Throughout this Republican primary process, Bill Kristol at the Weekly Standard has offered a consistent vision. He wants someone else. In the latest edition of TWS, Kristol makes one more call for an all-in, calling it “A Time for Choosing,” and not just for voters but for Republican leaders (emphasis mine):
And it is a moment, as you prepare to cast your vote, for others to reflect on whether they don’t owe it to their country to step forward. As this is no time for voters to choose fecklessly, it is no time for leaders to duck responsibility. Those who have stood aside—and who now may have concluded, as they may not have when they announced their original decision, that the current field is lacking—will surely hear the words of Thomas Paine echoing down the centuries: “The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.” Now is not a time for leaders to engage in clever calculations of the odds of success, or to succumb to concerns about how they will look if they enter the fray and fall short. Now is a time to come to the aid of our country.
Clearly, every election is “a time for choosing.” For the last several cycles, we are told that this is the most consequential election in our lifetimes, which is almost by definition true, since it’s the only variable at that particular moment in selecting leadership. With the economy stalled and the question of American leadership in the new century very much at stake, though, this election does appear much more consequential than 2004, and perhaps more than 2008, although the financial-sector collapse just before that election in retrospect makes the choice seem more consequential — and not in a good way, considering the outcome.
For those who stood aside, is there time to jump back into the race? Possibly, although the access to key primaries in this cycle have already closed. We’re hearing about pushing for a “brokered convention” once again, waiting until September to choose a nominee, which would put Republicans at a significant disadvantage to Barack Obama and the Democrats. Furthermore, a brokered convention would favor candidates with closer ties to the “establishment” of the party, not to the grassroots of movement conservatives. The term “brokering” is a big, huge hint in that direction; we wouldn’t know who the “brokers” are specifically, but I can pretty much assure you that it won’t be your local Tea Party organizer. Anti-establishment conservatives should be praying for anything but a brokered convention, and recall that the primary process was one way to keep the party from choosing its nominees in the proverbial smoke-filled back rooms.
Speaking of anti-establishment conservatives, it’s become pretty popular for this year’s crop of candidates to style themselves as such. Jonah Goldberg deconstructs that notion in today’s LA Times:
For the last few years, the rank and file of the GOP and the conservative movement have become deeply disenchanted with what they see as the rubber-spined, foot-dragging quislings drinking from a trough of chablis at some Georgetown party. The term “RINO” (Republican In Name Only) has become an epithet of ideological enforcement, spit out in much the same way Mao cursed “running dog capitalists.”
In 2010, the tea parties and the conservative base (not always synonymous terms) tried to cull as many RINOs from the herd as they could in the primaries. They were extremely successful, with only a few stumbles.
Things are messier this time around. And to some extent this is to be expected. Presidential primaries rely on much larger pools of voters than primaries in midterms. Moreover, rather than a single tea party candidate challenging a worn-out incumbent, the field has had lots of candidates seeking the tea party or “true conservative” mantle.
Each of them has tried to play the populist card, not just against the liberal media establishment but also against the so-called conservative establishment. “I believe it is a deliberate attempt to damage me because I am not, quote unquote, the establishment choice,” explained Herman Cain when asked about his troubles.
Herman Cain may have been the only true anti-establishment candidate in the field this year, or at least significant enough to be included in the debates. Michele Bachmann might also qualify; even though she has served in Washington for more than five years, the GOP has mainly blocked her from any leadership positions, and the same could be said for Ron Paul despite his long years in Washington. But that’s not true of almost everyone else, not even Rick Santorum, who served in some leadership roles while in Congress. Yesterday I described Newt Gingrich as an establishment Republican, which drew a lot of criticism, but Gingrich was Speaker of the House for several years, and has remained in the Beltway for decades as a Republican leader and a think-tank icon. Even Mitt Romney, who served a single term as governor of Massachusetts, has fewer “establishment” credentials than Gingrich does. If a Speaker of the House is not party “establishment,” then the term is meaningless.
Even if a candidate were to jump in at this late date, it would have to be one who could reliably raise money fast, organize effectively, have good name recognition, be well prepared on policy, and survive the kind of intense vetting that has derailed Cain, Rick Perry, Bachmann, and has deflated Gingrich’s bubble. That’s a recipe for an establishment candidate, not an outsider. We should stop fantasizing about white knights riding to the rescue and focus on the choices we have in front of us now.