I am slightly surprised that a "conservative establishment" has been unable to elevate one anti-Romney candidate and force the other also-rans out. 'Goes to show, I suppose, that the "economic conservatives" (and the candidates with full-fledged, functional campaign infrastructures) still hold sway.
I'm surprised at how poorly Mitt (and Jon Huntsman's) anti-Mormon problem has been covered. I think (before Romneycare or Mitt's almost autistic inability to relate to real people) it's his biggest weakness, and is probably the biggest cause of anybody-but-Romney-ism, but no one will talk about it.
I used to think that a) there was a firm bloc of anti-Romney voters (not nearly as large as some pundits assumed, but in the 15-20% range); b) that said bloc was mostly synomymous with the anti-establishment wing, aka the Tea Party; and c) that these voters were highly engaged in the process and informed about their upcoming choices. Then I saw a bunch of voters who kept shifting their allegiance from one utterly implausible candidate to another, in an essentially random, herd-like fashion. After a short honeymoon, they quickly deserted the only candidate who could've been a real alternative (Perry), never to return. I guess in the end it was the total lack of organized activity and leadership that consigned this group of voters to irrelevance. Efforts to rally around a single candidate never got anywhere, and the string of recent Santorum endorsements by the Religious Right is just too little, too late. To be sure, Romney would've been the favorite even against Perry, but if there had been any real interest on the part of a large share of voters and elites to stop him, they wouldn't have allowed the Perry campaign to crash quite as hard as it did.
I think though that if you take a look at the race through the religious eyes of an evangelical, it makes a lot more sense. Here's my internal evangelical monologue, and I think it does a decent job of explaining 25% or more of the GOP electorate.1. A Mormon in the lead--can't have that.2. Next most plausible candidates by resume are Catholics. Last resort tolerable, but not great.3. BACHMAN! (OK, wait, she's crazy and unqualified.)4. Perry is in. Whew. He's got the credentials. PERRY!5. Damn, Perry's stupid. I mean, too stupid. I mean, really. Look, Cain's saying the right things and can make us feel less racist.6. Cain implodes.7. Guess we'll go with recent converted Catholic Gingrich. (Note he'd been steady from the beginning in the #3 slot.)8. OK, wow, we've forgotten all this stuff about Newt and the big boys do NOT want him. Um, Santorum?9. Damn, we're screwed. If I'm right, Mitt won't break 60% of the primary vote but rarely, even after everyone else drops out and the race gets weirder from here.
I'm surprised so few "real" candidates declared. Romney's vulnerabilities are many and obvious, but all of the people who could have made plausible nominees against him decided not to run, except for Perry. More generally, it's surprising that so few "real" candidates run on the Republican side to begin with and so many run on the Democratic side. With the Democrats, even the second tier has always has plausible nominees (Biden, Dodd, Richardson, Gephardt Lieberman, Bradley, etc.), but it seems like the Republicans usually don't even have a second tier.
I don't find it surprising that there so few legitimate Republican candidates running. Last time the Republicans ran against an incumbent president, they gave us Bob Dole, who was completely underwhelming and more symbolic than legitimate. The power of the incumbency is formidable, and I think the legitimate candidates- Christie, Barbour, Haley, Jindal, et al.- are waiting for the next cycle. I also think that there are few legitimate white candidates because the overt and implicit racial dynamics involved in running against a candidate of color are an extreme disincentive.
Love the Nick Cave reference in your handle. And I agree that the prospect of running against an incumbent of color, albeit a fairly successful one, is formidable.
Oh, man, where do I even begin?I'll say one thing: I predicted from the start--as far back as the end of 2008--that Romney was the most likely nominee. I suspected the anti-Mormon stuff was overhyped. But I've been surprised at how lame and weak most of the attacks from his rivals on his ideological heresies have been. And I never anticipated the polling-surge phenomenon. Who did?For a long time I believed Palin was going to enter the race and that she had a decent shot at winning (but that she would almost certainly lose in the general election). When Jonathan Capeheart wrote a piece in the Washington Post in 2010 stating that he didn't think she would run, I dismissed it as clueless MSM conventional wisdom. I began to question myself on this point the more I observed her activities, particularly the Christine O'Donnell fiasco and the Joe Miller fiasco. Throughout 2011, my confidence that she would run gradually waned, so that by the time she announced that she wouldn't enter the race, I was no longer surprised.I expected Obama to be in a stronger position for reelection, mainly because I expected the economy to have improved more. It's unusual for a president from a different party than the previous president to lose reelection (though it happened with Carter, and came close to happening with Bush). I think the current economic crisis is deep enough that the usual rules might not apply.I think there's something fundamentally new about the way the GOP race has shaped up. Part of Romney's success is due to the fact that he hasn't really faced any serious opponents. There's been an inordinate number of weird candidates in this race--people without conventional resumes, people who seem to be running to sell books rather than win the presidency, people without any real campaign organization. Several "normal" candidates declined to run, one dropped out (T-Paw), and one of them who looked normal on paper (Perry) turned out to be weird in unanticipated ways. I actually predicted that Perry would crash and burn, but not as spectacularly as he did. I thought it would be more like Fred Thompson, a reasonably normal candidate who just wouldn't live up to the hype.
Perry's plummet surprised me the most. Better than anyone else, he married the conservative id with the establishment ego and I really thought he was going to give Romney a run for his money. Maybe not win the nomination, but at least make Romney work for it well into spring.
In addition to what everyone else has said, I've been surprised at the GOP candidates' resort to leftist positions. The antiwar stuff from Ron Paul was predictable, and we heard the defense of Medicare in 2010, but I didn't expect to hear attacks on "crony capitalism," a suggestion that American social mobility is worse than Europe's, or the Marxist-Leninist-Gingrichist idea that there's a class war afoot between working people and mega-rich Wall Street wheeler-dealers. It's like some kind of wormhole has opened up, and we're getting glimpses of this same campaign as seen in the Bizarro alternate universe.
I too have been shocked by the leftist attack angles by Gingrich and Perry. The term "vulture capitalist" is surely a leftist lexical distinction, which is indeed a powerful image: the opportunist filthy carrion bird feasting on the dead or dying bodies of small businesses. And America's social mobility is worse than Europe's, despite contrary notions advocated by the crazies of "American Exceptionalism".
I think what surprised me the most was that almost none of the candidates seemed to be prepared to run. The lack of professionalism in their campaigns was being showcased on a daily basis.
There's been only 1 plausible alternative to Mitt, "Big Ricky," & it turned out he's dumber than a box of rocks. But for the fact that Newt is either despised or not trusted by 99% of his peers, the R-elites, he could have been a potentially plausible candidate. Anyone who thinks "Little Ricky" was plausible has not been paying attention; a guy who'd go to NH and do-his-darndest to focus remarks on social-conservatism issues as if NH was just IA-2 is simply a young version of "Big Ricky," i.e., dumber than a.... I'm just happy to see the true clowns humiliated - Bachmann & Cain. Huntsman will have to run AmericansElect b/c he'll never be nominated as a Repub; he's just not willing to "speak the crazy." Or he could run as a Dem after doing some Romney-size position switches.
Nixon's law -- the nomination goes to the best hater -- seems to be in abeyance.(And no, Reagan is not a counter-example. Read Garry Wills' Reagan's America for all the ill-concealed resentments seething just below that jovial wrinkled surface....)
I'm amazed at how well Romney has kept his cool even as the evidence mounts that his fellow Republicans really dislike him and are incredibly reluctant to vote for him. Who else would handle the serial humiliations of one not-Romney after another surging as the Romney-suspicious majority hope for a savior? It's amazing how much humiliation Romney has endured. He must really, really, really want to be president. Why I think he might not be so bad.
After all his relations with the gay community I've been stunned to support Santorum's defense of the middle class. I disagree with his solutions, but he's the only one admitting a problem.
I am both surprised at how easy it's been for Romney and how hard it was for the conservatives to find their candidate. I was also astonished by how weak Rick Perry was. When the GOP base found Cain and then Gingrich more appealing you knew how weak he was. One has to wonder if he had had Karl Rove steering him the way he steered Bush, whether things might have been different.It was also kind of amusing and unsettling how important the Citizen's United decision was for this race and how it helped Romney greatly in Iowa. One wonders whether the implications remind the non-corporate wing of the party that lifting some spending barriers is a very mixed bag in terms of who they nominate if they really care who they nominate.
I suppose the volatility of the race surprised me, but I chalk that up to the weakness of Romney more than the strength of the opposition.Haven't really learned anything about the Republican party, other than possibly the splintering of the "three legs of the conservative stool" in America. (national security/foreign policy, the social conservatives, and the fiscal conservatives)Perhaps that's because the so-called "fiscal conservatives" appear to be in agreement to double our debt on ever-deeper millionaires' tax cuts? There *are no true fiscal conservatives in today's Republican Party.
I have been struck by two things. First, how superficial the Republican candidates are, how little they seem to understand what it takes to govern the whole United States, not the 1% that they come from. They have no plans, no ideas, no policies to govern--only that they will undo everything that Obama has done.Secondly, they have no idea what it means to be an "average" American. They are so out of touch with the typical American's experience that they can joke about pink slips (those are the things Romney chased as a teenager). Obama was not perfect during his first two years, but he has it together now and we must not fail him.Thirdly (I could never count), Romney has been running for five years, and if he hasn't got it sown up by now, when will he ever?And, an extra point that just occurred to me--they make a big fuss about not being flip-floppers--and yet, most of them have been on both sides of every issue. They are vilifying Santorum for something he said in 1994. What do they really stand for, or do they have no principles whatsoever?
I didn't expect them to be so friendly to gays. Seriously, Rick "Frothy" Santorum saying he's got gay friends? Who would have thought? They seemed to have mostly abandoned flat out gay bashing as a strategy.
I didn't think a non-crazy person could buy the nomination when put up against crazy people. Turns out, he can!
I'm stunned that Mitt Romney is this close to winning the nomination.Seriously, who likes Mitt Romney? (Immediate family members don't count)
I've been surprised at how reticent the main backers and leaders of the Tea Party organizations have been in endorsing and corralling support for a particular nominee. You'd think they'd have an interest in clearly and prominently doing this, exerting their influence and coalescing around someone. It's understandable why politicians would be hesitant to stick their neck out, but this was the big chance for Tea Party groups to affect things and push a candidate, not simply wield a meandering veto.
I'm surprised at several things:1) That so many of their top tier candidates chose not to run given how much they hate Obama and how vulnerable he looks due to the economy.2) That the candidates that did run have been, for the most part, very gentle with Mitt Romney who on paper seems like an even worse fit for his party than he was in 2008.3) That Rick Perry was so completely terrible. I'm wondering if there is something systemic in the party that causes the elevation of less than bright, incoherent people to become governors.4) That they are still proposing the exact same economic policies Republicans have run on since 1980 despite the economic events of the last 5 years.5) That total nobodies like Donald Trump, Bachmann, and Cain have at various times lead national primary polls. You didn't have and won't have in 2016 George Soros, Dennis Kucinich, Michael Moore, etc. leading the Democratic primary.
One wonders whether the implications remind the non-corporate wing of the party that lifting some spending barriers is a very mixed bag...There is no non-corporate wing of the GOP, not one that matters. If for tactical reasons the GOP needs something that passes for a non-corporate wing, they go out and buy one, or buy the parts and make one, on an as-needed, case-by-case basis.
The only thing that has surprised me so far is the fact that the GOP has not yet turned into two distinct new parties: the socially conservative theocons (i.e., the crazies) and the "fiscally conservative" plutocrats. Never thought Palin would ultimately run, never thought the GOP had a single viable candidate among them with the stones to take on Obama (who has found success incorporating Republican ideas and who has been everyone's president), never believed the Tea Party could mount a movement sustainable enough to take the White House.
I don't think I expected Rick Perry to be a total zero. It's true that winning the Texas governorship 3 times as a Republican isn't the most difficult task in the world, but really if he had proven to be halfway competent on national issues I think he really would have given Romney a run for his money if not won outright. I don't know if he got goaded into it by consultants and press; if he thought that Bush didn't have to work or learn anything about the world to win in 2000; or what. But his total faceplant was a genuine surprise to me.
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At The Washington Post
At The American Prospect