Alan Greenblatt is a GOVERNING correspondent.E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Remember the main dynamic of the GOP presidential primary season in 2007-08? It was like musical chairs. One candidate after another would emerge as the new frontrunner -- McCain, Giuliani, Fred Thompson, Romney, Huckabee -- before being rejected as not conservative enough or not willing to work hard enough.
Eventually, the party settled on McCain -- someone that more than half the GOP electorate thought was a party apostate or at least too moderate on a variety of issues. When he lost, party faithful were able to blame Obama's victory on their candidate not being conservative enough -- the same mantra they adopted in the wake of losing Congress in 2006.
Ever since, there's been this continuing comedy in which the party expends more energy chasing away people who are not conservative enough, rather than reaching out to new voters.
Anyway, long before the 2012 election gets underway, the party's prospects are quickly imploding, one by one:
Bobby Jindal -- can't hit the big league pitching
John Ensign -- adultery
Mark Sanford -- adultery/bizarre behavior
Sarah Palin -- quitter, with of course rumors that more scandals are about to break
The other hopefuls are starting too look like retreads. Mitt Romney is still Mormon (that's the conventional wisdom on why Iowa and New Hampshire turned against him) and Mike Huckabee is still too limited in his appeal. And then you get to people like Newt Gingrich.
In a sense, none of this may matter. 2008 was the Republicans' year to lose, because of the economy and Iraq and all the rest of George Bush's troubled legacy. I expect that 2012 will be equally troublesome, even if Obama's glow fades considerably. He bought into the politico-economic market so low, people are bound to feel "better off than they were four years ago."
All that could change, obviously. And Republicans need a champion they can embrace, to take advantage of Obama faltering. But they may need one even more if they are bound to lose. Perhaps especially if they are bound to lose.
I had hoped in 2008 that Republicans would go with Romney, who was saying all the right things to all the main GOP wings. They were going to lose, I assumed, and therefore they needed to get beaten with their best stuff. Picking McCain, as I already suggested, made it too easy to make excuses.
They need someone in 2012 who, if he or she gets beaten, goes down pledging fealty to the whole familiar GOP anti-tax, pro-defense, anti-gay marriage, anti-abortion, shrink-government platform.
Only when the contemporary GOP recognizes that their core arguments have grown shopworn and are being rejected by every growing section of the electorate will they start to change. Only then will the dialogue begin about how they can reform and rebuild.
This always takes time. It took 20 years for the Democrats to go from George McGovern to Bill Clinton. It's taken a dozen years, since Tony Blair's first election as prime minister, for the British Tories to look ready to win whenever Gordon Brown calls the next election.
But Republicans need to start. They're still in deep denial. Being able to place the blame on character and personality flaws is only going to extend their time in the wilderness.
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