As the officially announced candidate field on the Republican side threatens to top four figures and one mop of hair this week, I was struck by some interesting points: the Republican party believes in gang warfare.
Now, I understand the whole concept of playing to your base in the primary campaign, and let’s face it, with Iowa still a full eight months away, getting on the ground as much as possible will probably help an individual’s cause. But the whole tenor of the campaigns, with the exception of two people–Rand Paul and Donald Trump–has a strong common thread: they aren’t running against each other, they’re running against the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton.
I get that for the last five-plus years, that’s been the constant drum beat of the right, and frankly, the arguments are tired and worn out, because if the same things they’ve been complaining about five years are still happening by now, then there either would have been a revolt or the nation would have collapsed by now. Which means that while the Obama administration certainly hasn’t been as good as it should have been, they’ve still managed to provide enough direction and leadership to get the nation back on track economically, and have mostly managed to navigate the foreign relations obstacles without catastrophic results. And let’s face it, there hasn’t ever been an administration that could say they were entirely successful, right?
And let’s also acknowledge that the last eight years have pretty much been a disaster for the GOP: they’ve had infighting from all major factions (the Tea Party, religious far right, and the centrists), and even though they control congress, still haven’t been able to pass any meaningful legislation on anything that will impact anyone.
So everyone in the presidential campaign in the Republican party seems to be reading from the same script and using the same talking points: socialism, small business, taxes, middle class, Benghazi, Obamacare, Obamacare, Obamacare, tired policies of failed leadership, blah, blah, blah.
This all leads to a thought: the Republican campaign is going to be performed by committee. Except for the rogues among them (Paul and Trump, among a few others), it’s clear that the idea here is to not just lob attacks at Hillary Clinton from one white male, but instead to open up with both barrels and attack with all the white males they can muster, plus a couple of black guys, a hispanic or two and, oh yeah, the token woman.
As long as the message is all the same, the debate with the top 10 candidates will be just a friendly discussion of how horrible the last six years have been and how we don’t want to do that again. And, I think, the party hopes it will galvanize the party and not fragment it, as the Tea Party has been doing for a while now with the rank and file of the party. The ultimate goal, of course, is regardless of who is nominated, the faithful will see that through the primaries and debates, the message was the same: Jeb Bush supports the exact same things as Marco Rubio, for instance.
But there’s a danger here. What happens when, say, Marco Rubio needs to perform well because he’s had a couple of bad showings in the primaries, and he’ll run out of money unless he can strengthen his base? Will his campaign just roll over and tell their core supporters that they need to throw their support to Jeb? Or will he go out swinging and attack with something that an opposing campaign really doesn’t want out there, like Rick Perry’s inability to successfully state his views on anything? Or Lindsay Graham’s statement that he’ll have a rotating First Lady?
You wonder what backroom deals have been done by the party and many of the candidates. It’s obvious that Carly Fiorina was encouraged to run solely to offer a woman’s voice in the attack on Clinton. And Graham himself is a perennial also-ran who helps suck in the southerners with his folksy BS. But did they all get pulled into a room somewhere and told that this is the plan, and we’re sticking to it, damn it, or else the convention is going to be one nasty place.
Which means it would be very bad form for, say, a Democratic supporter to go into a primary and vote for a fringe candidate like, oh I don’t know, Ted Cruz or Rand Paul or Donald Trump. Bad form, maybe, but it would be pretty fun to watch come July next year.
So here’s the prediction that will prove that this is the plan: Sometime before Super Tuesday, the field will be substantially whittled down–from 10 or 12 major candidates to five or six, tops. Paul and Trump will probably still be in it, as they continue to speak to the fringe that hasn’t yet fallen in with the rest of the crowd. But you’ll be left with a couple of centrists and some of the center-right candidates: Bush, Rubio, maybe Paul Walker if he’s running, Perry, possibly Fiorina (if she’s still getting attention at all). And one of them (not Paul or Trump or Fiorina, though) will sweep Super Tuesday and “prove” to the party faithful that he is the one who can deliver the White House to the Republicans.
And then the party anxiously watches to see if everyone does actually fall in line and the party becomes unified behind Bush or Perry.
Coming up in a later post: the Democratic strategy.