Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Reality Principle

George Packer is puzzled. He thinks the proposition that “the Republican Party has descended into unreality and extremism” is too obvious to stand in need of a defense. And, at least in liberal circles, he’s surely right about that. Yet why is a political party that has allegedly been taken over by crazy Tea Partiers almost certainly going to nominate a presidential candidate who, for all his manifest imperfections, isn’t at all crazy in the manner of an allegedly crazy Tea Partier?
“The great puzzle of the Republican campaign is that, in an era of unprecedented ideological fervor, the party will almost certainly nominate the candidate who is the blandest, least ideological, and least trusted by conservatives of them all (that would be Mitt Romney—Jon Huntsman doesn’t count as long as he’s in the low single digits). The reasons for this are not easy to see, and in some ways they’re fluky.”
Calling the reasons for Romney’s ascendance “fluky” suggests that only an improbable series of accidents explains it. But, since Rick Perry had his “oops” moment, Romney has been the only imaginable president in the field of declared Republican presidential candidates. And there never was an unpresidential figure with a serious chance of winning the nomination as a Tea Party candidate, and that includes not only Ron Paul, Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann, but Newt Gingrich. Granted, we can imagine a number of more authentically conservative candidates who might have given Romney a run for his money had they chosen to run—Mitch Daniels, Chris Christie, Paul Ryan, et al. But none of them fit the profile of a crazy Tea Partier either.

You might have thought that the way the Republican presidential campaign is working out would cause someone as intellectually scrupulous as Packer to revisit the alleged truism that the “Republican Party has descended into unreality and extremism.” If he did, he’d have to contend with suggestive results like these from Gallup (as characterized by Charles Lane):
“Gallup recently asked Americans to rate their ideology on a liberal-to-conservative scale of 1 to 5. The average result was a right-of-center 3.3.

More alarming for Obama, voters scored him at 2.3, to the left of center — and put Mitt Romney at 3.5. Every other GOP contender was to the right of the mean, except Jon Huntsman, who hit the ideological bull’s-eye. But even Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann came closer to the middle than Obama did.”
As a rule, I don't put much stock in allegations that one's politicial opponents have gone crazy.  That, after all, is something that genuinely crazy people say about sane people all the time.  I suppose it’s not impossible that nothing but dumb luck explains why a guy as ideologically suspect as Romney is going to be the presidential nominee of a party that's been taken over conservative dogmatists. But you can only marvel at Packer’s certainty that conservative Republicans are the ones descending into unreality.

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