Amy Gardner, "Pawlenty struggles to step out of Bachmann's shadow". July 27
LET'S give Richard Cohen credit, for once, the way we might credit a glacier for a glassworth's of thaw:
Still, Pawlenty should become Mr. Republican, a term once reserved for Sen. Robert Taft of Ohio. He personifies the near-total lack of leadership among leading contenders for the GOP nomination. Not only will they not confront Bachmann and the nonsense she spews, but they diligently turn their backs on their obligation to educate their own constituencies. For the time being, they seek to become president only of the 119,188 Republicans who voted in the 2008 Iowa caucus, and then only those whose conservatism has been set in concrete.
S'funny: Cohen and I are the same age, and if I saw a headline reading “Pawlenty Questions Bachmann’s Fitness” I would, assuming I gave it an instant's thought, have figured it was about her cardio workouts. Or, sure, her migraines. I would not have imagined, let alone hoped, that one Republican Presidential sweepstakes loser would have criticized another on substance, because first I would have been forced to imagine a Republican Presidential sweepstakes contender talking about substance. And the last one of those I recall was John Anderson, in 1980, at the dawn of the Ascension.
The only Republican Presidential primary season since 1964 containing anything resembling a clash of ideas was '96, and you have to use "ideas" in the loosest possible sense there to make it fit, the same way you have to use "Pat Buchanan" and "viable candidate", or "Alan Keyes" and "sane".
'96 was the primary season where Nixonians went to die, not that they were being repudiated, renounced, or killed off by anything better, but just because the Snapple of Reaganism had out-branded Gall and Wormwood, mostly by outliving it. Sure, Nixonite Bob "Bob Dole" Dole got the nomination, to widespread indifference. But the only other Nixonian to make a showing was Indiana Senator Richard "Dick" Lugar, who was handed his walking papers early, but not before he attempted, in desperation, to out-Reagan Reagan by proposing to eliminate the income tax. After that Lugar spent much of the following decade sulking that he'd pimped himself out for no return, waking only on occasion to appease the ACU vote tabulators and try to make himself look too statesmanlike to care.
Buchanan, of course, had worked for Nixon, rounding up grandmothers for Chuckles Colson to walk over, but by '96 he was more the Ur-Crazy Republican, except the confusion of ancient Israelites and modern Israelis hadn't quite been perfected in him. The first "wide-open" GOP primary in twenty years also gave us such archetypes as Keyes, Steve Forbes, and Phil Gramm, the former Dixiecrat who was essentially Jack Kemp without the sound economic ideas. That's pretty much the breadth of the party since.
True, it was hard to get down to actual issues with Bill Clinton's dick on your mind constantly, but it's not as if even that one produced any real fireworks. And since then there's been one mold. The most that happens in Republican primaries is that some "establishment" Republican--Maverick John McCain, 9/11 Rudy Giuliani, Mitch "Groundswell" Daniels--becomes the darling of the chattering class for about twenty minutes, never quite long enough to actually criticize the Raging Dementia he's supposed to serve as an antidote to. Tim Pawlenty isn't going to criticize Michele Bachmann, Crazy Jesus Fluoridation Lady. For chrissakes, where would that sort of thing end? Bachmann may indeed, okay, is too much of a lunatic to be President of a United States still populated by people who wish it to continue, but criticizing her without angering the base would be like picking all the prehistoric toads out of your coal. Pawlenty doesn't lack the "courage" to attack Bachmann. Well, maybe he does, I dunno, but it would be suicide to try. And that ain't something that started when the first Teabagger misspelled something on his placard. Nor is it some 11th Commandment horseshit. No one in the Republican party dares to attack the Crazies, because they've allowed them to take over enough of the party that you'd have to kill the patient to get rid of 'em.
By the way: the impression that this is some form of cowardice, or pure political calculation, is unwarranted speculation at this point. We're talking about people who've been Republicans their whole adult lives, all of it in the Silent Majority/White Backlash era, and never shown the slightest intention to reach for some Spackle, let alone the bug spray. I don't endorse the idea that Mitch Daniels is smarter than Sarah Palin just because he named Atlas Shrugged, and not the New Testament, as his five favorite books. In fact, I'd suggest that there's your answer. Assuming you're interested, for some reason.