January 19, 2012
The South Carolina primary is coming up on Saturday, and — surprise! — the Republicans may have found their nominee much sooner than anyone expected, even a month ago. Mitt Romney, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (without the angst), The Man Nobody Knows (just one step down from Jesus, whom the book by that name calls "the world's greatest business executive") — is charging to the convention, despite being The Man Nobody Wants. His once- formidable opponents are shriveling like prunes in the Southern sun.
Jon Huntsman, lower in the polls than comedian Steven Colbert, dropped out on Monday. You wonder why he never got any traction — he was the most reasonable of the lot (maybe that's why), thoughtful, composed, balanced, experienced both nationally and internationally (ditto), good-looking, family man, his Mormon faith a non-issue (as with Romney this time around; another hurdle of bigotry cleared?). Perhaps he was too much of a wonk to win; perhaps it was the China connection (colluding with the enemy, and I don't mean China); or perhaps it was the sense that he really didn't crave the job, just wanted to serve the country. Whatever the case, the media ignored him and the public wrote him off.
Another one down. Rick Perry's next, running a smidgeon above Colbert, though his hybris won't let him drop till Saturday night at the earliest.
The future's not bright for Newt Gingrich either, whom the voters have finally concluded is too erratic and delusional to trust with high office.
Evangelical groups got together last weekend to draft an A.B.M. ("Anybody But Mitt") treaty and endorsed Rick Santorum to represent the family-values agenda and the Art of Tea, but it looks like many South Carolina evangelicals will turn to Romney the Electable.
Lastly but not leastly is Ron Paul, the libertarian fly in the anointment, whose views are simultaneously attractive/repulsive to both the left (demilitarize/deregulate) and the right (deregulate/demilitarize). His ideological consistency and blithe disregard of polls, focus groups, and issue-du-jour spin is entirely refreshing: Liberals long for a liberal Ron Paul, conservatives for a conservative one. But Paul can be just who he is because he knows he'll never be nominated; the ones who have real hopes almost always have to be double- talkers.
Romney, in fact, is the anti-Paul, and it's no wonder Republican voters are gritting their teeth while marking their ballots. He's the chameleon of chameleons, turning from blue to red to fit the background. He's as shallow and insipid as any candidate since James Buchanan. His sole desire is not to do but to be, which sounds pretty Zen but it's pretty high-school — what he really wants in life is not to act as president but simply to be president, and his history has shown he'll make any accommodation in order to one day bask, however fleetingly, in the adoring glow of the nation.
This is a candidate without a single fresh idea. At least Herman Cain came up with 9-9-9 and Gingrich with mining the moon and repealing child-labor laws. All Mitt can do is parrot the threadbare Republican laundry-list: dismantle "Obamacare," (or is it "Romneycare"?), cut taxes, shrink government, drill-baby- drill, equate the effectiveness of national defense with the amount spent on it, and of course, that perennial bill of goods, "create jobs."
In the frenzied months before Iowa, Republican voters kissed one frog after another, hoping for their prince or princess charming, and all they got was warts. Now it looks like they're giving up and settling for the boy next door. Think he'll have the moxie to beat that big guy across the street?
* * * * *
Uh-oh. I'm channeling Andy Rooney: "Did you ever notice how many presidential aspirants have one-syllable names? This time around you've got Mitt, Newt, Ron, and two Ricks. In the recent past you had Joe, Mike, Fred, Bill, Al, Bob, and probably others I can't think of at the moment. Why is this? To show they're tough? (You know, like ‘Spike.') To show they're just folks? ("Shucks, just call me Al.") To show they're not all that serious? Maybe that's it. It's just a small point, but it'll keep me wondering till next week."