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Republican Party

Two Republicans who could’ve won
the White House in this election year

James Baker III

James Baker III served as White House chief of staff for presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, among many other high government posts.

W ith the exception of Jon Huntsman, this year’s field of Republican presidential contenders was the worst we’ve ever seen – so bad that in the first few weeks it became known as the traveling clowns show.

Could failed political hacks Newt “Ethical Void” Gingrich and Rick “Holier Than Thou” Santorum, vulture capitalist Mitt “Gut and Run” Romney, and ditzy Michelle “Tea Party Girl” Bachmann really be the best candidates today’s Republicans would support?

The answer is yes, and today’s Republicans got the candidates and election-day setback they richly (ahem) deserved. But it never had to be that way.

Had Republicans not gone so far ’round the bend that they ended up with bottom-of-barrel wingnuts and a chameleon, they might have drafted two men who very well could have won the White House handily this year. Additionally, those candidates would probably have been strong enough to sweep to victory many down-ballot candidates for Congress and state offices.

Back in March we spent some time trying to figure out who, if anyone, Republicans could turn to for the strongest chance to unseat President Obama. None of their currently active politicians with national name recognition fit the bill, which is a remarkable indictment of how out of the mainstream the GOP has become.

What we came up with are two eminently qualified, experienced, articulate and very likable men: James Baker III and Robert Gates.

If those names sound familiar, they should. Baker is perhaps best known as Ronald Reagan’s chief of staff from 1980-1985. But in his long career he served in many capacities. Baker is a graduate of Princeton Law and former Marine officer. He served as an undersecretary of commerce, Treasury secretary and secretary of state. He was George H.W. Bush’s chief of staff. Baker also fulfilled several diplomatic assignments.

Baker only ran for public office once, trying to become Texas attorney general, and he lost. He ran Gerald Ford’s unsuccessful campaign against Jimmy Carter, but also was chairman of Reagan’s spectacularly successful 1985 re-election campaign.

Baker at the head of the GOP ticket would’ve engendered the loyal support of many Republicans and independents who look on the Reagan years as the good old days. His easygoing, Southern drawl, quick wit and engaging sense of humor could’ve charmed millions too young to remember those days.

The two downsides of a Baker 2012 candidacy are his age, 82, and the fact he takes governing and public policy seriously, meaning he’d be willing to work with Democrats to get things done. He would have needed all his persuasive skills and charm to keep his party’s dominant hard-right extremists in line.

We saw Baker on C-SPAN last year, and he was still sharp and on top of things. We think most voters would’ve overlooked his age the same way they overlooked Reagan’s. As for keeping the GOP’s tea party whackjobs, religious zealots and bigots in line, we suspect if anyone could do that, Baker could.

Robert Gates

Robert Gates

Gates was President George W. Bush’s one and only excellent Cabinet appointee. He replaced gregarious neocon crackpot Don Rumsfeld, and the difference was like night and day. Quietly, methodically and skillfully, Gates ran the Defense Department as well as anyone could in an especially challenging period. Gates’ work at Defense was so excellent that President Obama asked him to stay on, which Gates did.

Given Baker and Gates’ track record and personal characteristics, we’re sure that if they had been the GOP’s standard bearers, there would’ve been no birther nonsense outside of a few right-wing radio squawk shows. Donald Trump would’ve been told to sit down and shut up. There would’ve been no dog-whistle racist messages for the living anachronisms in the Republican fold.

No, we wouldn’t have preferred Baker to win the White House. He’s a counselor to the Carlyle Group who would’ve carried water for the financial and energy industries, and other big-money interests. Baker would undoubtedly have stood by the GOP’s trickle-down economic policy. Worse, his Supreme Court appointments would surely have tipped the court far right for the next two or three decades.

We mention the possibility only to remind that there are still a few sensible, basically decent and highly accomplished people in Republican ranks. They are people who could attract independent voters, but who are as out of place in today’s GOP as guppies in a piranha tank.

We do, however, wish Baker and a few others of similar good sense and quality would assert themselves in an effort to lead their party back from the fringe.


New champion for forces of resentment

“She (Sarah Palin) is not just the party’s biggest star and most charismatic television performer; she is its only star and charismatic performer. Most important, she stands for a genuine movement: a dwindling white nonurban America that is aflame with grievances and awash in self-pity as the country hurtles into the 21st century and leaves it behind.

“. . . The politics of resentment are impervious to facts. Palinists regard their star as an icon of working-class America even though the Palins’ combined reported income ($211,000) puts them in the top 3.6 percent of American households. They see her as a champion of conservative fiscal principles even though she said yes to the Bridge to Nowhere and presided over a state that ranks No.1 in federal pork.”

—Frank Rich, New York Times column,
She Broke the G.O.P. and Now She Owns It,”
July 11, 2009

Frank Rich’s analysis has the ring of truth, pointing up a logical follow on to the sentiment that motivated so many on the right to support George W. Bush long after it became clear his misleadership was grossly incompetent and worse, deviously antidemocratic.


Americans have had it with fearmongering

no-voltage signIn a splendid example of why we call him the best newspaper columnist in America, Leonard Pitts Jr. offers some sage advice to Republicans.

You’ll find a sampling below, but the short of it is that appeals to people’s prejudices, resentments and fears aren’t working any more.

The Gallup organization provides numbers delineating how utterly Republicans’ standard operating procedure is failing them.

PRINCETON, NJ — The Republican Party’s image has gone from bad to worse over the past month, as only 34% of Americans in a Nov. 13-16 Gallup Poll say they have a favorable view of the party, down from 40% in mid-October. The 61% now holding an unfavorable view of the GOP is the highest Gallup has recorded for that party since the measure was established in 1992.

By contrast, the public’s views of the Democratic Party remain as positive after the election as they were just prior to it. More than half of Americans, 55%, currently hold a favorable view of the Democratic Party and only 39% an unfavorable view, highly typical of views toward the Democrats all year.

Republicans aren’t just innocent victims of an election-year downturn in the business cycle. They’ve been cruising for a bruising for decades.

For one thing, Republican incompetence and perverse abuse of power — their unacceptable rendition of governing — have caused so much havoc, loss and pain, that normally politically averse citizens have had to pay attention and get involved in throwing the bums out.

But Pitts points out an equally important reason the party of neoconservatives has gone from bold talk of establishing a permanent political majority to being as popular as poison ivy at a nudist resort.

Allow me to insert into the discussion one tiny hope. Namely, that the GOP will plot a path back to power that does not require stepping on scapegoats to get there.

Ever since Richard Nixon’s infamous ”Southern strategy” of 1968, Republicans have won power largely by convincing voters that strange and exotic others were to blame for all their ills. It’s the feminists’ fault, they said. Or the blacks. Or the Hispanics, the Muslims or the gays.

The names change, but the playbook remains the same, the appeal to fear unchanging: Your way of life is threatened by these people and only we, the GOP, can save you.

That was the message when Jesse Helms ran a TV ad showing a white man’s hands crumpling a rejection letter for a job that had to be given ”to a minority because of a racial quota,” and when George H.W. Bush ran for office against a black career criminal named Willie Horton. It was the message during the debate over illegal immigration, and it was the message when Rep. Tom Tancredo advocated bombing Mecca and called Miami a Third World city. It was the message when President George W. Bush thought the Constitution needed amending because of the threat posed by gay people in love.

Most Americans, by their nature, aren’t craven, cowardly and consumed by fear and resentment. More than a few can be incited to those things for awhile. A few are that way all the time. But the majority, most of the time, will see through the manipulation.

So, as a mainstay of political strategy, playing on Americans’ anxieties and darker notions isn’t sustainable. That string seems to have finally run out.

Karl Rove, who’s keeping an amazingly low profile these days, might want to make a note of that. Same goes for Rep. Michelle Bachman, R-Minn., Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and McCain campaign strategist Steve Schmidt.

No signs of McCain at Palin rally — really

PalinWhat to make of a Florida Republican campaign event featuring Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, where none of the campaign signs even mentioned presidential candidate Sen. John McCain?

Passing strange, but then there’s plenty about the McCain-Palin lash-up that doesn’t quite add up.

We recall that when asked recently if she’d pursue a future in national politics if the McCain-Palin ticket loses, Palin said she’s not going anywhere and is “not doing all this for naught.”

Perhaps more tellingly, on Saturday, MSNBC played a video of McCain being asked during an interview if Palin is the future of the Republican Party.

McCain stammered, said sure, said how Palin has generated so much excitement in the campaign and will make a great vice president. But what McCain did not say — that Palin would make a terrific future president — spoke volumes.

Is there a strong undercurrent of separate and somewhat conflicting agendas here?

You betcha!

Palin a cancer on the GOP? You betcha

Talk about wheels coming off the wagon — the neocon scourge has at long last become too much for even loyal booster and water carrier David Brooks to stomach.

The New York Times columnist vented this week at a gathering for the redesigned Atlantic magazine.

(Sarah Palin) represents a fatal cancer to the Republican Party.

. . . Reagan had an immense faith in the power of ideas. But there has been a counter, more-populist tradition, which is not only to scorn liberal ideas but to scorn ideas entirely. And I’m afraid that Sarah Palin has those prejudices. I think President Bush has those prejudices.”

Now, you’re probably thinking, “There goes Brooks’ access to the right-wing Republican powers that be,” and we’re sure you are right.

Which leads us to another thing Brooks was quoted as saying: Obama will win the presidency by nine points.

That works for us, of course, but Brooks had better really hope it comes true.

Because if it doesn’t, we can just hear President McCain uttering his next angry “that one” — as in pointing toward Brooks and telling an aide, “Keep that one the hell out of my White House.”