Two “givens” for what follows:
- Malcolm has some sense of history, especially political history;
- He has just spent a fortnight in the daily company of the Wall Street Journal (frequently bonkers far-Right and always Murdoch) and the New York Times (decently balanced, bourgeois, civilised and stimulating).
What amazes, on a daily basis, is a simple truism:
Apart from the odd Pakistani village madrassa, the mess halls of the Mutaween, and the complementary editorials of Socialist Worker and the Daily Mail, the last bastion of ideological purity is the present Republican Party.
It says too much that the only GOP presidential potential still standing is … Newt Gingrich.
As Rucker and Wallsten — what is it about the Washington Post that paired surnames inevitably suggest hybrid conflations such as “Rucksten” or “Wallker”? — are saying in today’s paper:
Once left for dead, the former House speaker has suddenly emerged as [Mitt] Romney’s most durable opponent yet — in part because he has performed well in the debates and, unlike the others, he is viewed by many in the Republican Party as a plausible president.
A bit further along there’s a telling observation:
“Is there enough time for Gingrich to self-destruct on his own before Jan. 3, or do you have to help it along? It’s a tough call,” said a GOP strategist who informally advises Romney’s campaign and, like other advisers interviewed, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal thinking.
Which should remind us:
- that the most obvious launch-pad for a presidential candidature is the State governorship;
- that there are a number of governors looking statesmanlike, sitting on their hands, offending as few as possible, calculating the odds for 2016, and keeping their powder dry (and their finances ticketty-boo);
- so that in four years time we may be feeling the fetlocks of Christie of Noo Joisey, Daniels of Indiana and Scott of Florida, anyone of whom is more papabile than most of the current contenders.
And yet …
The Republican Party was once the party of Lincoln, of Teddy Roosevelt, of Dwight Eisenhower. More recently Jim Leach served Iowa’s 2nd District in the House of Representatives for twenty years, and was Obama’s worthy nominee to chair the National Endowment for the Humanities. Sherry Boehlert, nearly “liberal” as Leach, was upstate New York 23rd’s Representative for a quarter of a century: when he stood down in 2006 he put it simply:
People say to me: ‘Why are you the kind of Republican you are?’ Because in my formative political years, when I was coming up in New York, my governor was Nelson A. Rockefeller and my senator was Jacob K. Javits.
What went wrong?
That was the question Malcolm put to a chance acquaintance, nearer the kernel than himself. It didn’t get a comprehensive reply, but provoked a mused, and even disjointed reflection, which went something like:
The “liberal Republicans” you talk about were Easterners, intellectuals. America and the Republican heartland moved West post-World War II. Even went down-market.
Barry Goldwater was misrepresented, misunderstood — as his later years and record testify. Both ’60 and ’64 were dirty elections, don’t believe otherwise. And the Dems were setting the pace in dirt. It takes two to tango.
Perhaps the real sickness set in with Dick Nixon and the Californification that came with him. The hurt of the resignation took a generation to pass.
Reagan was always happy to be represented as more conservative than he actually was.
When Bush was steamrollered by Clinton in ’92, it was a reminder of previous pain. His son was driven by that, by the “all hat and no cattle” insults, while he was played, manipulated by Cheney and Halliburton. Dubya had been tailor-made by Rove — well, remember Karl Rove came into politics as James Baker’s henchman. Then Rove brought the Christian Coalition lot to the table … and now they control the menu.
It was Malcolm’s turn to order the next round: Sam Adams Seasonal in Malcolm’s case.