The American economy remains listless, unemployment remains appallingly high, our wars–wars!–meander on their bloody way, and a significant portion of the electorate doesn’t like the president and is angry about his leadership. At eighteen months away from an election, these elements would usually provide more than enough parts for the opposition party to think feel bullish about mounting a competitive campaign. But as one looks at the Republicans in 2011, they seem to lack one key ingredient: a likely candidate.
Haley Barbour is out; so is Donald Trump; so is Mike Huckabee. Newt Gingrich is in, but has almost immediately shot himself in the foot; looking fat and tired, muffing a question on Meet the Press, ineffectively trying to wave away a question about spending a half million dollars at Tiffany’s, taking punches from a GOP foot-soldier in an airport, Gingrich looks like some well-retired athlete who has convinced himself that he can come out of retirement and still play. Mitt Romney raised $10 million the other day, but he has been around long enough that if anybody liked him, he would already have the nomination sewed up. But nobody does; he generates no excitement, no enthusiasm, no allegiance. Some people are saying that things will change if Mitch Daniels gets in the race, and perhaps they will, although it seems like people who saying this are the same one who said that things would be different if Tim Pawlenty would get in the race. Yes, Sarah Palin might still run, and so might Michelle Bachman. But if one of those two starts to seem likely, might this not change the equation for a rising star like Chris Christie or Marco Rubio? Not unless something awful happens that causes Obama to start hemorrhaging support. Why beat your head against an incumbent?
For years the Republican case was a three-legged stool: a sound economy through low taxes, a strong defense, and conservative stands on social issues, including race relations.
It is worth asking whether they have any legs left.
There is no Republican attack on Obama’s defense position. The president is fighting two wars. He’s spending a ton. He killed Osama. He’s maintaining Guantanemo. The only thing a Republican president might do more different is torture, and I don’t think any candidate wants that position to be his bumper sticker.
The conservative position on social issues is a sinking stock, and most Republican office-holders know it. They will continue to run against gay marriage and to take other positions, but these stands do not have the electoral power that they once did.
Which leaves the economy. The Republicans do not want to raise taxes, but everybody who has gotten out of second grade knows that tax hikes are going to have to be part of a deficit-reduction package.
I see neither a candidate nor a rationale for the Republicans on the near horizon.