Republicans like Nelson Rockefeller and Dwight Eisenhower must be spinning in their graves. They have to be wondering just how their party has degenerated into the midget of the month club.
In its increasingly desperate search to find a presidential candidate who is not Mitt Romney, the GOP is running through a host of moral and mental pygmies. As each of them takes a turn leading in the polls, their self-image has swelled. They go from simply trying to garner enough attention to keep their speaking fees in six figures, and their book advances in seven, to each of them thinking of themselves as the savior of western civilization. As their egos inflated and they started taking themselves seriously, people started paying attention and rapidly figured out they did not deserve to be taken seriously.
The insatiable appetite of the 24/7 infotainment business for something to talk about has done much to create this phenomenon. First, it was Donald Trump until it became painfully obvious that everything that came out of his mouth was even more ridiculous than his hair. Then it was Michele Bachmann who surged to the front of the pack on the basis of two thousand votes in a straw poll somewhere in Iowa. That lasted until it dawned on people that she had the wide-eyed look of a crazy person because she is crazy.
Then it was Rick Perry’s turn. People admired his simple, slow speech until they figured out he speaks that way because he is simple and slow. As a recent article in Rolling Stone documented, however, he is not so dumb that he could not figure out how to make himself wealthy by auctioning off everything he did as governor of Texas.
Next it was Herman Cain, the pizza king who would be king. Until it became evident he had more problems with women than he has toppings.
And now it is Newt Gingrich. It appears he may have already peaked, however, as it becomes clear the new Newt is as vile as the old one.
That just about exhausts the supply. Ron Paul has a small but devoted following, which will stay small given his principled extremism. Jon Huntsman is far too reasonable to excite the Republican base. Rick Santorum’s signature issue is his opposition to abortion, but that is not the most important problem on the minds of voters in the midst of hard times.
None of this would be a problem were it not for the seemingly endless series of debates, which have helped to bring down one frontrunner after another by making their incompetence obvious to all. Politics is 90 percent theater, but this process has reached comic opera proportions.
If only there were a way to ensure that all Americans watched the debates and no one else did. One positive result would be that people would eventually pull out a napkin and do the math on the flat tax proposals. The Bush tax cuts gave chump change to the middle class and showered millions on millionaires. But those cuts look positively socialistic compared to what would happen under the flat tax ideas.
And if no one outside the United States could see the debates, it would be great for national security. After watching these pretenders to the presidency, America’s European allies must wonder not only this country’s reliability, but our collective sanity as well. All of Latin America and Africa has no doubt understood the racist subtext of the hysteria over immigration. And those in the Middle East thinking about engaging in terrorism will be inspired by the Republican rhetoric. Gingrich’s suggestion that Palestinians have no right to a state, for instance, is just the kind of statement that will encourage more Israelis, and perhaps Americans, to be killed.
But in democracy American style, the dueling candidates will, in the end, wind up to be much ado about nothing. Our system is no longer one man, one vote. It has become one dollar, one vote. So if Republicans just cut to the chase and nominated Romney, it would deprive us all of so much theater of the absurd. But it would cause the conversation to get somewhat more serious and make the United States look a lot less ridiculous abroad.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Dennis Jett, a former U.S. ambassador to Mozambique and Peru, is a professor of international affairs at Penn State's School of International Affairs.
McClatchy Newspapers did not subsidize the writing of this column; the opinions are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of McClatchy Newspapers or its editors.