You know the Republican Party is in trouble when only insane people can get nominated for president. The other day, one of the newest candidates in the field, former Speaker of the House and chronic philanderer Newt Gingrich had the audacity to suggest that Rep. Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan was radical. This seems right, as it changes forty years of universal, single-payer health care for seniors with a voucher for private insurance that won’t cover your health care costs. So Newt was right in this particular case. This was borne out by the thousands of protestors, many of them senior citizens, venting their anger on proposed Medicare changes at town hall meetings. Numerous opinion polls show that by a margin of about three Americans to one want to keep Medicare as it is. Yet Gingrich was immediately pilloried by Republicans for his remarks, and they really didn’t like his characterizing the plan as “right-wing social engineering”, which is obviously what it is.
Fifteen years ago, the Affordable Care Act would have passed Congress with most, if not all Republicans voting for it. There was nothing radical back then about legislation that required personal responsibility. Indeed, if John McCain had won the election in 2008 and proposed this legislation, it would have still been embraced by the Republican Party. Hatred for all things Obama though requires that Republicans lose all perspective on this issue. Rather than requiring people to face their responsibility they would prefer to allow people to abscond from their health care responsibility altogether. Ironically, all this does is push the burden of paying for this lack of responsibility on those who are responsible. Republicans now clearly believe that freedom includes the right to be personally irresponsible at the cost of your fellow citizens.
One of the best things Mitt Romney did as governor was sign the legislation that required virtually all Massachusetts residents to be insured. As a result, most residents of the state are paying for their health care insurance. Costs are no longer being shifted from the uninsured to the insured. To get the Republican nomination, however, Romney has to convince Republicans that he made a dreadful mistake and this great idea is certainly never something that should be done nationally. In other words, Romney is being penalized by Republicans for being an effective governor. He is at fault for getting things done. He was a bad governor for even working with its overwhelmingly Democratic legislature.
It seems like more and more the sane Republicans are bowing out of the presidential race. Donald Trump was never a serious candidate. (Scott Adams called it first.) Mike Huckabee realized his heart was not in it, but probably also realized even if he ran that Obama’s popularity would make it a doomed race. Also, the private sector pays better. Haley Barbour realized that he was too much of an establishment candidate to win a nomination. Sarah Palin is playing it sly, but seems to realize any run would be to stroke her own ego. In any event, her negatives ensure she could never be elected. Former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson is considering a run, but he is seen as so moderate that he has practically no chance, and has endorsed many elements of the Affordable Care Act.
Republicans central problem is that there really is no candidate out there who could win the presidency unless the Republican Party moves back toward the political center. It’s hard to see in the short term how this can happen. The only way it is likely to happen is when voters deliver a lesson to Republicans, which is likely to happen in 2012. Losing big can open up a space where moderation can be seen as respectable again. It is possible this moment of reckoning will come sooner. It will come if Republicans unwisely refuse to extend our debt limit. There is nothing like getting smacked with a sudden double dip recession to sober up an ideologue.
There is likely no savior out there. John Huntsman looks likely to run, but he has a history of moderation. Republicans are enamored with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, but he is suffering from nearly twenty percent negative approval in New Jersey. Texas Governor Rick Perry doesn’t seem inclined to run, but in any event he is intensely strange and keeps making noises that Texas should secede from the union. Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty inspires no one, including himself. Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, the same guy who could not find a single cosponsor for his bill to gut the National Weather Service, is weird and according to a McCain spokesman, the stupidest senator in the last twenty years. Then there are a whole host of really fringe and bizarre characters, many of whom were on display in a recent Republican debate in South Carolina. Ron Paul wants to put the United States on the gold standard and legalize prostitution. Former governor of New Mexico Gary Johnson wants to cut Medicare in half. The winner of the poorly attended debate seemed to be a hitherto unknown former CEO of Godfathers Pizza Herman Cain, who wants to abolish the IRS and thinks those who want to carve exceptions for abortions for those who are raped are pro choice.
One can only hope that Republican primary voters are more moderate overall, because if Republicans want to have any chance in 2012 they need to nominate someone like Mitt Romney, even if they have to hold their nose in the process. If they make the mistake of thinking that the American people are as far to the right as they are, then they have already lost.