I was going to write you a short note to congratulate you (I guess) for becoming the first officially-announced candidate for president…in a primary season whose first election is still
more than a year away, for a general election even more distant than that. But we both know that I wouldn’t have been sincere, so I didn’t do it. I know how you hate the phoniness that’s unfortunately so typical of politics, and God knows I don’t want to add to it.
I think I understand why you announced when you did—to try to get commitments from big money donors before they sign up with Jeb, and to capitalize on any remaining Tea Party fervor that hasn’t just naturally bubbled off since November. I take it you feel that was worth the chance, even if it flies in the face of the fact that in recent times the first person to announce does not end up winning. And I guess I understand why you announced where you did—forsaking stages in both the nation’s capital as well as your state’s capital, and even your hometown here in Houston, you chose a setting deep in the heart of the Christian extremist movement to say loud and clear, I am here to be the president of Born Again America and the rest of you better watch your step.
What the hell, it’s your campaign…do it however you want. I will note that while you have the advantage of at least being an alternative to another Clinton, or yet another Bush—a not insubstantial advantage, to my mind—you are also following in the footsteps of Barack Obama by aiming for the top after having barely dipped your toe in an elective office. Your hubris is showing, buddy, and I imagine they had something to say about that back at Faith West Academy and Second Baptist.
Can you win? There is so much time before anyone casts the first vote that actually means something, and so many unknowns that could go one way or another during that time—and that’s both the known unknowns as well as the unknown ones—it’s impossible to say. So sure, I guess you could win…and I could finally break 80 on the golf course. I can get you the names of some folks who can help quantify that possibility for you, if you’re interested.
So as you set off on this adventure, no doubt intensely secure in your belief in yourself, I’d suggest looking out for this one way that you might be able to expand your appeal: try to be less of an asshole. It couldn’t hurt.
Yep, another great day: sunny skies and highs in the low 80s in southeast Texas, got a ticket for my first game of the new baseball season tonight, made some good progress with a new swing thought out on the driving range yesterday, and I’m about a week away from trading in a serviceable but boxy and uninspiring VW for a very low mileage Honda two-seater—just the kind I’ve always loved and used to drive—while lowering my costs in the process! With Rick Santorum’s exit from the GOP presidential primary, I’m hoping we can all enjoy a period of relative campaign quiet, too, but here’s something to roll around in your head before Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, and the permanent political class, use up all the oxygen.
It has looked like, from the vantage point of today, that come November we voters would face a choice between the radicalism that defines today’s Republican Party or another four years of divided government and damn little constructive effort on crucial economic issues. Even the most moderate-seeming Republican candidate, Romney, was disavowing anything in own past that smelled of reasonableness and compromise, to appeal to the extremists who make up most of the GOP primary voters. But the need for that should be over now, absent a mind-boggling resurgence from Newt Gingrich or Ron Paul or a last gasp charge to the convention from Sarah Palin or someone of that ilk to rally the “true conservatives.”
But even as Romney starts to redefine himself to appeal to the less ideological among us, Republicans will have a quite a slog in front of them if they wish to broaden their appeal beyond those who’ve already drunk the Kool-Aid. Former White House speechwriter and senior policy adviser Michael Gerson says it’s not just a matter of trying to counter the Democrats’ “war on women” meme: “The GOP’s main problem is not the contraceptive issue; it is the perception that it has become too ideological on many issues.”
Women and independent voters have seen a party enthusiastically confirming its most damaging stereotypes. The composite Republican candidate—reflecting the party’s ideological mean—has been harsh on immigration, confrontational on social issues, simplistic in condemning government and silent on the struggles of the poor. How many women would find this profile appealing on eHarmony?
This is the hidden curse of the Republican congressional triumph of 2010. Republican activists came to believe that purity is all that is necessary for victory. But a presidential candidate, it turns out, requires a broader ideological attraction than your average tea party House freshman.
From an academic standpoint it will be interesting to see if and how Romney and the more traditional Republican elements work to sand the scary edges off of their primary campaign messages, to widen their appeal and entice the plurality of American voters who don’t ritualistically identify with the Republican or Democratic parties; those are the people who will decide this election. (The Obama campaign isn’t going to make it easy, already working to reinforce Romney’s “severe” conservatism and other primary campaign highlights.) Gerson argues that “Mainly, women and independents want some reassurance that Republicans give a damn about someone other than Republican primary voters. It is not a high bar. But Romney needs to start somewhere…”. I’ll check back in after Memorial Day to see how he’s doing.