Monday, May 23, 2011

NY Times Super-Bad On Mitch Daniels

I've never been a big fan of the New York Times, but the Jeff Zelenzy/Jim Rutenberg "story" on the Mitch Daniels decision not to run for the Republican nomination is a particularly poor example of political journalism.

The biggest weakness of the article is that it conveys an impression that the Republican primary field is just about set with Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, and Jon Huntsman.

“The field is largely now settled, and Republican activists and donors will begin increasingly choosing between those who are declared,” said Ed Gillespie, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee and an adviser to President George W. Bush. “The process will accelerate now.”

That's just idiotic.

For anybody interested in reality, there are two big stories with the Republican primary field. Most importantly, establishment conservative manipulators failed again to come up with a candidate who can credibly unify the business establishment, neo-cons, and the religious right. George W. Bush was a nearly perfect prop for the Republican establishment in 2000. Relatively new to politics, Bush was a fresh-faced politician who could campaign as a "compassionate conservative" for general election voters but also be absolutely orthodox and willing to aggressively attack the Democrats.

No doubt Karl Rove, Ed Rollins, and Whit Ayers are still pining for those days.

But the conservative establishment couldn't come up with another version of George W for 2008. The manipulators have a dual problem. They've found it extremely difficult to find any body who combines conservative orthodoxy with the ability to make that orthodoxy new and exciting. In 2008, neither of the two major candidates were orthodox conservatives. John McCain was a lone wolf who couldn't stand business conservatives, neo-cons, or the religious right. Sure, he was a popular guy who could tack right for the primaries, but he couldn't galvanize the Republican Party for the campaign. Also outside the establishment, Mitt Romney tried to fake orthodoxy but couldn't do so in a credible manner. The Great White Hope of the conservative establishment, Fred Thompson, lost traction because he wasn't willing to campaign.

The establishment types haven't been able to find a Great White Hope for 2012 either. For one reason or another, potential candidates like Gen. David Petraeus, Bobby Jindal, Charlie Crist, and Chris Christie didn't pan out. Fox News boss Roger Ailes even made a big play to get Christie to run. So they started fantasizing over secondary figures like the non-charismatic Mitch Daniels, budget guru Paul Ryan, and former Tea Party favorite Marco Rubio, but they really didn't want to run.

I imagine they're will probably be one more push to get Christie to run.

As a result, the conservative establishment is stuck with Mitt Romney as their best hope. At best, Tim Pawlenty and Jon Huntsman can only provide token competition for Romney. However, Romney just isn't strong enough to be the establishment standard bearer. He looks like a sure loser to Obama in the general election. Even worse, he might lose to somebody from the Religious Right/Tea Party faction and thus threaten Establishment control of the GOP.

And that's the second big story for the GOP, the emergence of a religious right/Tea Party faction that is a real threat to the conservative establishment. The problem for the Religious Right/Tea Party is that they haven't come up with a viable candidate either. At one point, the Religious Right/Tea Party looked like it was one step ahead of the Establishment because it appeared that Sarah Palin was going to be a charismatic standard bearer. But Palin was over-exposed in 2009, stumbled badly in her response to the Tucson shooting of Rep. Gabby Giffords and proved to be vulnerable to criticism and thin-skinned. Right now, Sarah Palin is all question marks and no answers.

Unfortunately for the right, the Religious Right/Tea Party doesn't have a viable alternative to Mitt Romney any more than the Establishment. Mike Huckabee was a possibility but he didn't like the Tea Party and didn't want to run. Michele Bachmann could unify everybody in the Religious Right and Tea Party factions, but is probably too green to beat Mitt Romney. People like Rick Santorum and Herman Cain are too marginal to make much impact.

The major question for the Republicans at this point is whether Sarah Palin is going to run and whether she would be a strong enough figure to threaten Establishment control of the Republican Party is she does run.

Not having come up with a viable candidate for two election cycles in a row, the conservative Establishment is in danger of losing control of the Republican Party.

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