Paul Nitze: Romney’s got it, and that’s a shame
December 31, 2011
We’re three days out from Iowa, and political pulses are racing. Palms get clammy, throats tighten, and twitchy fingers tab between pollsters. Who’s in it to win it? Could be Ron Paul. Could be Mitt. Is Rick Santorum making a late charge?
There is no odds on favorite to win the Iowa caucuses, hence the uncertainty and the urgency. We’re led to believe this is a GOP version of the Clinton/Obama brawl circa 2008. So it’s with a heavy heart I tell you these caucuses are mostly for show, kind of like being at home with the Kardashians. Mitt Romney’s got the GOP nomination locked up.
Only two things could forestall the Romney coronation – a Newt Gingrich victory in Iowa, or a Jon Huntsman win in New Hampshire. Don’t bet on either. Paul, Santorum or Romney will emerge the winner in Iowa. Watch as Tuesday’s results lay bare the organizational chaos inside the Gingrich and Perry campaigns.
Can Paul or Santorum credibly challenge for the nomination? Nope. Paul’s views on foreign policy are abhorrent to about half of Republican voters. That’s before we touch on his domestic policies. Santorum lacks money, organization outside of Iowa and the backing of the GOP establishment. If he wins Iowa, he will be this cycle’s Mike Huckabee. Neither has a chance.
And that’s a real shame, because for a few fleeting weeks, the fight for the Republican presidential nomination looked like it might return the GOP to grandeur. Among the many problems facing the country is that our usual quotient of two great parties has been reduced to one.
By “great” I don’t mean flawless, or altruistic, or even moral. What I mean is that the Republican Party, as it exists today, is so delusional and incoherent that it cannot work credibly to fix the country’s problems. Today’s party would be unrecognizable to the likes of Richard Nixon, that great liberal champion, never mind Goldwater or Dewey or Roosevelt.
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Speaking of Nixon, I’ve got a quick quiz for you: Which modern Democratic presidential campaign featured the deepest bench of future political stars? Answer: George McGovern’s 1972 debacle, in which the South Dakota senator won the electoral votes of Washington, D.C., Massachusetts and nowhere else. Ann Richards, Gary Hart, Ron Kirk, Hillary Rodham, and a lanky Arkansan named Bill Clinton: They all worked for McGovern.
McGovern captured the country’s disgust with Vietnam and then leveraged that disgust to double down on all of the excesses of the Johnson administration. He fought a never-ending primary campaign that went all the way to the convention. By the time he’d dispatched Ed Muskie, Hubert Humphrey and George Wallace (who barely survived assassination), McGovern had alienated nearly the entire white working class. Nixon rolled to an easy victory.
It takes a primary like that to transform a party. Bill Clinton would not have left the White House with the highest approval ratings since Franklin Delano Roosevelt if he had not worked for McGovern as a young law student in 1972. When Gingrich won the House in 1994, he crowed that the country had rejected the “counterculture McGovernicks” in the White House. Gingrich failed to realize he was up against an adversary who had spent the previous 20 years ensuring that label wouldn’t stick.
The Romney campaign is the morphine drip of the 2012 cycle. His effort is geared toward keeping the deep cracks in today’s GOP from emerging. Whether he wins or loses the presidency, Romney’s campaign will not be transformative.
Half of this year’s Republican field has claimed that the one book they cannot do without, the one they thumb through before sleep, is Friedrich Hayek’s “The Road to Serfdom.” Would that they had read it. The candidates who have paraphrased it seem to think it’s some sort of prosperity gospel – a manual for getting rich by shrinking government.
In fact, “The Road to Serfdom” is concerned primarily with political, not economic, liberty. Yes, it attacks centralized planning and other barriers to market competition as incompatible with personal freedom. But these were prescriptions not for personal wealth per se, but for the protection of classical liberal values like freedom of speech, collective action and political participation. John Maynard Keynes loved it and said he found himself in “deeply moved agreement” with Hayek.
As this century gathers steam, we’re going to face the huge challenges of maintaining political and economic liberty, just as Hayek predicted. That means keeping our democracy humming and our economy growing. Now that we live in a world of mostly meritocratic wealth and income inequality, preserving both forms of liberty will be much harder.
Bolstering political participation is something the Democratic Party is pretty good at. Our hearts and heads are in the right place when it comes to issues like campaign finance, press freedom and competitive elections. But a healthy Republican Party is critical to maintaining our economic competitiveness. And a healthy GOP is one thing a quick Romney victory will not deliver.
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