A year ago today few of us probably thought that the primaries would come down to debating whether Romney or Gingrich are more conservative. It's a rather thankless and pointless debate currently being settled by cherry picking statements on single issues. The bottom line is that neither man is particularly conservative, certainly neither man is a small government conservative. But the odds of anyone like that getting to the finish line were never very good.
Over the last several weeks we have gotten a thorough grounding in each man's negatives. But we have also gotten a reminder of how each man got here. And we have gotten heavy doses of hysteria.
Gingrich and Romney are both widely hated. Gingrich is hated by the insiders, Romney is hated by the outsiders. As Speaker, Gingrich was a convenient way to make Clinton look better. Now he's being used for the same purpose again, to make Romney look better. And Republican voters are being asked to choose which of the men they hate less. This is not a particularly good process for choosing a nominee. But it's also how we have consistently ended up with poor nominees.
The game isn't over yet. People still have a chance to unite around an alternative candidate. Perry is still hanging around looking for support. He's marginally more conservative than Romney and Gingrich, but with a much lower profile on the national stage, it's hard to say how much. Bachmann and Santorum are also still in the race and they may surprise everyone.
This is still an open process, which is why threatening third party runs or demanding that a candidate drop out of the race is unconscionable. If your candidate can't win Republican primaries, then how is he going to win the general election? Particularly a three-way election.
Sure a sizable chunk of Ron Paul's support comes from the left, but not enough to do anything but turn him into the Republican version of Ralph Nader. And Nader gave the election to George W. Bush. Encouraging a third party candidacy by a fringe candidate before a single primary is nothing short of blackmail. It's thuggish behavior to try and intimidate voters with a third party candidacy. The message is "Vote my way or I'll see to it that Obama wins."
Yes we are rapidly closing in on the "Anyone but Obama Nominee". Whoever it will be will have major minuses. That's life. If we can elect a right of center congress, then even a marginal Republican will do. If we can't, then anyone is still better than Obama.
Back in 2008 the argument was that rather than voting for McCain, we should let Obama run the country into the ground for four years and radicalize the base. Mission accomplished. Obama has done more damage to America in four years than Fat Man did to Nagasaki in an hour. The base has been radicalized. And we're still back at the table with the old McCain dilemma.
The people who told us to wait four years may now tell us to wait another four years. And then maybe another four, until a proper candidate stands for office and makes it to the nomination. Doing it that way is like trying to win a war by losing battle after battle until the right general comes along. The Union won the Civil War that way, but it doesn't seem like the best strategy for the rebels.
Despite all his flaws, I think four years of McCain would have been much better for this country. I think four years of Gingrich or Romney or Perry will be better for the country than another four years of Obama. Anyone who wants to test that thesis can look back at the last four years and then imagine what they would have been like if Obama was a lame duck fowl.
Anyone who is unhappy with that choice, there's no one stopping a Bachmann or Santorum surge. No one but the same conservative media that got us where we are now. And if that doesn't happen, then we've still got the same calculations to make.
Romney is probably more electable. Gingrich is better on the issues. Gingrich currently seems better under fire but everyone keeps saying that he's bound to implode. We'll see. Romney hasn't melted down either, though he has made some mistakes during the debates and in interviews.
On foreign policy Gingrich wins by a landslide. On domestic policy, Gingrich will go with his own ideas, which will have shades of Teddy Roosevelt to them. Romney will have his experts in the room to develop a centrist policy. The difference here is that Gingrich will go his own way, Romney will follow a practical variation of the liberal consensus.
Neither candidate is very conservative by Tea Party standards, both men are fairly conservative by the standards of the alternative. Anyone claiming that there is no difference between Gingrich and Romney and Obama except race is engaging in hyperbole. There's no doubt that either man will do his own brand of damage and that the country will shift X degrees in the wrong direction, but it's better than shifting Y degrees in the wrong direction.
Personally I like Gingrich well enough. I have no idea if he can get elected, he's not the ideal man for the job, but he also bounced back from a trouncing by his own party, and won the debates without playing the ankle biter. He can speak intelligently about an issue and appears to think about them, instead of shoveling out a safe position. He isn't afraid to take controversial stands or confront the invisible hand of the media.
Romney is probably a surer bet for winning the election, but, and this is not an endorsement, I would be more comfortable with Gingrich in the Oval Office, because when the 3 AM call comes in, I don't think he'll work out a consensus and then bring the least controversial response to the table.
We have seen Gingrich turned out for all the world to see and we know some of what drives him. Romney's guts are still a mystery. When McCain tried to transform himself into a non-threatening smiling mannequin to win the election, he fumbled the ball badly. And yet I think the angry McCain, the direct to the point man would have done better. Romney doesn't have those negatives, but he lacks positives. His only real appeal is a projected sincerity and a prospective electability. Is that enough? Who knows.
This is not going to be an ordinary election, but it has been a depressingly ordinary enough primary. We aren't going to walk away from it with a man or woman that everyone believes in, but maybe we'll walk away with a winner. It's not much of a consolation prize, but there's a joke about rather being right than being president. I would rather that the right man was president, but I will settle for any man other than the one already filling the office.