The Republicans debated again Wednesday night. Perhaps it’s just that I’ve now seen twenty of these things, but, as far as I could tell, there were no winners and no losers. Which means, I suppose, that Mitt Romney wins…since, if it’s going to come down to the ad wars, then Romney’s the one with the money. For whatever it’s worth, I don’t think Rick Santorum had a very good night, but others might have seen it differently.
Since it’s the last one of these: The real losers here are Republican voters. Not just because none of these folks is very good at debating, although that’s certainly true. Santorum? He can’t seem to avoid getting bogged down in Senate-speak and unnecessary defenses of stuff that no one cares about. And he seems to have missed the day in candidacy school where they teach you to ignore the question and shift to something you would rather be talking about. The best example? At one point, he was on a roll attacking Romneycare fairly effectively, when Romney (talking over him) just said one thing: “Arlen Specter.” You see, he had previously attacked Romney for supporting Specter against…oh, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that Santorum actually fell for it and switched from an effective attack into a long, nuanced defense of his actions in a long-ago Senate primary in Pennsylvania. All of which, first of all, didn’t do anything positive for him, but, more importantly, was off the main thing that he should have been pounding: Romneycare = Obamacare. A total Jedi Mind Trick moment. And it’s not just Santorum; at one point all three of the candidates who have served in Congress wound up giving extended defenses of earmarks. Perfectly reasonable ones, by the way — but surely clear losers in a GOP nomination battle.
Nor are Republican voters losers here because their candidates spent 15 minutes or more — it sure felt like longer — talking about birth control and how they hated Planned Parenthood. Even if this wasn’t an issue that cut sharply against their party, just the fact that they were talking about it and not about jobs or housing or anything else that voters want them to discuss was a disaster for them.
No, Republican voters are losers here because their candidates are showing no ability to actually talk about things that would be central to their presidencies in any kind of substantive, realistic way. Take the foreign policy section — please! There’s no transcript out yet, so I can’t really do this justice, but the world they were describing seemed to have just about zero relationship with the real world. It’s safe to be an enemy of the United States while Barack Obama is president? I don’t think Osama bin Laden or Moammar Gaddafi would agree. One of them said that it’s more dangerous now for Americans than ever before? It’s as if the Cold War never existed. Or basic stuff such as an accusation that Obama has been afraid to ever oppose Iran, which doesn’t square at all with his actual policy of increased sanctions.
Republican voters and conservatives are losers because there are certainly strong arguments — mainstream conservative arguments — against President Obama’s policies, whether it’s on national security or the budget or health care or any other issue. But they’re not hearing any of it; they’re hearing third-rate slogans, misleading rhetoric and outright mistruths that would fit right in among the cheaper booths at a conservative convention.
And if one of these candidates is elected, then he’ll have very little that he’s promised to his constituents beyond not bowing to Saudi kings, not going on apology tours and not using a teleprompter.
It’s just sad.