Saturday, August 20, 2011

Some Musings on the Campaign
Because watching things fall apart can be fun...
  • Tim Pawlenty ended his campaign last week after losing to state-mate Rep. Batshit in Iowa. As he continued on in the race, Pawlenty increasingly reminded me of a fictional Minnesotan: Jerry Lundegaard, William H. Macy's hapless car sales manager/would-be kidnapper in "Fargo." Like Jerry, "T-Paw" seemed constantly to be trying to project a confidence and charisma he didn't feel, and perhaps thought himself smarter than he was. The theory of Pawlenty's campaign was that he could emerge as more tolerable to the Zombie Army than Mitt Romney while remaining acceptable to the money gang whose preferences are usually determinative. But this required showing something to both groups--and Pawlenty delivered for neither, failing to take Romney on in an early debate and proving unable to raise enough money to endure a setback in the silly straw poll.

  • I think this probably could have been predicted from Pawlenty's memoir title, "Courage to Stand." To stand for what? I think the silent subtitle is "For Whatever You'd Like Me to Believe." Even there, he was never going to out-pander Romney. That awful title has me trying to think up equally lame political memoir names: Forward to Our Future? My American Adventure? Patriotism and Principle? Blech.

  • The new Republican contender who's aiming to be mutually acceptable to the nuts and the greedheads is Rick Perry. He's got a much better chance than Pawlenty, because he's not boring. Perry's problem is that he's so obviously an asshole, and unlike New Jersey governor Chris Christie--another unapologetic asshole, but a pretty clearly intelligent and engaged guy--there seems to be little principle and less thought behind it. The Bush comps are obvious and valid as far as they go, but what the pundits seem to be missing is that the press corps on some level must feel remorse at having given Dubya such a relatively easy ride in 2000; they won't do that with Perry. His personality is just much uglier than Bush's, his politics far more raw, and the public will see all that in high-def.

  • I'm starting to wonder if Jon Huntsman has it somewhere in his head to go independent. The mullahs of right-wing radio surely will go fatwa on him after his TV appearance tomorrow morning, if they haven't already. His polling is in Gingrich territory. He's got little institutional support. But he projects reasonableness, he's got some clear admirers in the press corps... and the country is utterly disgusted with politics-as-usual. Also, his family is really, really, really rich. There are efforts in progress to secure national ballot access for independents. What if Huntsman announces in December or early January that he's leaving the Republican Party because our country's problems are too big for partisanship-as-usual--the same logic he can claim for his decision to serve in the Obama administration--and that he'll seek the presidency as an independent? If he could claim endorsements from every disaffected Republican--Colin Powell, Bruce Bartlett, Alan Simpson--and a bunch of civic-minded business leader/officials like Bloomberg? Maybe some of the old Clinton machinery would come around for him. It's a long shot, but I think there's a certain logic to it. He's damn sure not going to win as a Republican, and I think Sullivan is being over-optimistic yet again if he thinks the Rs will be more receptive to a Huntsman campaign by 2016.

  • Speaking of Sullivan, he published a letter of mine that essentially covered the same ground as the previous post. See it here, if you'd like. This is where I think both his own biases and his deep investment in Obama--which I readily grasp--blind him; Obama's "restraint" isn't even the issue so much as his willingness if not eagerness to continually shit on his "base." The evidence is coming in that this will be a huge problem for him next year.


The Navigator said...

About Huntsman: I have no idea what he'll do, but it's worth keeping in mind that in the 1980 campgain George HW Bush described Reagan's proposals as "voodoo economics," yet notwithstanding this Kinsley gaffe, Poppy got the VP slot and then eased on into the West Wing himself. It seems plausible to me that Perry will win and then want to assauge moderates that there's a sane person on the ticket. Not likely, perhaps, but plausible.
My own guess is that Huntsman is all about setting himself up for 2016. But, really, I don't know. Finishing fifth or sixth and probably not even getting a prime-time speaking slot at the 2012 convention doesn't seem like a route to the 2016 nomination, and Huntsman must know that.

The Navigator said...

As far as shitting on your base... I wish it were true that you had to defer to progressives to win as a Democrat in this country, but I think that proposition is presumptively wrong until proven otherwise, sad to say. Bill Clinton poured his energy into NAFTA, and signed a welfare repeal bill, and had a Sister Souljah momemt, before the 1996 election, and liberal defections didn't noticeably hurt him. I still think Dem strategists are crossing their fingers for a Perry or Bachmann nomination, and figure they'll have no trouble in scaring the base into action. What they'll do if it's Romney, I have no idea.

David said...

The Huntsman-2016 notion would make a lot more sense to me if Obama were a stronger bet for re-election, particularly if he was on pace for a Reagan 1984 type win. In that case, Huntsman could be the I-told-you-so guy, an obvious choice for a party that's gone off the ideological rails. But it doesn't seem likely things will unfold that way.

On the other point, I think there's room between "deferring to progressives" (which maybe would look something like full-fledged support for repealing DOMA, accelerated withdrawal from the wars, aggressive investigation of both the fiscal crisis and the torture regime, and vastly stronger support for people like Elizabeth Warren and Dawn Johnsen) and what Obama is actually doing, which so often comes across as willingness to fight every battle on Republicans' terms if not actual pre-emptive surrender. Ugh.

The Navigator said...

Good points. You know, Reagan and Dubya always seemed to manage to make their base feel fully appreciated even when they weren't outlawing abortion or really carrying out their base's firmest wishes. I think language was a big part of how they did that - the dog-whistle notes in the SotU, etc. - but that's probably harder to do when the Dem's base is less homogenous (sprinkle in phrases from Darwin?).

I take your point that the way for Obama to do this would be to show a little more spine. But his advisors are adamant that that would turn off independents and moderates. I don't know who's right.