We can’t see the party giving Romney another chance, and we expect that Bush’s stands on immigration and common core and a general sort of big government-run compassionate conservatism associated with his family will be more than money and organization can overcome, but even those men have real accomplishments they can point to. Pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson and former high-tech businesswoman Carly Fiorina have never held public office, and Fiorina lost a senatorial bid in heavily Democratic California, but both bring impressive resumes and appealing personalities and common sense conservatism as well the ethnic and sexual identities that Democrats like to claim. They represent a wide range of views being passionately debated in the party, which could be considered a sign of Republican vigor, but the stories will tell of petty infighting between the crazies and the moderately crazy. Should the moderately crazy prevail, once again, the press will then begin to describe them as merely crazy.
Meanwhile, over on the Democratic side, the few stories we find about potential challengers usually mention Vermont Rep. Bernie Sanders, a self-described socialist, and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who isn’t so frank about her political ideology. We’ll be on the lookout for any stories fretting that any Democratic nomination race that might break out would drag Hillary Clinton too far to the left, but given that socialism isn’t so controversial as Christianity and the press isn’t nearly so concerned about the political fortunes of the Democrats it might take a while.

— Bud Norman

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