Soon the nation will learn where the Republican Party stands.
In less than three weeks, the Iowa Caucus will begin the painstaking selection of a presidential candidate. This is when polls, punditry and prognostication become fact. So… who represents the party now? Conservative? Moderate? Religious Right? Washington Lifer? Libertarian?
Who will be the figurehead, the titular leader of the New Conservative movement, so in vogue only one short year ago?
Twelve months on, where does the Grand Old Party find its voice?
In 2010, it was anti-big-government, no-tax-under-any-circumstances, anti-union, anti-entitlements, anti-Obama. By January of this year, Republicans were taking half of the legislative branch and turning the United States Senate into a stalemate. Feels like only yesterday the Liberal Revolution of 2008 and its President was all-but finished.
Oh, it was a serious beat down; not only of Democrats, but old-line, establishment Republicans, who had to make way for several and varied first-timers, anti-politicians—motivated citizens with no ties or obligations to the “way things are done” Washington milieu. There was no telling where this could lead?
The hope was that it would lead to a purer form of politics. Where the Left lost its way after putting so much social, political and youthful hope in Barack Obama, the Right would rise from the ashes of Bush/Cheney/Delay spendthrift, scandal-addled, war-mongering mania to a hard-line fiscal razing of the system.
Gay bashing, Muslim-phobia, myopic jingoism was out and “Read our lips – No New Taxes” was in. Jesus, there was even talk from Republicans about reducing the national debt or bust.
What a merry time of misrule it was.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the forum… or Paul Ryan, we hardly knew ye.
After the party’s successful exploitation of the original Tea Party, which has since split into more disparate factions than the birth of Christianity, predictable backlashes ensued. Public unions in Wisconsin, Michigan, Florida, Ohio, Maine, Arizona and Alaska fought against the tide of reduced entitlements and abolished collective bargaining rights. Then the federal government nearly shutdown, as the no-compromise freshman engaged in a suddenly catastrophic deficit pogrom. And then there was Occupy Wall Street, which, much like the Tea Party, ignored ridicule, fickle media infatuation and harsh criticism to remain a viable voice of conscience.
So it’s reasonable to assume two things: Republicans will either stick to their guns and stay the course of conservative purity or abandon ship and select a dyed-in-the-wool national candidate to surf the middle, seduce independents and take on what is sure to be a multi-million dollar Obama Machine the likes of which has rarely been seen in the modern political landscape.
Of course, as stated, Iowa will kick start this process, but can hardly be considered a reliable barometer for the Republican Primary. Many weird things happen in Iowa, much of it difficult to recount here without a smattering of hem and a fair amount of hawing. However, it is a vote and it counts, unlike the bullshit that appears nightly on cable news. And right now, if polls be trusted, the resurrection of one of Washington’s most reviled demagogues, Newt Gingrich, leads the ever-vacillating Mitt Romney Mach II by 10 percentage points with perennial Libertarian Ron Paul right beside him.
Gingrich has no money and no party support. The national conservative press and former colleagues regularly shove each other out of the way to eviscerate him. Yet, he appears to be the only-man-standing in a four-month round-robin competition for Anyone But Romney. For reasons that we’ll dissect in the coming weeks, neither Romney nor Gingrich represent a scintilla of pure conservatism. In many crucial ways, these are Limo Liberals at best and, in reality, Big Government Dinosaurs. Their record of voting, supporting and lobbying for progressive causes and Keynesian economic strategies are well documented.
Ron Paul, however, is the interesting candidate.
He is certainly interesting for his Barry Goldwater approach—the pre-William F. Buckley, Jerry Falwell, Ronald Reagan conservative. If nothing else he is ideologically pure; a political doppelganger of the Tea Party faithful, many of which, if under random doses of sodium pentathol, would have to admit Gingrich and Romney are closer to Barack Obama than anything they sent to congress last year. While the two frontrunners have changed positions on key conservative tenets daily, Paul has been spouting his unflinching rhetoric for decades.
But Ron Paul is most interesting because the caucus landscape is his canvas—reporters from every circle have all agreed he’s had more one-on-one connections with them and the people of Iowa (both integral newsmakers and ordinary voters) than any of the six or seven Republicans left standing in this race. Moreover, Paul has an Iowa ground organization far and wide, the kind of grassroots measure Obama conducted when Hillary Clinton was busy measuring drapes for the Oval Office.
Now, there is very little one can say that is crazier than Ron Paul is a clear bet to be the Republican nominee for President in 2012, but that is not the issue. The issue in Iowa, the only game in town on Jan. 3, will tell us where the wind may blow for the Republican Party. Is the Tea Party yesterday’s news, used and tossed to the curb to allow an “electable” candidate to emerge? Remember the “un-electable” Michelle Bachman took the straw poll here in the summer and vaulted to conservative darling for as long as she could keep her mouth shut, which ended abruptly when she told the Today Show that the HPV vaccine causes mental retardation.
Say Paul, who has made no secret of his extremely controversial stands on legalizing drugs, wiping out any kind of government regulations, gutting the Military Industrial Complex, tearing asunder federal safety nets and eradicating a bevy of government agencies, wins in Iowa. Does that mean there is a chink in the armor of those in the party who have spent the better part of three years trying to make Obama a one-term President? And if the establishment, so cushy with Tea Party hardliners a year ago when it suited them, turn their back on these results and the subsequent press, bump in polls and political gravitas it provides a true conservative like Ron Paul, then what fills that vacuum; a true Independent candidate?
Who then stops attention hounds like Donald Trump or Sarah Palin from screaming about trading in principles for hollow victory or an unenthusiastic showing to usher in four more years of Obama? Who then stops crazies like Ann Coulter or stalwarts like George Will from pounding the party on grab-ass or disunity?
Yes, Ron Paul in Iowa might have small legs in the battle, but the war will be waged in a different mindset if he wins.
James Campion is the Managing Editor of TheReality Check News & Information Desk and the author of Deep Tank Jersey, Fear No Art, Trailing Jesus and Midnight For Cinderella.