One of the GOP presidential candidates (Ron Paul) believes the United States is responsible for triggering the 9/11 attacks. Another (Rick Santorum) has said he would use the presidential bully pulpit to speak out against the dangers of contraception and its role in the moral decline of America (“One of the things that I will talk about that no president has talked about before is I think the dangers of contraception in this country, the sexual liberty idea and many in the Christian faith have said, you know contraception is OK. It’s not OK because it’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.”)
Yet another (Herman Cain), has dramatically shifted his positions on negotiating with terrorists and legalizing abortion within a matter of hours, after having said he would (contra the Constitution) impose a religious test on Muslim Americans. And now Governor Rick Perry has indicated he’s not quite sure whether Barack Obama was born in the USA, citing Donald Trump as an authority.
For reasons I have explained for well over a year now, the 2012 presidential race is the Republican Party’s to lose. But this kind of thing, if it keeps up, will allow the GOP to do just that.
This isn’t complicated. The public is very much inclined to jettison Barack Obama in 2012, much like they were inclined to jettison Jimmy Carter in 1980. But inclinations are not enough; the challenger has to close the sale by reassuring voters he is responsible and sober, thoughtful and wise, and up to the task of governing the most powerful nation on earth. Those qualities are shown in a myriad of ways, including policy proposals. But they are also demonstrated in what candidates say and how they conduct themselves. And right now a majority of the GOP presidential candidates are saying things that would damage them in a general election and staking out positions that will come across to many people, including many Republicans, as ranging from odd and exotic to downright weird.
I understand the caveats. The media is more inclined to jump on Republican misstatements than Democratic ones. Individuals always look more attractive when they’re on the sidelines than when they’re in the arena. A campaign that includes nine candidates will feature some loopy statements. And what matters at the end of the day is what the nominee of the party says, not those who unsuccessfully challenged him. Still, one cannot help but feel that this is not (nearly) the best team the Republican Party could have fielded and that these comments, if they persist, will take a toll.
That so many genuinely impressive Republican figures decided not to run in a year in which the incumbent Democratic president is so badly weakened remains something of a mystery to me. And if Barack Obama somehow succeeds in pulling this election out, that mystery will become a catastrophe.