Presidential Primary A Primer For Compromise

Today’s Courier Herald Column:

The GOP nomination continues according to script, albeit one that seems increasingly bizarre but seems fitting in today’s reality TV culture. Herman Cain, once the darling of the TEA Party/Anti-establishment Republicans, has made an exit equally unique with the history of his campaign. Rick Perry continues to make headlines that are often unintentional. Paul, Bachmann, and Santorum continue to play their roles as the supporting cast. The race, however, appears to be locked as we spend the next few weeks with Hanukah, Christmas, and New Years.

Then – surprise – Iowans vote on the 3rd of January and the real race begins. Most likely, the nominee will be decided between Iowa’s vote and Super Tuesday on March 6th when Georgians will go to the polls. At least by this time, a clear and most likely inevitable nominee should have emerged.

Public opinion polls now seem to be settling in with Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney as the two primary front runners in both early primary states and national surveys. Newt now firmly holds the “Not Mitt” space that the members of the GOP field who do not have the surname of Romney have been sparring over for months. Buying into his potential as the GOP nominee, the entirety of the inside baseball crowd is taking their second look at Gingrich and his history of well documented flubs, flaws, and assorted other baggage. Many, as is usual with such a big purchase, are having buyer’s remorse.

Erick Erickson, editor of and Atlanta radio host, has admitted taking a second look at Gingrich expressing concern over his personal history, while still being Anti-Romney in the primary. Karl Rove, writing for the Wall Street Journal, laments Gingrich’s level of organization in Iowa and his ballot status in New Hampshire, Ohio, and Missouri. “True” conservatives, in a desperate search for purity, are even finally taking a first look at Jon Huntsman, a man who spent most of the early primary period showing open disdain for the very part of the base that is now appearing to consider him.

In a move exhibiting the cognitive dissonance that we have come to expect from primaries, some of the very people who believe Gingrich can’t win the nomination because he didn’t organize early enough are again floating names of people who may enter the race at this hour. Many who earlier passed on the race are having their names recycled, with random pundits attempting to add the names of South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint or Former Florida Governor (and brother and son to former presidents) Jeb Bush to the mix.

This, despite that access to ballots in most early primary states has already been closed. Those on the never ending search for the perfect “generic” Republican that so easily beats Barack Obama in public opinion polls are even willing to float the idea that somehow the strategy should be to go for a brokered convention, and that somehow this process will do what Republican voters can not: That they will identify and nominate an ideologically pure successor to Ronald Reagan who excites the base, appeals to independents, has never flip flopped on any position, and has no past history of elective or personal failure. These people may as well include as part of their plan that the same convention will nominate a unicorn for Vice President, because finding either of these candidates for the perfect slate is equally implausible.

The fact of the matter is, Republicans will not be able to nominate their perfect candidate because no such human being exists. Intellectually, this is easy to prove and accept. Emotionally, a party driven by a search for purity will continue to thrash about lamenting the negatives of each potential nominee while continuing to ponder who ultimately offers the most of what they want to see in the next President. Voters must eventually decide who closest represents their personal values, and who offers the best chance of delivering them some of what they want, then 4 more years of everything they do not want.

And in this lesson, perhaps, the same base who insists on “no compromise” from their Republican Congressman and Senators will begin to relate to what will have to happen during the session of Congress that will begin in January 2013. Status quo is no longer an option if the fiscal issues facing the country are to be fixed. Even if in the majority in the Senate and with a Republican president, there is likely to be a lot in legislation presented next year that base Republicans do not like, along with much of what they will insist upon.

Congress, like voters in the current Presidential Primary, will have to use core beliefs while deciding how much of what they want they can get, and how much of what they don’t want they can live with. If there is to be change, absolutes are not an option in the real world, nor in Washington.

Republican voters are publicly and painfully coming to grips with this in the Presidential primary. It is possible, though less likely, they can do the same when it comes time to support their Congressmen when the tough decisions of implementing a corrective agenda will occur a little over a year from now.


  1. slyram says:

    Charlie: You wrote “That they will identify and nominate an ideologically pure successor to Ronald Reagan who excites the base, appeals to independents, has never flip flopped on any position, and has no past history of elective or personal failure. ”

    As a moderate, I can say that the moderate/centrist crowd thinks that Jon Huntsman is everything you listed except excites the base. But, the base should be exicted about winning the general election and Huntsman wins in a cakewalk. On T.V. this morning, Bill Clinton called him presidential and question if he will get a turned before Iowa…Clinton ‘s voice basically said “we better hope Huntsman doesn’t get a look.”

    • Charlie says:

      I appreciate the comments. I stick by my view of Huntsman with what I wrote here:

      I do not see the GOP base voting for someone that not only doesn’t excite them, but goes out of his way to show open disdain for them. Or as (I believe it was) George will said, Huntsman is the perfect Republican according to people who don’t like Republicans. I’d generally put Bill Clinton and most others suggesting Huntsman in that camp.

      • Dave Bearse says:

        You can take that impossible combination of desirables in a nominee and multiply it by three, because the base is trifurcated resulting in three set of positions that a GOP is expected not to comprimise on: social / small government / libertarian

    • Engineer says:

      I love Huntsman and still think he’d be an excellent choice, but he hasn’t been able to distance himself from the legacy of being an ambassador for the US in China during Obama’s term. In addition his stances on science issues like evolution and global warming have distanced him from social conservatives and some financial conservatives.

      • Dave Bearse says:

        That “being an ambassador for the US in China during Obama’s term” disqualifies Huntsmand as a nominee is a reason why the GOP isn’t going to be able to make the decisions Charlie talks about.

        • Engineer says:

          I see his ambassadorship as a plus (not to mention he’s fluent in Chinese), but I know of quite a few people that have said things to me about Huntsman like “He worked for Obama, so you can’t trust him.” and the like.

  2. drjay says:

    holy cow, i am so on board, do you seriously think we can find a unicorn to run for v.p. with governor christie when he wins the brokered convo?

    • David C says:

      Here’s something that tops even the silliness of thinking we’ll have a brokered convention: They think a brokered convention could nominate a non-candidate as a dark horse! They picture Paul Ryan or someone else who isn’t currently running swooping in to save the day. 44 years after the 1968 debacle, no party will ever again nominate someone who didn’t run in a primary. They think the people would flock to a ticket put together by party bosses in some mythical smoke filled room instead of placed before the voters? He’d get crushed. Voters (including Republican voters) want their vote to count, and these days, that means Presidents have to go through a primary and prove themselves in front of the electorate.

      Moreover, anyone short of Colin Powell doesn’t have the national profile on the GOP side to sprint from nowhere to the Presidency in the 3 months from Convention to Election. He’d be a national blank slate easily caricatured as a puppet of party bosses and special interests.

  3. Calypso says:

    Ahh, idealists, allowing the pursuit of perfection become the enemy of the good since time immemorial.

  4. “That they will identify and nominate an ideologically pure successor to Ronald Reagan who excites the base, appeals to independents, has never flip flopped on any position, and has no past history of elective or personal failure.”

    So… while Ron Paul doesn’t necessarily excite part of the base, he does excite other parts of it. Other than that, how does he not fit the description here?

    • Three Jack says:

      “has never flip flopped on any position..” paul does this annually when he plays his earmark games. he introduces hundreds of millions in earmarks for his area knowing they will be including in the final appropriations bill that he then votes against.

    • dsean says:

      “So… while Ron Paul doesn’t necessarily excite part of the base, he does excite other parts of it. Other than that, how does he not fit the description here?”

      Mostly because Paul isn’t particularly ideological pure. While I agree with a lot of his domestic agenda, he’s definitely an outlier on foreign policy. Whether he’s right or wrong is a separate issue, but his advocacy of disengagement and isolationism doesn’t fit in with the rest of the party.

      He’s also not particularly socially conservative. While I think that’s a good thing, the Republican platform and official statements include a large amount of socially conservative positions that Paul openly takes issue with.

    • TheEiger says:

      David – Ron Paul won’t win because of quotes like this one.

      “Think of what happened after 9/11, the minute before there was any assessment, there was glee in the administration because now we can invade Iraq, and so the war drums beat.”.

      That sir is why I despise Paul and he will never be elected President. He is un-American in my view. Anyone who thinks that our government wanted people to be murdered on 9/11 is beyond crazy. Every time he speaks he makes a mockery of the Republican party. It makes me feel good to know that he isn’t running for Congress again and we won’t have to hear from him or his out in left field supporters anymore.

      • Engineer says:

        How is it un-American to question the reasons for going to war, or for that matter, to demand Congress pass a declaration of war first (like they are supposed to)?

        In regards to your ill-informed snipe about 9/11, the truth of the matter is, he has repeatedly followed the 9/11 Commission’s report findings that our bases and bombings were leading motivating factors for the terrorists. Whether you are willing to accept fact or not is your problem.

        While I’m at it, here’s a little quote from him on CBS’s Face the Nation last month:

        “I think there’s an influence and that’s exactly what the 9/11 commission said that’s what the DOD has said and that’s also what the CIA has said and that’s what a lot of researchers have said,” said Paul. “…our policies definitely had an influence and you talk to the people who committed it and those individuals who would like to do us harm. They say yes we don’t like American bombs to be falling on our country and we don’t like the intervention that we do in their nation so to deny this I think is very dangerous. But to argue the case that they want to do us harm because we’re free and prosperous is very dangerous notion because it’s not true.”
        He added: “So I’m saying policies have an effect but that’s a far cry from blaming America. I mean in America, you’re supposed to be able to criticize your own government without saying you’re un-American.”

        • TheEiger says:

          Please reread my post. No where do I mention his stance on declaring war. I agree that it is the role of Congress to declare war. While I do disagree with his stance on why we were attacked on 9/11, that was not my point. My point is this man believes that the Bush administration was full of “glee”. His words. Anyone who thinks the president was happy after 9/11 when thousands of American lost their lives is crazy.

          That was my point, but since you brought up the reason for the attack I will address that as well. The Middle East hates Americans because of our way of life and the fact that our system allows us to export that way of life to other countries. They hate that we brought McDonalds to Saudi Arabia. They hate the fact that women in the Middle East want to vote and not be “owned” by their husband. They hate that their children want to be educated in Western Universities because they may be Westernized. We could pull our military out of every Country on the planet and it still would not make a difference. They see us as a threat to their way of life. Not that I would like to promote radical Islamists, but read what some of these folks are saying. They aren’t mad at us for only being in the Middle East. They are mad at the entire West for allowing our citizens to be free.

          Back to my original point. Ron Paul is still wrong, a joke and I believe un-American because of his statements about our president waning people to die so that we could invade another country.

          • Engineer says:

            I brought up the Declaration of War part because most people who start throwing the un-American at Paul for questioning the rationale for war seem to forget this step. It is pretty obvious considering his quote mentioned Iraq, that he was talking about the time after 9/11 leading up to the invasion of Iraq (2002-2003) and how quickly they were to go war without adequate information. Also, Paul never said it was the president wanting people to die but did refer to his administration seeming gleeful (although I think me meant more of a zeal than pleasure) about it (as in they found a good reason to hit Iraq). If you look back at the news of that time (before the Iraq invasion), the Bush administration routinely tried to make connections between 9/11 and Iraq.

            Oh the classic neo-con comment that hurr durr, they hate freedom. Think about how you would feel if another country like China or Russia suddenly decided to plop down some military bases in or near your town. Would you not want them gone?

            I’m not going to change your mind, but perhaps you should pull your head out of the sand a bit.

            • TheEiger says:

              If it is only about military bases then why are they planting bombs on trains in France and Hussein London? Why are they blowing up metros in Portugal and Spain? Because it isn’t only about the bases. It is about our western culture.

              • Engineer says:

                Sorry for the long response time, I don’t check much on the weekend. I disagree with your assessment. Some of the issues regarding the European countries are separate from us. For example France, they upset a large number of Middle Easterners by banning burqas (not to mention a number of other anti-immigration and other efforts to limit growth of Islam in their country). Then you look at places like in England, you had the biggest ally of the US’s war policy. With Spain and Portugal, members of the “Coalition of the Willing” who helped in military efforts.

                On the other hand, you could just listen to what Paul had to say on his quote you brought up in the first place. (For your convenience, I went ahead and listed the link in a way so it skips to the question regarding the statement you mentioned.)

      • Doug Deal says:

        Paul is not saying what you are claiming he said. To say that the administration reacted with glee to the prospect of going to war (which I tend to agree with) does not mean they were happy the circumstance that brought it about is something to cheer. I think GW was genuinely shaken by the attacks, but his administration had a certain zeal in reacting to it and using it as an excuse to grow the power of government.

        I would also add that I wonder why is it considered terrorism when foreigners blow up our buildings in retaliation of something they find offensive, but it is considered smart diplomacy when we do it with missiles from the safety of hundreds of miles. Violence is sometimes required, but unless Congress is prepared to take full responisbility for the blood and stand up to proclaim that citizens of another country should be dead to protect our interests, we should not be fooling ourselves into thinking it is better to just kill a handfull of people with the impunity of great distance.

        War, no matter the scale, is serious business. Our politicians never seem to act like it is.

  5. 22bons says:

    This GOP primary reminds me of the 2004 Democrat primary with Mitt Romney playing the role of John Kerry (the Democrat base hated him for some reason) and first Herman Cain, and now Newt Gingrich as Howard Dean (the Democrat base loved him for his rhetoric). I can see Newt flaming out in a similarly spectacular fashion.

  6. Three Jack says:

    speaking of compromise, anybody else remember the clinton/gingrich ‘debate’ in nh circa 1995? pre-debate hype built it up as a battle of political titans so far apart on the issues that a referee might be needed to separate the 2 strong willed debaters. instead we got to see polar opposites engage in a civil discussion about serious topics with both offering detailed explanations on their positions sans any personal attacks. it was a surprisingly decent affair (no pun intended considering the 2 participants).

    from the debate, clinton’s opening line which ironically is the same thing being said by both parties 16 years later: “what we need is an economic strategy that focuses on creating jobs and raising income, a social strategy that rewards work and family in terms of welfare reform and everything else we do, that reinforces responsible child rearing and responsible work. That we ought to do it in a way that reduced the size of the government and reduced the bureaucratic burden of the government, but kept the government on the side of ordinary Americans.”

    • Doug Deal says:

      “what we need is an economic strategy that focuses on creating jobs and raising income, a social strategy that rewards work and family in terms of welfare reform and everything else we do, that reinforces responsible child rearing and responsible work. That we ought to do it in a way that reduced the size of the government and reduced the bureaucratic burden of the government, but kept the government on the side of ordinary Americans.”

      Herein lies the problem with the Western World today. It is not Government’s place to “create jobs” (do they will them into existence with “let there be jobs” or tap their ruby slippers together thrice?), or reward and reinforce social behavior. Such a government is no longer a government , it’s a parent. Why is virtually every Western nation carrying a debt that nearly equals or greatly exceeds their GDP? It is precisely this nonsense of creating a perfect word for everyone, where no one can fail, break a leg or suffer the ignominy of even the slightest of hang nails.

      When people take responsibility of their own fortunes, they make more responsible citizens and the government stays within its means. Future generations are not then sold into slavery supporting the excess lifestyle of our greedy contemporaries. The road we have been going down ended tens of miles ago, but as the scrub and brush collect in our windshield wipers we think hitting the accelerator will make it all better.

  7. cheapseats says:

    I voted for the Democrats in the last 4 presidential general election – why? Not because I consider myself a Democrat. The Republicans keep nominating guys who are mean, scary, dumb-as-a-bag-of-hammers, and embarrassing to picture on the world’s stage when we want to lead and need some strong followers.

    Please, please don’t do that to me again!

      • cheapseats says:

        And the tired old rejoinder…

        I never said all Republicans are dumb and I don’t think that way. But, only one person becomes the nominee and those persons fit my description in my own opinion.

        Behind my remark is the disappointment that the Republicans haven’t been putting up any of their smart guys as nominees. In fact, equally true for the Dems, the smartest and best choices never seem to make it to the top-tier – probably because they aren’t extreme enough or ideologically pure. It’s past time for both major parties to re-think their ideology and re-shape it into what’s best for the country rather than what will win the election.

        • Doug Deal says:

          In that case, I agree. I thought this was one of the frequent memes that have as their premise the stupidity and “anti-science” nature of Republicans and the sheer brilliance and pure scientifically sound nature of Democrats. Usually it routinely involves pointing to a subset of Republicans who think the earth is 6,000 years old and taking everything from the IPCC as a new form of Gospel.

          The miserable selection we have starts well before the Presidential level. Our system is unintentionally designed to pull out the most unpalatable candidates. Instead of two candidates with broad appeal to a large section of voters, we get two candidates that are terrifying to the most number of voters but loved by the “base”.

          The primary system is the root cause, I think, as it is a distillation of one half of the political spectrum and therefore at best your choices are from the middle of that ideological point of view. However, since the more extreme elements in both parties are more active and the participation of more middle of the road members of both parties is down in the primaries, the selection from each side gets thrown closer to the edges. So, instead of being able to live with a loss, elections become a pitched battle of politicians with either an extreme view or pretending to hold extreme views. A loss in election means you get someone who holds the exact polar opposite point of view on virtually everything important. You can no longer vote on character, judgment and other characteristics, because a loss has such extreme consequences. We end up with people who are the best at winning at all costs, and they move on to the next level.

          For a demonstration of how high the stakes have become because of this, look at the Supreme Court, where the Justices somehow manage to vote within their ideological group unfailingly on almost every controversial issue. When the election of Obama or a Republican risks the entire juris prudence being turned on its ear because of a 5-4 majority becoming a 4-5 minority on EVERY important issue, politics necessarily becomes a scorched Earth process.

          • cheapseats says:

            I think I agree with everything you just said but I’m certain that you absolutely NAILED IT! on the problems inherent with the primaries!

            Excellent post!

            • Doug Deal says:

              Thanks, I appreciate that. Unfortunately, it is in no one’s interest to change it. At least no one with the power to do so. Fear is a much better organizer than preference.

        • Calypso says:

          @ cheapseats–

          You said, “In fact, equally true for the Dems, the smartest and best choices never seem to make it to the top-tier – probably because they aren’t extreme enough or ideologically pure.”

          Case in point–the 2000 primary, Gore v. Bill Bradley. I was a Bradley supporter who was disappointed in the outcome of that primary.

          I ended up voting for Bush.

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