For the GOP, It’s Back to the Future

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Posted March 9, 2012 at 3:17pm

Given the protracted battle for the Republican presidential nomination and the regional, ideological and political underpinnings of the four remaining candidates, one might think the GOP is engaged in a pitched battle for the direction, future and soul of the party.

Except it’s not — at least not as a matter of policy and generational leadership.

Rep. Ron Paul (Texas) represents the only attempt of any candidate to drag the Republican Party in a distinctly different direction than that which has defined it at least since Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980. But Paul is not, and never has been, considered a possible winner of the nomination. Of the three remaining candidates who are, or have been considered, viable at one time or another — former Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.), former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.) — virtually nothing separates their plans for the country should they win their party’s nod and defeat President Barack Obama in November. On matters of domestic and fiscal policy — nothing; on matters of social policy — nothing; on matters of foreign policy and national defense, again, nothing.

And so, they have been reduced to arguing over who was the better Republican 10 or more years ago.

It’s been Romney’s moderate leanings during his 1994 Senate bid against the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, or the health care law he implemented during his term as Massachusetts governor, which ended in 2006; versus Gingrich’s ethical and leadership failings during his tenure as Speaker and a Congressman, which ended in 1998, as well as the ideological flexibility he exhibited after he left office and the questionable clients he advised as a consultant; versus then-Sen. Santorum’s support for earmarks and occasional dalliance with organized labor, as well as his backing of moderate Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.), then a Republican, in a 2004 GOP primary against conservative Pat Toomey.

Sen. Jim DeMint, who it could be argued has his hand on the pulse of grass-roots conservatives and tea party voters as much as any Republican on Capitol Hill, sounded sympathetic to this view of the GOP’s 2012 nomination battle during a Wednesday interview to discuss where the race stands in the aftermath of Super Tuesday. “I think it’s who you can trust — it really is who you can trust,” the South Carolinian said the day after Republicans voted in 10 primary states. “There are not a lot of distinctions between their messages, at least compared to Obama. They’re fighting out more style.”

Added DeMint: “I think America’s looking for who’s genuine, who’s telling the truth, who’s going to do what they say they’re going to do.”