One of the things that cracks me up about the GOP is how its leaders love to wax eloquent about conservative principles, but when the time comes to nominate a candidate, the Party almost invariably nominates a centrist. Nixon? He was clearly a centrist. He created the EPA, passed the Clean Act, founded the Legal Services Corporation, opened up relations with China, and instituted wage and price controls. Ford was anything but a right-wing ideologue, which is precisely why Nixon nominated him as his Vice President. Reagan? Fine, he was a true conservative, but he was also a politician of remarkable talents who was so far and above the field in terms of charisma and vision that his Party couldn’t help but nominate him. Then, after his eight years in office, Reagan’s party has given us Bush Sr., followed by Robert Dole, Bush Jr., McCain and Romney – none of whom is likely to wow the crowd at an American Spectator gala. Let’s face it; when push comes to shove, this Party wants to win elections. And with respect to Presidential elections, it recognizes the need to appeal to moderate voters. Even Reagan, the one exception to my point, showed a tremendous ability to appeal to Democrats.
With that in mind, identifying the GOP front runner for the 2016 Presidential nomination hasn’t exactly been a challenge. Chris Christie has no chance to win the Iowa straw poll. He won’t be the darling of right-wing talk radio. And he won’t run away with the nomination from start to finish. Then again, neither did McCain nor Romney. At the end of the day, despite the total lack of enthusiasm for them from the GOP base, they were the ones giving the big speech at the Convention. And until this week, it sure looked like Christie would be their successor.
Conventional wisdom has held that the Tea Party would kill his nomination by threatening not to support him in the General Election. But I never bought into that. By the time the campaign begins in earnest, the GOP scandal mongers will be in force, crusading against anything and everything that they can come up with against the Democratic nominee. We’ve all heard ad infinitum about Willie Horton, Whitewater, phony claims of inventing the Internet, Swift Boats, Reverend Wright and Birthergate. I would lay heavy odds that by the time 2016 rolls around, the GOP faithful will be steeped in every bit of minutia involving Benghazi. They’ll want to beat that damned Hillary in the worst way. And if that means nominating the Judas who had the unmitigated gall to put his arms around Obama’s torso when the GOP needed everyone’s hands around his neck, so be it. As Al Davis would say, GOP politics is all about “Just win, baby.”
So yes, once I saw a few weeks ago that Christie was actually running slightly ahead of Hillary Clinton in the polls and every other potential GOP candidate was running well behind her, I assumed that it was Christie’s nomination to lose. Believe it or not, this past week confirmed my suspicions. Am I making an assumption that the investigation of the GW Bridge scandal will exonerate Christie? No, I am making no assumptions either way on that front. (This page is a law-free zone, after all.) But what I am saying is that quite clearly, Fox News, which covers to the nth degree even the tiniest scandal involving a Democratic politician, wanted little part of this one. And while Fox News was generally avoiding the matter, GOP moderates like Rudy Giuliani and Joe Scarborough took to the airwaves in Christie’s defense. He not only gets the benefit of their doubts about the “what did he know and when did he know it” issues, but he also gets praise for the way he handled his press-conference. In short, the moderate wing of the Party wants to lift up the guy, the mainstream TV wing of the Party clearly doesn’t want to bury the guy, and the far right wing of the Party just doesn’t much matter when it comes to nominating a guy.
A lot can happen between now and 2016. Even on the Democratic side, one cannot know for sure who will get the nomination. But this much is clear: if the nominees are indeed Clinton and Christie, neither will be scandal proof. And perhaps because of that, the electorate might say the hell with all the scandal talk and consider instead their ideologies, their experience levels, and their talents. In other words, each side’s ability to run the other through the muck might paradoxically inoculate the electorate to negative campaigning and actually enrich the high-mindedness of the discourse during the weeks approaching the election.
As a Democrat, I see that as a welcome development. For when I compare candidates in terms of which one’s ideology is more in touch with that of the American public, which one is most experienced in terms of foreign policy, domestic policy, and running a large organization, which one has demonstrated the most political and intellectual talents, and which one is the most respected by Washington insiders, I don’t see anyone on the Republican side who can hold a candle to Hillary Clinton. Do you?