Bill Murchison

Rick Santorum protests that Mitt Romney "can't close the deal" with GOP voters -- a truism that, truth to tell, could apply with equal force to Rick Santorum, not to mention Newton Leroy Gingrich or even, come to think of it, Ron Paul.

The Republican presidential campaign has been dispiriting, all right. With Gingrich and Santorum doing their best to render it more dispiriting still, with their forecasts of calamity should the probable nominee -- Romney -- become the actual nominee. Propped figuratively against the classroom lectern, Prof. Gingrich warns us the party has produced no weaker nominee since Warren G. Harding in 1920. At least Harding won the election, Gingrich fails to note, before dying in a morass of scandal, bequeathing us the sensible, if underrated, Calvin Coolidge as president.

What is, is and can't be changed by professorial or political caterwauling. The Republican Party goes plan-less into the most crucial election of the past three decades: No presidential bench, no unified idea as to what needs doing. By contrast, the Democrats need no bench; they have Barack Obama. Their big idea for the present is to tout all he has done, supposedly, for the general good: saving the auto companies, corralling Wall Street, fending off economic collapse, whittling down joblessness, extending health care coverage, etc., etc., all of which has a healthy and handsome sound.

What the GOP lacks, overall, in 2012 is identity and design. What's the plan, folks? And who is going to execute it? Three decades ago, the answers were clear. The plan was to cut taxes, rekindle economic energies, rearm the armed forces, and restore flagging spirits. Who was going to do it? Ronald Reagan, it eventuated, was going to once he overcame the overmatched (if decent and patriotic) George H. W. Bush.

The GOP had not wasted its time in the post-Watergate wilderness. It had ideas: sophisticated responses to the sterility of the Nixon, Ford and Carter years. It had candidates -- plausible ones; people very different in caliber from the under-qualified, under-experienced likes of Herman Cain and Michelle Bachman.

Bill Murchison

Bill Murchison is the former senior columns writer for The Dallas Morning News and author of There's More to Life Than Politics.
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