Flavors of Republican pessimism

There are two reasons I follow and read Dave Weigel: 1 – He reports from the ground up, and gets the kind of minute details that don’t fit well into the time slots of daytime news shows and 2 – I still shake my head in wonderment at the level of snark that comes from that wholesome image next to this Twitter handle. Anyway, I enjoyed this piece he wrote about the different flavors of Republican pessimism about the possibility of losing to Barack Obama (he breaks it down by Defcon levels, and I’ll only take a slice from each to comment on because I hope you click-through to read the whole thing) (all emphasis mine):

DEFCON 4: Everybody else is a pessimist. The cocktail chatter of the right this month has been the surprising resilience of Barack Obama, mixed with the unsurprising insistence of Republican voters to drag the race out to Berlin Alexandrplatz proportions. On InTrade—which doesn’t mean much, although the Romney campaign recently cited it as proof that it will beat Santorum—Obama’s chance of victory has floated up to 60 percent. “The Twitterization of politics,” says Commentary editor-in-chief John Podhoretz, “really is leading people to overreact.”

In this case I’m with Podhoretz. The media has as much to do with political narratives as anything else, and technology allows those storytellers to analyze nearly every minute of the campaign. One side-effect of this phenomena is that we sometimes get bogged down in the microcosm of the moment, and forget to relate how these moments fit in the larger picture. We’re now in a relative trough for the Republicans, and Obama finally has some reasons to see the glass half-full. For the larger context, though, that might as well mean nothing as it relates to eight and half months from now.

DEFCON 3: The economy is improving, but we can overcome that. In his CPAC speech, the official kickoff of the conference, Sen. Jim DeMint acknowledged that the economy was getting better. The president—that fink!—was trying to grab “every piece of credit.” One week later, on the Michigan trail, Rick Santorum admitted that “there are good things happening all across the upper Midwest. That day, a Public Policy Polling survey showed President Obama leading any Republican in Michigan.

DeMint’s jab is all a part of the game – if you blame the president for every economic ill (the fact that your favorite brand of chewing gum went up ten cents) then the president gets to take credit for your neighbor getting a job. In all seriousness though this is probably what Republican strategists fear the most – an election year with the economy showing genuinely positive economic signs. It’s one thing to spin decreasing or stagnant unemployment rates, but quite another to spin underlying positive movements in growth – housing starts, debt-deleveraging, narrowing JOLTS numbers, and increasing employment-participation rates. A bad economy remains the number one weapon for the GOP.

DEFCON 2: We are blowing it. Some of the New Pessimists have been worrying about this election for months. They tried to draft Chris Christie. They tried to draft Paul Ryan. Bill Kristol’s column space in the Weekly Standard became the world’s sloppiest campaign launchpad—none of these guys ever took off.

“I think the base of the party, the conservative ‘Reagan’ base, is disappointed and dismayed because they don’t feel any of the candidates have all of the ‘elements’ needed to win,” says Christopher Ruddy, the CEO of the Newsmax network. “Mitt has money and organization but no charisma with the base. Newt has charisma, but little organization and possible money. Santorum connects to one part of the base and it will be a challenge for him all around.”

The saddest part of the GOP primary process, in my eyes, has been the inability for the Beltway-punditry to enlist effective Republican governors with moderate appeal (whatever their other deficiencies) to run in this race. A win or loss in November, and who they win or lose with, will decide whether this is a Goldwater or Reagan (or perhaps even Dole) moment for the conservative movement.

DEFCON 1: We are doomed. The darkest of the New Pessimists say that the election was decided four years ago. Obama’s policies were designed to kick in and goose the economy around this time; the payroll tax cut—just extended this week—is the last of the goosing.

 “The lack of a clear, compelling, and truly alternative vision of governance from Romney will doom him against Obama,” says Nick Gillespie, editor of the libertarian hub Reason.com. (Disclosure time: I am a contributing editor of Reason magazine.) “Note: I’m not talking about charisma—I’m talking about vision: what would the country be like under a President Romney? We all know that it would basically be the same as the one we’re in now, alas. Of the Republican candidates still around, only Ron Paul offers a clear alternative to both the Democratic and Republican status quo, but he has failed to catch fire with voters the way I wished he would.”

Paul’s voters, generally speaking, are the most apocalyptic members of the GOP New Pessimism club. Their candidate is the new Thomas Jefferson, the would-be savior of the Republic. We can elect him—or we can kiss America goodbye. […]

In a way this is the perfect combination: Tin-foil theories coupled with a savior to support. While this flavor of pessimism is the most entertaining (and I mean that in a good way) I don’t conflate the Paulites and others doomsday obsessions as being grounded in this particular moment. It was a doomsday for these people when it came to Obama in ’08, W. Bush, Clinton, Bush 41, etc.


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