World·Analysis

Republicans may take Senate, presidency a whole other matter

Republicans may well gain control of the Senate in Tuesday's midterm elections. But when a two-time loser like Mitt Romney leads the GOP list of presidential contenders, you know this is a party in trouble, Neil Macdonald writes.

When a 2-time presidential loser leads the list of contenders, you know you're in trouble

Thanks but twice is enough, former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney says now. The fact that he still tops the list of party hopefuls suggests the GOP's love-hate relationship with its so-called moderates is still on. (REUTERS)

There's no dearth of bright, principled, highly accomplished people who carry Republican Party membership cards.

A few of them are personal acquaintances, and I've become convinced during my years here that their values mirror those of most Americans: morally laissez-faire while leaning rightward fiscally with a preference for lower taxes but an understanding that government services cost money.

Live your life however you wish as long as it's legal and you're willing to accept responsibility for it and you don't intrude on mine. That's actually supposed to be the American way.

And yet, with the next presidential election so close — 2016 is practically next week in American national politics, never mind Tuesday's midterm elections that are unlikely to change much — the Republicans cannot seem to find a fresh, inspiring candidate to carry those views forward.

Barring some unpredictable upheaval or sudden illness, everybody knows who will be heading the Democratic ticket.

Hillary Clinton dominates her party so utterly that one of her most credible opponents for the nomination, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, has dropped criticisms of Clinton and urged her to run (as though she needs any encouragement).

At the head of the Republican list at this point is, seriously, Mitt Romney, the two-time loser whose reputation, even in his own party, is mostly for being sort of uncool and slightly hapless.

Romney's wife Ann says her family is finished with politics, period. Romney, grateful for the recent rehabilitation into senior statesman, just smiles and says another run is not in the cards, at least not now.

The current orthodoxy

Tuesday's midterm elections might affect the presidential race if the Republicans end up controlling both the House and Senate and attempt to set some sort of agenda for the next two years.

But at this point their presidential lineup isn't exactly generating momentum.

According to a recent ABC News-Washington Post poll, Romney is trailed, distantly, by Jeb Bush, brother of George W. and son of George H.W., a moderate and politically experienced fellow whose own mother doesn't seem to think he should run; and whose son, a rising junior-leaguer in the far-right fever swamp of Texas, refuses to say whether he'd vote for dad.

Republican Senator Rand Paul, from Kentucky, may be "the most interesting man in politics," according to Time magazine. (Gary Cameron / Reuters)

After him, and maybe New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie who has fallen sharply out of party favour, the moderation disappears.

Next in line, according to the poll, is Rand Paul, the Kentucky senator and sometime conspiracy theorist who has inherited his father's title as unofficial leader of the GOP's anti-government libertarians. Time magazine just called him "the most interesting man in politics."

After Paul comes a slew of other also-rans, leftovers from earlier races, religious figures from the far right, and political unknowns outside their small circles.

They all have something in common, though, the nigh impossibility of uniting the Republican Party with all its loopier constituent factions.

Imagine the dentistry-without-anaesthetic that any Republican with a record of leadership and achievement must factor into a White House run.

In today's orthodoxy, he or she must pledge to repudiate science, threaten to deport the 11 million or so illegal immigrants who do America's hard labour, ignore fiscal mathematics, tell women how to manage their reproductive organs, and advocate more foreign military adventures.

It doesn't hurt to wave around a gun in campaign ads, or at least pose with one when you can.

Trust the base?

Embrace all those things, and the party base will go nuts for you. You just won't stand a chance with Republicans who want to live in the real world and dislike ideological carnivals.

Poor Romney must remember being forced to run away from his signature achievement as governor of Massachusetts, a health-care system that worked so well it served as the model for Obamacare, which the Republican-controlled House has voted nearly 50 times, unsuccessfully, to repeal.

And the party only grudgingly settled on Romney.

First, it briefly embraced the right-wing warhorse Newt Gingrich (who denounced Romney as a "moderate from Massachusetts"), the slightly unhinged creationist Michelle Bachmann (who said Obama is turning the U.S. into a "nation of slaves"), Texas Gov. Rick Perry (who apparently carries a gun while jogging), former restaurant executive Herman Cain (who quit the race over accusations of sexual harassment), and anti-abortion crusader Rick Santorum.

Former U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton campaigns for Democratic Senator Kay Hagan in North Carolina earlier this week. Not much guessing any more about whether she will run for the presidency. (Chris Keane / Reuters)

Any hopeful this time will have watched all that, and will know the crazy cross-currents in the GOP are still blowing strong.

In Colorado, conservatives are trying to force the state's school system to teach students patriotism, respect for authority and reverence for capitalism. There's too much free thinking in the current curriculum, apparently.

Certain states continue to make abortion, which is legal, practically impossible. The favourite approach at the moment is to write laws forcing abortion clinics (but not other sorts of clinics) to meet the standards demanded of hospitals, which is financially ruinous.

In Florida, where the state government is frantically spending money on pumping systems to keep rising sea levels from destroying valuable real estate, the governor and other conservative politicians nonetheless refuse to talk about climate change, for fear of violating party dogma.

Realistic immigration reform, something most sensible people agree is necessary in this day and age, is impossible to advocate.

So perhaps it's time the GOP took the base at its word, and gave the far-right solution a try.

Nominate an unabashed, unvarnished, unbending conservative. Say, like Senator Ted Cruz from Texas. Or, why not, Rand Paul. Or bring back Sarah Palin.

Forget this business of trying to appeal to "moderates."

Go out there and defy the Washington elite and the "lamestream media" and spell out tough, uncompromising conservative positions without any weaselly qualifiers or doubletalk. Give the people a clear opportunity to vote conservative.

Maybe the reason Mitt Romney — and before him Arizona's John McCain — lost was indeed that they really weren't the genuine article.

So why not give it a try. The starting gun for the presidential race is about to go off, and a no-holds-barred conservative at the head of the GOP will certainly settle the matter. All there is to lose is another eight years.

About the Author

Neil Macdonald

Opinion Columnist

Neil Macdonald is an opinion columnist for CBC News, based in Ottawa. Prior to that he was the CBC's Washington correspondent for 12 years, and before that he spent five years reporting from the Middle East. He also had a previous career in newspapers, and speaks English and French fluently, and some Arabic.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.