We're almost through the first month of the Presidential primary season, and as usual, the structure of the system is achieving its goals. Candidates have been dropping out for the past few weeks as the electorate, more or less, has spoken.
Gone are Michelle Bachman, whose high point was buying a victory in what she termed the "historic" Iowa State Fair straw poll; Rick Perry, who seemed to have some good credentials but lost his chance of winning merely by opening his mouth in a debate; Herman Cain, whose run seems even more odd in hindsight than it did at the time; and Jon Huntsman, one of those people who would be better Presidents than they are candidates for Presidents.
The survivors, as Florida approaches, are down to four. We all thought Milt Romney would make it, since he was well-financed and had the more moderate wing of the GOP more or less to himself. We knew Ron Paul could "live off the land," as General Sherman once said about the race, and campaign indefinitely without regard to winning anything. Somehow Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum made it through the obstacle course to represent the far right wing the party; well, someone had to do so.
Santorum is fading, and it's difficult to see him having enough money to go much further along. I'm not sure that a candidate who talks about the "global warming hoax," is anti-gay marriage, and worked for the government to interfere with the Terri Schiavo case while in the Senate represents anything close to the majority of mainstream thought anyway.
That's leaving the Republicans with an odd choice. From the books I've read about 2008, Romney wasn't exactly personally popular with anyone in the field back then. He's made a decision to move more to the conservative side this time around. I'm all for people who are willing to change their views as circumstances dictate, but changing views on something like abortion rights for political expediency does make me wonder if there's much in terms of core values there. His great wealth seems like it's counter-productive when protesters are sleeping in parks to protect economic inequities. When Romney speaks, the words almost seem more strident than the way they are delivered, as if he is reading from a script but is merely saying the words.
Gingrich, on the other hand, certainly believes what he says. Yes, politicians have a way of saying that this particular election is the most important election of our lifetime, because they are trying to stir up the electorate. It's never true, because life will go on no matter what, but that's OK. This is a cold warrior, as they used to say in the Fifties. Gingrich does have some interesting ideas, but he also has enough odd ones (moon base?) to keep opposing campaign operatives in ad ideas for months. And if you are looking for someone to represent the right-wing base of the GOP, who better than someone who worked in Congress for years and hasn't exactly been a paragon of family values in his personal life?
I could see a lot of far right voters staying home, or at least not working hard, if Romney wins the nomination. I could see independents running away if Gingrich gets the nomination.
In other words, it's going to take something dramatic, like another recession, to prevent Barack Obama from winning November. Right now, his margin seems like it would be less than it was in 2008, but he's still a good campaigner with an army of people ready to go out and work for him and vote for him like it did before.
And I'd still like to know what someone like Chris Christie and Mitch Daniels are thinking as they get ready to fall asleep. How about, "It could have been me"?