Steve Chapman
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Ron Paul, meanwhile, has unearthed surprising evidence that many Republicans think the battle against big government should not stop at the water's edge. Unlike Barack Obama and George W. Bush, they are not eager to launch attacks on other countries or take on massive nation-building projects.

Paul sounds eerily like the Bush who ran in 2000 -- promising we would be "a humble nation." So he has no chance of getting the nomination of a party in thrall to endless war.

Mitt Romney remains the candidate for Republicans who are willing to settle, which is not most of them. His two chief credentials for high office are a career in private equity investment and one term as governor of Massachusetts, and he has been busy explaining away both.

He has had to downplay his signature achievement in government, a health insurance program that inspired the Obama administration plan so detested on the right. He has had to pretend that Bain Capital was in the business of creating jobs, as though making money were an inconsequential afterthought.

Romney's best bet for conservative credibility, oddly, is absorbing attacks from more conservative candidates. Gingrich and Perry, who regard Obama as a socialist for his attacks on the alleged excesses of capitalism, now attack Romney for profiting from the alleged excesses of capitalism.

Both invoke Ronald Reagan 10 times a minute, but it's impossible to imagine Reagan denouncing private equity firms as "vultures" with a "mentality of making money against all other considerations," as Perry did, or depicting Bain Capital as "rich guys looting companies," as Gingrich did.

Once their campaigns are over, these two have a bright future with Occupy Wall Street. Meanwhile, they may achieve the feat of making Romney look like a man of consistency and principle.

Unreal? Sure. But in this race, unreality is the new reality.

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Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.
 

 
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