Last night's GOP primary in New Hampshire was surprising in it's lack of surprises. I mean, the results pretty much mirrored the pre-voting polls with Romney coming out on top, Ron Paul in second and Jon Huntsman in third. The dismal performance of Gingrich was predicted as was the one-week flameout of the "Santorum Surge". Also predicted was Perry's last place finish, although I doubt anyone thought he'd end up behind Buddy Roemer, who can't even buy a debate invite. Overall, the standings after the votes were tallied in NH pretty much met all pre-voting expectations. So, what's the news when there's nothing new to report?
Well, for some of the media pundits, the story was that there wasn't a story. Romney finishing about as well as he did in 2008 means he isn't igniting any real passion among his supporters, nor is he bringing anyone new to the table. The same people who voted for Romney in 2008 basically voted for him again last night. For a party that has run the last 3 years on a vitriolic hatred for the president and an obsessive drive to force him out of office at all costs in 2012, the general apathy among primary voters is rather telling. You would think that for a party so consumed with a desire to see Obama unceremoniously booted from office after only one term that there would be some level of passion or at least elevated interest in selecting the best contender to take his job in the general election. Instead, the primaries so far have been little more than a listless shuffle to the inevitable selection of Mitt Romney as the party nominee.
Now, it could be argued that for much of the GOP base, it's not about loving their nominee as much as it is about hating Obama and that whoever wins is going to get the support of Republican voters, so it's "ok" to be apathetic and uninvolved in the primary process, because whoever gets nominated will get their vote in 2012 regardless - and that certainly does seem to sum up the lackluster turnout numbers so far despite the amount of hype that the GOP has put out there in the media about how ignited the base is, how motivated to send Obama a message primary voters are and so on. So far at least, there doesn't seem to be any "motivational surge" at all. But, here's the problem with the "We'll vote for whoever wins anyway, so who cares about the primaries?" attitude - while the GOP base might very well have that mindset, strongly partisan voters only make up about 14% of the voter turnout on both sides. What that means is, only about 14% of all voters either vote only Democrat or only Republican. The other 86% vote for the candidate they like best, regardless of party affiliation. Think Bush voters who also voted for Obama or Clinton voters who also voted for Reagan. Most voters in this country don't simply vote along party lines, so it's going to take a lot more than just "He's the Republican nominee" to get most of the country to vote for a candidate.
So, if just being a Republican candidate means that only about 7% of the country is going to vote for them no matter what, how can the base be so apathetic and uninspired when it comes to the nominee selecting process? If the goal here is to pick the guy who is best able to defeat Obama, then why is the GOP base content to just sort of roll over and let Romney get "his turn" at being the nominee? That's always been the thing with Republican presidential nominees - it's always about the candidate who's "turn" it is to get to run. In the last 30 years, it's been like that with George HW Bush, Bob Dole, John McCain and now Romney. Guys who put in the time, wait patiently and then, finally, are allowed their "turn" to be the party nominee. This is part of the reason why there is so much apathy in the base, certainly. The knowledge that it's just Romney's "turn" certainly takes the surprise and enthusiasm out of the selection process. However, it's more than just the reluctant acceptance of the inevitable that has people far less enthusiastic than the beltway and the GOP spin doctors had hyped. There's also the incredibly disappointing list of challengers to Romney's "inherited claim" to the nomination.
I've said many times before and will continue to say until the nomination is set in stone, but Romney isn't winning his nomination as much as the rest of the field are losing theirs. Every other candidate has had a chance to be a front runner or at least a challenger nipping at Romney's heels and every single one of them has blown their opportunity by showing themselves to be "not ready for prime time". First, it was Michelle Bachmann, who won the Ames straw poll and then proceeded to blow her political capital by making the crazy and uninformed comments that had already earned her a healthy serving of ridicule from the left, from her shocking lack of knowledge about history, geography and the constitution to her wild statements about inoculations, she quickly soured the base on the prospect that she could ever beat Obama in a general run off. Of course, there's also that whole thing about a woman who panders to a base that wants to "restore" America to a time when women knew there place - and that place sure isn't out on the campaign trail - so it shouldn't be surprising that when you put your fate in the hands of people who think you'd be better off in the kitchen, that that's exactly where they send you.
Next came Rick Perry, the late-entry guy who was supposed to just come in with his impression of James Brolin's imitation of GW Bush and Texas swagger his way right into the hearts of all the poor, dumb bastards who still think we'd be better off going back in time 10 years and making all the same mistakes all over again. Perry was doing good, real good in fact, until he started talking. Perry and Bachmann began to show the underlying problem, not only with most of the GOP field, but with the base who supported them. The candidates, for the most part, acted as if they spent absolutely no time whatsoever preparing to be a presidential candidate and the base acted as if that was actually a positive thing. Now, I understand that in the post-Tea Party era, it's a good thing to be viewed as an "outsider" or someone who is against the "establishment" in Washington, but that doesn't mean act like a complete moron. When voters look for an "outsider", they want someone who could be a traditional politician but who chooses not to, not someone who doesn't even seem to be smart enough to handle the job. At some point, being an "outsider" got misconstrued into being folksy and "aw shucks" ignorant to the point of being proudly anti-intellectual. Again, that might fly with the Tea Party fringe, but the vast majority of voters expect a certain type of character and a level of distinguished statesmanship in their elected leaders. There's a reason why people don't vote for their neighbors in an election. I've said it before and I'll say it again, people don't want to be lead by their neighbors, they want to be lead by their betters and so they vote for the candidate who carries themselves as if they are better than the average American. Doing the put-on "aw shucks" routine might endear you to some base voters on the primary circuit, hell it might even get you in the governor's office in the right states, but nobody wants to put a rube in the white house. It hasn't been long enough since GW was in office for people to have completely forgotten how that story ends.
Then there was Herman Cain, aka "Hagen Daas black walnut", the flavor of the week that never goes away, except when Hagen Daas stops making it, or when it gets revealed to be a lying, cheating, amoral scumbag of a person. I remember when I first blogged about Cain that I said my issue with him was that he seemed like the kind of guy who would be all cool and friendly to your face but try to screw your wife behind your back every time you left the room. Turns out I was more right than I realized. About a month later, he was bowing out of the race after a 13-year long affair came to light amid nearly half a dozen other allegations of sexual impropriety from former employees and associates. All the bumper sticker slogans and flashy rhetoric in the world can't save you when the base goes from chanting "nine nine nine" to "nein nein nein".
Cain's exit paved the way for Gingrich, the next "Not Romney" to get 15 minutes in the spotlight. Unfortunately for Gingrich, Romney was the only candidate in this race actually running a real campaign. While Gingrich, Cain and, to a lesser extent, Bachmann and Perry might have been running glorified book tours with a smattering of super PAC ads, Romney has been running a real, organized an well-funded campaign from the get-go. Because of this, the minute Gingrich oozed his way into the spotlight next to Mitt, he was immediately assaulted with a plethora of negative attack ads that went after everything from Gingrich's political and professional hypocrisy to his personal lack of morals. The result was that Gingrich was on track to have the shortest "moment in the sun" of any of the "Not-Mitt's" to touch the brass ring. That is, until Rick Santorum came in second in Iowa...
Ah yes, Rick Santorum, the second biggest douchebag still in the GOP race, next to Newt. Rick Santorum, who's hyper-religious idiocy rivals both Bachmann and Perry in it's banality, but with the added kick of just enough intelligence in it's delivery to not sound completely asinine. See, when Bachmann and Perry start waxing religious about the evils of gay marriage and birth control, they sound like ignorant fundamentalists, but when Santorum does it, he sounds scary, like this guy might actually have a chance to affecting some of his backwards and terrible ideologies. He's educated and well-spoken enough to make his brand of crazy intolerance sound defendable to the base and that, plus a huge push by Fox News, is what lead to his week-long "surge" after the Iowa caucus. However, when the smoke cleared and the buzzes wore off, people realized they had actually put Rick Santorum in a position of thinking he might actually be the presidential nominee and the correction was swift. No way were New Hampshire voters going to make the same stupid, knee-jerk decision that Iowa voters had.
The other candidate who finally found some spotlight going into Iowa was Ron Paul. Having enjoyed a strong level of support from his rabidly loyal fan base the whole time, he finally managed to work his way into the minds and conversations of other GOP base voters who had already been let down by Bachmann, Perry, Cain and Gingrich and just wanted someone who sounded reasonably smart, wasn't trying to have sex with everyone and didn't drip slime and evil from his pores when he sweat. Paul was that reluctant hero. Bolstered by his legion of supporters, you know all those annoying people who are constantly posting youtube links about how great Ron Paul is and how the media is deliberately ignoring him because they're afraid of his genius and they know he'll fix everything and they don't want him to because it's all a secret conspiracy to keep America down? Yeah, those guys. Well, they have a way of wearing down other GOP voters who are just looking for someone, anyone, who isn't Mitt Romney and who actually seems like they have chance of debating Obama without getting completely tooled. So, it was inevitable that Paul would eventually get his 15 minutes, much to the consternation of the Fox News machine who definitely does not like Paul and has marginalized him from the beginning. Unfortunately for Paul, when you have no support from the conservatives greatest propaganda machine, there's no one to defend and justify your screw-ups and faux pas. So, when the racist newsletters that Paul signed his name to, yet claimed never to have actually read, came out, there was no 24-hour "news" channel to defend him and blame it all on a left-wing conspiracy. When Paul's own shocking and ignorant homophobic comments and actions came to light, there was no hot blonde anchors to tell horny, middle-class white male voters that he was still an ok dude and they should still support him. Instead, they were pushing their latest anti-Romney hopeful, Rick Santorum. Yeah, that didn't work out so well...
However, Paul's campaign wasn't rocked as hard by the blatant racism and homophobia that runs rampant through it's history as the other candidates were by their own peccadilloes. A big part of that, which I mentioned yesterday, is that most of Paul's supporters agree on at least some level with the racist and homophobic rhetoric that has dogged his campaign. Ron Paul supporters are the quintessential "victimized Christian white males". They blame most of our problems on immigrants and homosexuals, they love Paul's isolationist, xenophobic platform and they understand just enough of his fiscal policy platform to think it's brilliant, but not enough to realize it's terrifyingly awful. You can't turn off Ron Paul supporters by exposing that Paul signs off on most of the ignorant and bigoted beliefs that they themselves hold. Thus, he still comes in second in New Hampshire and will likely continue to be the biggest thorn in Romney's side between now and the convention.
That leaves us with Jon Huntsman. The most rational, reasonable and intelligent-sounding candidate in the race. And, because of that, the one who all the political odds makers predicted would never be more than a single-digit blip on the radar in this race. That in itself has to be a slap in the face of the GOP voter base - that even the pro-right beltway media and Fox News itself just assumed from the beginning that Jon Huntsman was "too smart" for the GOP base to support. He believes in "radical" stuff like the existence of global warming, he puts any level of trust whatsoever in "science", he is willing to accept the absolutely insane notion that Democrats aren't always wrong 100% of the time about everything. I mean, the guy is practically a liberal by fringe, Tea Party standards, he even accepted the job of ambassador to China from Obama - the devil himself! Huntsman finished third in New Hampshire - his strongest showing in the race so far. However, this finish is being dismissed by the left, apparently because he didn't beat Paul for second place. I don't see it that way, though. I think that, for Huntsman, this third place showing gives his campaign a lot of momentum and new energy that will keep him in the race for a lot longer than anyone predicted. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if Huntsman outlasts Perry, Gingrich and Santorum and ends up taking this race all the way to the convention, depending on how the rest of the state primary elections turn out. One thing's for sure though, Perry, Gingrich and Santorum are all but done in this shooting match. None of the candidates who fell from the spotlight have ever gotten it back, once the base sours, that's it. The same way these guys stubbornly refuse to accept that it's just Mitts "turn" to be the presidential nominee is the same way they stubbornly refuse to admit that they might have been too hasty to dismiss a contender when the honeymoon ends. Also, unlike the other flash in the pan contenders to come and go from the spotlight, Huntsman actually has some bi-partisan appeal that does matter with independent and undecided voters. His politics and policies aren't as divisive as the other candidates. While all of this might be poison to the base, it's the secret to success with the other 86%.
And this is why I just don't understand why GOP voters are so apathetic and unimpassioned when it comes to picking their champion to go against Obama in the general election octagon. Romney will lose to Obama, I can almost guarantee it. The general dissatisfaction with Obama's performance so far simply isn't strong enough to get the average voter to ignore Romney's hypocrisy, inconsistency and serial flip-flopping on literally every major issue in the election. Obama might be a "scary liberal", but at least he's honest about it. Romney is like political play-dough, he will literally mold himself into whatever shape he thinks people want to see and that core disingenuousness is going to be a huge turn-off to mainstream voters.
Likewise, Ron Paul won't win simply because no one in the media on either side is willing to take him seriously at all. The Fox News/conservative media hates him because he doesn't toe the party line and the left wing media just thinks he's a gimmick candidate and is too far out to garner any significant mainstream appeal, although ironically, the so-called "liberal media" gives Ron Paul far more credit and his campaign far more legitimacy than the right does. Still though, for the "86%'ers", what the news tells them matters. If the news deliberately ignores a candidate long enough, he will "go away" in the minds of those voters come election time. This happened to Paul in '08 and it will happen again in '12, much to the frustration of his rabid followers, who will no doubt view this as more proof of the institutionalized prejudice against their race, religion and values.
It just seems to me that if the GOP honestly wants to nominate a candidate with a real chance of beating Obama with independent, undecided and - most importantly - young voters, then they need a guy who isn't "establishment", they need a guy who isn't just taking his "turn" at being the nominee. While Paul might have too much baggage and not enough media love to win their hearts, Huntsman might actually be able to pull it off. Of course, there's still a lot of time and a lot of primary elections between now and the general run-off, but I don't think any of the other candidates could beat Obama right now. The only guy who I see as having any chance of getting enough of the "86%" votes away from Obama to win is Huntsman. Of course, if I want to see Obama win, I would want anyone but Huntsman to get the nomination, but honestly it's that kind of blind partisanship that got us in this mess in the first place. The inability to accept that someone from the other side of the aisle might ever have a good idea for America is why we've had 3 years of a do-nothing congress and political stalemate after stalemate. Hey, if Jon Huntsman is the guy who can get America working again, then I wish him all the luck. All I know is none of the other guys running for the nomination gives me even a sliver of hope that they will do anything except make things worse than they already are. And I'm saying this as an Obama supporter, so maybe the GOP base should listen to guys like me, they might learn something.