GOP Field a Gift for Obama

David Harsanyi

9/28/2011 12:01:00 AM - David Harsanyi
Don't for a second believe that a politician is destined to lose re-election simply because he has been an unmitigated disaster. That would be unfair to your senator or your congressman, and it certainly wouldn't be fair to countless two-term presidents. Any elected official can overcome self-induced failure with a little help.

And it doesn't hurt to pray: "Dear Lord, may the contemptible swine on the other side nominate someone even less palatable than I."

Republicans shouldn't fool themselves. Given the GOP's deeply flawed slate of primary candidates, our president can win a second term -- which, without doubt, would be more imperial and consequential than the first. There is no savior. No Ronald Reagan. No Chris Christie. (Or is there? Nah. ... Maybe!)

But at some point, Republican voters will have to ask themselves, Do we want to win, or do we want to see the Environmental Protection Agency start fining businesses for dust bunnies? Economists talk about trade-offs -- situations that involve losing one quality in return for gaining another quality elsewhere. Is there a trade-off worth making here?

The traditional media narrative is that Republicans have become too conservative. I doubt it. The backlash against bailouts, dependency programs, overregulation and deficit spending is in line with much of the Republican Party's newfound focus. On the broad dispute over economic freedom and the role of government in our lives, President Barack Obama is losing. Polls show that Americans like him personally, but his presidency is, at this point, dramatically unpopular. We can infer that his policies, not his personality, are the problem. Empirical evidence demands it.

So which Republican candidate has the intelligence, the populist appeal, the charisma, a grasp of policy and fresh ideas to offer in place of the ones crippling the nation? Which candidate has the talent to convince millions of more or less apolitical voters that free market solutions and deregulatory policy are the best way to spur economic growth? Which one has the chops to convince them that reforms to Social Security or Medicare are necessary?

There isn't one.

Herman Cain won the Florida straw poll this week. Cain is an amiable, fun and interesting guy (though he's always trying to sell me something for $9.99). But does anyone believe he's prepared for the presidency? Rep. Michele Bachmann embodies the uncompromising spirit of the tea party, but is she prepared to pull the rest of the country with her? Many others have various problems that we all know -- Newt Gingrich, Rep. Ron Paul, Rick Santorum, et al.

When it comes down to it, there are two electable candidates.

And Mitt Romney is a racket, a man who spent a lifetime out of politics against his will. His political philosophy consists of an unwavering commitment to say whatever it is you want to hear at that very moment. At present, it's difficult to get over his inane defense of health mandates ((SET ITAL) it was good for my state, but it would stink for yours (END ITAL)), his reverence for entitlement programs, his defense of federal education... It's best not to think about it. He has also been the most articulate and informed. Nixon goes to China. Romney goes to ... well, wherever Gallup tells him to go. Maybe it will tell him to do the right thing.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry has also become something of an apostate for his illegal immigration policy. Yet conservatives should be far more concerned that the sum of his economic policy proposals has been to repeat "Texas" as many times as humanly possible. Though he may turn it around, when a candidate makes George W. Bush sound like Richard Burton, it is time to wonder.

Conservatives understand these problems. Polls seem to indicate indecision, and the clamoring for new blood seems to indicate that they understand the need for a candidate who has the smarts, spine and political judgment to win. If things were to stay as they are -- though they probably won't -- Republicans might be left with a person who is either a phony or unfit -- or both -- in an election that begs for neither.