Rich Lowry of National Review has some early thoughts on the 2012 GOP presidential race:
“Rand Paul’s victory is another sign that there’s a roiling, libertarian revolt within the GOP that is likely to fuel an out-of-nowhere (Howard) Dean-style “Republican-wing of the Republican party” candidate for 2012. The way Dean represented a rejection of Clintonism, this candidate will represent a rejection of Bushism. He may upset the apple cart on foreign policy the way Dean did — perhaps by calling for a pull-out from Afghanistan. He will be hell on Washington and anyone and anything who represents the establishment. It’s going to be a very tough road for an establishment front-runner who is already a little shaky, which is why last night was another warning sign for Romney.”
I think there’s a lot of wisdom in that prediction, and I think others see it as well. Newt Gingrich has been positioning himself for months to play the title role of “Braveheart,” but it’s still an awkward fit in many ways. He has studied his script and memorized the words, but after all his years in Washington he can’t quite pull off the character. Sarah Palin is also positioned — positioned but not really equipped — to try to fill that role if she chooses.
And since such a person by definition would have to be an outsider, you have to think that relative unknowns such as Marco Rubio — now running for the Senate in Florida — have also thought ahead to the possibilities of 2012. There’s lightning out there, and a lot of Republicans are running around with bottles, hoping to catch it.
The notion of revolution is purifying, romantic and intoxicating, and it can pull a lot of people into a movement who otherwise would sit on the sidelines. You can see the Republicans beginning to get caught up in all that, in the excitement of it, and it’s going to be interesting to watch it play out.
Because the truth is, Republicans don’t do chaos very well. It’s not their natural environment. Unlike the unruly Democratic Party, the GOP has operated as a carefully structured hierarchy, with presidential candidates taking their designated turns. But like Lowry, I just don’t see that kind of establishment candidate sweeping the party off its feet this time around. The GOP base wants a candidate it can love.
Lowry cites Howard Dean as an example of such a candidate, and I wouldn’t disagree. But I’d reach farther back into the GOP’s own history and suggest that a more apt model might be Barry Goldwater, whom the party turned to in 1964 in an effort to reclaim its roots after the moderation of the Eisenhower years.
“In your heart, you know he’s right,” they said of Barry at the time. “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice,” he said himself. Read these words from Goldwater’s 1960 book, “The Conscience of a Conservative,” and ponder how they would sound from a podium at the GOP convention in Tampa in 2012, more than 50 years later:
“I have little interest in streamlining government or in making it more efficient, for I mean to reduce its size. I do not undertake to promote welfare, for I propose to extend freedom. My aim is not to pass laws, but to repeal them. It is not to inaugurate new programs, but to cancel old ones that do violence to the Constitution, or that have failed their purpose, or that impose on the people an unwarranted financial burden. I will not attempt to discover whether legislation is ‘needed’ before I have first determined whether it is constitutionally permissible. And if I should later be attacked for neglecting my constituents’ ‘interests,’ I shall reply that I was informed that their main interest is liberty and that in that cause I am doing the very best I can.”
The candidate who best distills and communicates that message will be the GOP’s 2012 candidate. And then he or she will probably lose that November, just as Goldwater did.