Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Ross Douthat's Fantasy Primary

Ross Douthat defends the fact that Santorum is still afloat in the Republican primaries,
Even the elevation of Rick Santorum as the last not-Romney standing testifies to the Republican electorate’s relative sobriety. For all his follies and failings, Santorum is a more plausible presidential candidate than most of this season’s alternatives — more experienced than Cain and Bachmann, more substantive and eloquent than Perry, more principled than Gingrich.
Douthat's damning of Santorum with faint praise reminds me of the old joke, "In heaven, the food is French, the police are British, the engineers are German, the lovers are Italian...." Douthat would be making pretty much the same claim no matter who else was left in the race (except Gingrich). Douthat also reveals his dream candidates, purporting that other than Jeb Bush, whose disastrously incompetent brother "tarnished [his] (last) name", the only reason they're not running is that "the current presidential campaign arrived too soon for them to be entirely seasoned."
If the current race pitted Jeb Bush against, say, Mike Huckabee and Mitch Daniels, nobody would be talking about how the party has gone off the rails.
Why not? To borrow from Douthat's style book, Huckabee has all of the economic sense of Herman Cain, and all of the aptitude for foreign policy of Michelle Bachmann. Mitch Daniels seems to inspire all of the enthusiasm of Jon Huntsman - Douthat lectures, "Republican voters probably should have given Jon Huntsman more consideration", but fails to explore why they did not. Jeb Bush has what... two terms as governor in Florida in which he didn't mess anything up too badly and the family name? What's not to love.
If it were being held two years hence, and featured Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio, the excitement on the Republican side would rival what the Democrats enjoyed in 2008. But those four, and others like them, decided they weren’t ready yet.
Although I understand why Douthat wants to fetishize those four as wonderful up-and-coming leaders, fantasy often collides with reality in a most unpleasant fashion. Rick Perry was a great presidential candidate, the guy who was going to clear the field of the weaklings, until he actually started a campaign:
As The New York Times's Ross Douthat said when Perry first entered the race, quoting a Texas competitor, "Running against Rick Perry is like running against God."
I suspect Douthat in part wants to build a Frankenstein candidate - Christie's bombast, Jindal's wonkishness, Paul Ryan's ability to spout absolute nonsense and be taken seriously, and Marc Rubio's assumed charisma. But had they run, I would not be half surprised if Douthat were writing the very same editorial, but damning Santorum with somewhat modified faint praise, something along the lines of, "For all his follies and failings, Santorum is a more plausible presidential candidate than most of this season’s alternatives — more experienced than Christie and Rubio, more substantive and eloquent than Jindal, more principled than Ryan."

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