The Republican Primaries

I haven’t posted on the Republican race for a presidential candidate in a while.  I’ve been wrong every time before; what’s one more?

Gingrich’s ads and campaign are beginning to have the air of a desperate man.  They’re getting increasingly shrill and personal, and they do not contrast (favorably) his own ideas and policies either with those of his fellow Republican candidates or those of President Obama.  His presence does, though, have a positive effect on the primary campaign in general.

For one thing, the longer the Republicans go without a clear front runner, the longer the question of who the Republican nominee will be remains unanswered, and the longer the campaigns run, the debates, whether on a stage or via dueling ads and speeches, will force the candidates to clarify their positions, their policies, their ideas, and their solutions in their own minds and in the minds of Americans before this fall.  This can only work to the good of the eventual nominee as he faces a Progressive candidate whose record of governing failure is as clear as is his skill at obfuscation, changing the subject, and raising straw men for his own opponent to defend.

For another thing, Gingrich’s continued survival as a viable candidate is forcing all of the other candidates to sharpen their own debating and communications skills, which also can only work to the benefit of the eventual nominee when he faces that Progressive in the fall.  This improvement in skill and clarity of communication is palpable.

Congressman Ron Paul has gone from frequent mumbling incoherence, from reliance on the inside oral shorthand that he and his coterie have evolved over their 30 years in relative isolation in the House, to a much clearer enunciation of his principles and a much sharper expression of his ideas and solutions.  And once we can understand him, his domestic ideas and solutions are very much worth taking seriously.

Senator Rick Santorum has become a much less a one-dimensional, only anti-abortion candidate.  He’s been forced to talk more about his economic ideas—and he has good ones—and to talk more about solutions to entitlements, the role of self-confidence and self-reliance, and the place of education in facilitating these.  And the Federal government’s (lack of) place in that education.  And in Thursday’s debate, he had the clearest comment of the night, when on the subject of government-provided health care, he pointed out (for the first time by anybody, with this degree of clarity) that it didn’t matter whether it was the Federal government or a state government that forced an individual to buy health insurance as a condition of existence: it was still government run health care, it was still top-down control and not individual choice.

Governor Mitt Romney was, in the beginning, a pure technocrat, who could only speak in the details and weeds, without clarity, and with too much mildness—often perceived as timidity.  The debates—with Gingrich’s sharp participation—have forced him to develop a sharper approach, and he, too, has gotten much clearer as he explains his policies and solutions.  He needs to improve his explanation of the role and benefits of capitalism, particularly against the background of the Bain rap (unfounded, but still there), but he’s improved on this a great deal.  Likewise, he needs to improve his explanation of his position on health care, but he’s gotten better there, as well.  He’s finally said in so many words that he’ll work to repeal in toto Obamacare; although as Santorum pointed out Thursday, he still needs to work on his explanation for Romneycare.

Speaker Newt Gingrich, though, isn’t getting any better.  Certainly one reason is that he’s already very good, and his opponents have been unable until recently to challenge him as he’s been able to challenge them.  However, one of the raps on him is that, for all his debating skills, when he meets someone who can match him, he folds.  This was clearly demonstrated in last Thursday’s debate when he began to remonstrate with the moderator Wolf Blitzer.  When Blitzer pushed back, Gingrich backed down.  Later, Gingrich admitted he was flat generally in that debate: he doesn’t know how to debate effectively when the other debater is manufacturing “facts,” distorting issues, and so on.

You cannot debate somebody who is dishonest.  You just can’t….  I can’t debate somebody who won’t tell the truth….  I know what he’s saying is untrue. And I also know that, in that particular audience, it would not have worked to take him head on, so I backed out.

Given this admission, and given the audience stacking we can expect the Progressives to do, what should we expect from Gingrich in any debate with Obama, who will do exactly that on steroids?

Gingrich needs to pick two or three ideas and push those to the exclusion of all else; he needs to show how they’re better ideas than Obama’s and more so than are the ideas of his Republican competitors.  But he’s never been able to stay this focused.  He’s an outstanding idea man, but his inability to stay centered also works against his capacity to be President.

So….  These are desperate times, but that means we cannot afford a desperate man for our President.  Additionally, Paul’s foreign policy plans demonstrate his dangerous naiveté concerning the ways of the outside world.  I’m beginning to lean toward a Romney/Santorum ticket.  I don’t see Santorum on the top spot because I don’t think he has the temperament for President, but he does have the temperament to ride herd on the Senate, and he can certainly be an effective bad cop to the President’s good cop.

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