According to the mainstream media, the battle for the GOP nomination is a two man race between Texas Governor Rick Perry and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. The fact that Republicans are increasingly souring on Governor Perry, and have long had issues with the candidacy of Romney, is often swept aside in favor of the issue of “electability”. As is so often the case with the current two-party system, the belief is that no matter the quality of your party’s candidate, no one is worse than the other guys. For most Republicans, 2012 is ABBO – anybody but Barack Obama.
But is this really the case? Let’s consider the past two presidential elections. In 2004 President George W. Bush defeated Senator John Kerry. Republicans win, Democrats lose – right? Wrong. A short term defeat for the Dems gives way to massive gains in 2006 and culminates in winning the White House and both branches of congress in 2008. But this victory is also short lived. Frustration with government leads to the Tea Party coming to Washington in 2010 with Democrats losing Congress and expectations of even greater losses 2012.
The moral of the lesson? Victories are only victories when there is substance to support them. Bush maintaining his previous residence in 2004 may have kept a Republican as president, but one that governed progressively with massive government spending and dramatic increases to the size of the federal government. President Obama was supposed to usher in a new age of Democratic domination, but weak leadership and a lack of economic solutions have undermined the President – and his party by proxy.
So the main question Republicans should be asking themselves is not “can ____________ beat Obama”, but “can __________ fix the economy”. If they aren’t convinced of the latter, the former is irrelevant. In fact, a president that can’t fix the economy is likely to cause more damage to their cause (be it the cause of party or country) than anything the election of Barack Obama could do.
I contend that neither Rick Perry nor Mitt Romney have any idea what is truly wrong with the American economy. Perry’s talk about a “treasonous” Ben Bernanke aside, neither pays much attention to matters of monetary policy. In spite of Romney’s reputation as a businessman, neither have demonstrated a sound understanding of economics (best demonstrated when Romney starts a sentence advocating the wonders of “free trade” while ending it with attacks on doing business with China.) Neither was able to identify the dangers of housing bubble before it popped. Rick Perry has run massive deficits; Mitt Romney has a bad track record of job creation and none of them have any truly substantive plan of action – Romney’s vague Kindle-friendly collection of bullet points aside.
Take a second and imagine the consequences of electing a Republican to the White House, in the middle of a double-dip recession/depression, who is unable to solve the economy. Frustration with “socialism” becomes frustration with “capitalism” by a country ready to believe such over-simplifications. The gains Republicans made in 2010 are replaced with Democratic gains in 2014. 2016 comes with a Republican party essentially handcuffed to a President who has the anchor of economic crisis firmly strapped to his ankle.
Take it one step further, who benefits most from this frustration? It would need to be someone likable, as Americans will be looking for someone that can give them hope. The nation will have endured twelve years of unpopular Presidents and even less-regarded congresses, so it will have to be an “outsider” who understands that Washington is broken. With the rich still comfortable and the poor still supported, it will be the middle class who suffers the greatest brunt of the pain, so they will naturally be looking for an advocate.
My fear is that Elizabeth Warren could be that advocate. A Harvard Professor with an irritatingly effective folksy charm, Warren is the most dangerous sort of radical progressive – one who rarely offends. She will be sold as a “grandmother from Oklahoma”, who warned of the “collapse of the middle class before anyone else”. A “consumer advocate” who went to Washington to try to “make it easy for families to understand the fine print on their credit cards”. A champion “for the cause of the angles” (as at least one Democratic congressman has described her) who was overlooked by Obama due to “the wishes of Tim Geithner and the big banks that feared her.” All of this is total crap, but it sure does sound good. By the time 2016 comes around, she is likely to have had four years in the Senate and a record in government since 2008. With Obama failing to nominate her to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) she personally crafted, Warren can simultaneously point to her time in the administration as “executive experience” without being tarred by a connection with Obama.
If Warren isn’t the Democrat of choice in 2016, someone similar will be. A Democratic base spurned by the “moderate” Obama isn’t going to elect Tim Kaine. The Progressive intellectuals have already set their pieces for the long term better, the unprecedented stimulus package passed in 2009 was “too small” according to their go-to economist Paul Krugman. Any pragmatic Republican must take such a future into consideration. Elections have consequences, policy decisions matters.
How many times must history repeat itself before people start taking its lessons to heart? Holding your nose at the polls to elect your party guy isn’t practical, it’s tragically short sighted.