I have friends who insist that Mitt Romney is a competent, pragmatic businessman. I have a personal acquaintance who is running for Congress whom I know to be an intelligent, middle-of-the-road problem-solver who would take her responsibilities seriously. I’m sure that–among the hundreds of other Republicans running for office–there are many who, in ordinary times, would be excellent public servants.
These aren’t ordinary times.
I feel sorry for Republican candidates this cycle, and I’m not being snarky. They are in an impossible situation.
One friend who actually knows Mitt Romney says he doesn’t recognize him. My own acquaintance has—in the course of her campaign for Congress– morphed into someone very different from the moderate, measured individual I’ve known for years.
It’s a political truism that Republican and Democratic candidates alike must pander to the partisan extremes during the primaries. But today’s Republican candidates can no longer shake up the Etch-A-Sketch and turn toward the middle in the general election, because the GOP’s rabid base won’t allow it. And in our media-saturated environment, any effort to moderate a campaign position is immediately transmitted to the self-appointed guardians of partisan purity, who respond by smacking down the errant candidate and bringing him (or her) to heel.
Since it is widely believed that the national election, at least, will be a “base” election—an election where turnout will determine the victor—otherwise sane candidates have no choice but to parrot the inanities of the least-knowledgeable, most anti-intellectual elements of their party, in hopes that enthusiasm of the true believers will trump the distaste they are generating with everyone else.
Those of us who follow politics understand what is happening. We recognize the uncomfortable position so many candidates occupy, somewhere between that partisan rock and that electoral hard place. My problem is with an aspect of this dilemma that is less often discussed or acknowledged.
There has been a lot written about the influence of money on campaigns and politics, especially after the decision in Citizens United. Pundits and bloggers have raised the obvious concern: if a plutocrat’s cash means that candidate X wins, candidate X is going to owe that plutocrat. At the least, he’ll take the plutocrat’s calls; at the worst, he will simply do the plutocrat’s bidding. Fewer have noted the corollary: if the crazy core of the GOP base turns out, and manages to push otherwise losing candidates—Romney, Mourdock—over the edge, they too will be owed. Big time.
A few years ago, I told my husband I’d given up on voting for a candidate. Furthermore, I was no longer going to vote for the lesser of two evils. Instead, I was going to vote for the candidate who was pandering to the people who seemed least dangerous.
Whatever “real” personae are hiding beneath the shellacked exteriors of today’s Republican candidates is ultimately irrelevant. If elected, they will owe the party base, and that base will exact obedience. And make no mistake about it: the denizens of the GOP base pose a very real danger–to science, to reason, to the environment, to social stability, and to the American future.
Reason enough to vote for the other guys.