In fact, as they struggle to settle on a leader by indulging in serial infatuation with a variety of unelectable alternatives to the front-runner, the Republicans are revealing a fundamental fact about a large and controlling segment of the party: they can only tolerate leaders who are simpler than Mitt Romney seems to be. The “anybody-but-Mitt” attraction to simpler alternatives is just the latest expression of a concept known as the attraction to non-thought, an unconscious defense first identified by British psychoanalyst Gianna Williams. The appeal of the phenomenon is simple: why make the effort to entertain notions of complexity when to do so invites the risk of psychic chaos that uncertainty can produce?
Now the attraction to non-thought is exacerbated by our collective insecurity in response to the shakiness of our economy. In practice, this defense, motivated by a denial of the messiness of reality, extends to a hatred directed against anyone who tries to challenge that denial. Though Obama is the primary target of that hatred, expressed in the automatic rejection of every proposal he makes, we now see attacks on thinking whenever a challenge is made to Republicans yearning for simplicity. In last week’s debate, CNBC moderator Maria Bartiromo was booed before she could even finish her question about Herman Cain’s character.
The Republican resistance to Romney is rooted in this same mindset, expressed as a desperate need to find a leader who is simple, certain, and who will never change his mind. Like Obama, Romney is perceived as Other — wealthy, northern and Mormon, which arouses deep distrust bordering on hatred among Tea Party voters.