I’ve known a good many Republicans over the years. One or two have even married into my family. For the most part, they’ve struck me as decent though misguided people.
So I have some sympathy as we examine the GOP contest for the presidential nomination post Super Tuesday. Just look at the choices Missourians will face in the upcoming caucuses.
Rick Santorum won the expensive beauty contest our dysfunctional legislature imposed last month. His sweater-vested style seems to resonate with evangelicals, social conservatives and members of the working class from which he falsely claims to spring. The only problem is that when he rails against contraception, climate change or public education, he’s absolutely serious.
Mitt Romney, the establishment candidate, can’t be faulted for that. The campaign slogan that’s been suggested for him is “Vote for Mitt. You know he doesn’t mean a thing he says.” I think that’s a bit harsh. Mr. Romney does have one unshakeable core conviction. That’s the belief that he should be president.
Newt Gingrich is still hanging around, despite his demonstrated inability to win anywhere but in his home state and neighboring South Carolina. He looks in the mirror and sees a statesman. Less biased observers see a paunchy, delusional demagogue.
Then there’s Ron Paul, whose every speech reminds most of us just why we aren’t libertarians.
Caucuses are notoriously hard to predict. They tend to attract the hardest-core partisans. In Missouri, that probably works to Mr. Santorum’s advantage. If you want a preview of just how extreme that hard core can be, look no further than Jefferson City. The Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, Steve Tilley, has announced that he intends to exercise his prerogative and add a bust of Rush Limbaugh to the Capitol’s display of famous Missourians.
Rep. Tilley seems unaware of the difference between famous and infamous. If you’ve seen Mr. Limbaugh in action, you’ve probably been struck, as I have, by his remarkable resemblance to a venomous toad. The designated sculptor says he’s “honored.” I can hardly wait to see his handiwork.
In Wednesday’s New York Times, conservative columnist Ross Douthat described the coalition of supporters Mr. Santorum has attracted. He says it could be the Republican Party of the future and likens it to the alliance Mike Huckabee put together in 2008. You remember President Huckabee, don’t you? He declined to give up his lucrative gig on Fox to make another run this year.
By contrast, pundits and politicians agree that Mr. Romney’s most attractive feature is his electability. He has, after all, been elected once, as governor of one of his several home states, Massachusetts. His signature achievement in that office was passage of the health care reform that served as the template for the national reform he promises to undo.
He managed to attract a little more than a third of the votes Tuesday in Ohio, the most important of 10 states that were contested. While the analysts seek explanations for the “electable” candidate’s inability to excite his party’s electorate, I suspect it’s really pretty simple. They don’t trust him.
I anticipate the debate in which President Obama congratulates him on his successful health care reform and Mr. Romney decries it.
The front page of Wednesday’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch featured smiling portraits of both Mr. Romney and Mr. Santorum. If the editors had wanted to showcase the real winner on Super Tuesday, they’d have chosen a photograph of President Obama. He’d have the biggest smile of all.
George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism.