I assume that viewed from outside America, the roster of Republican candidates for the party’s U.S. presidential nomination looks like the weirdest collection of screwballs ever assembled by any major bourgeois political party. From the inside, I can confirm that this impression is accurate.
It is clear at this writing that Mitt Romney will be the ultimate nominee of a somewhat reluctant party, and we’ll come back to what that means. But the field from which Romney has emerged is instructive in its own right – comical and at the same time terrifying. The toxic quality of the Republican primary season is both a product, and also an enabler, of the racist hysteria that led to the murder of Trayvon Martin and other, less publicized incidents of similar type.
The U.S. ruling class wants and needs a right-wing party of savage budget-slashing, and in state legislatures the Republicans have generated a tidal wave of unbelievably reactionary and vicious laws, but on the national level the Republican Party in its present form is not the instrument that most of capital prefers. In a certain sense the rise of the Tea Party and white backlash against President Obama thrust the Republicans, in the November 2010 elections, into control of the House of Representatives (the larger branch of the U.S. Congress) before they were prepared to govern. That’s part of the backdrop to the party’s national leadership problem.
Several prominent Republicans, including the governors of New Jersey and Indiana, have rejected appeals to seek the presidential nomination – perhaps because they think the party is in poor shape to take on president Obama and are looking for better prospects in 2016.
I think of the Republican Party currently as divided among three wings: the hard right, the extreme hard right, and the monster-raving-loony extreme hard right. (A fraction of its exiled “moderate” wing, represented by Christine Whitman, is engaged in something called “America Elects” which plans to field a centrist third-party candidate by an online nominating procedure. So far no remotely serious potential candidate appears among its lists of “declared” or “drafted” figures at www.americanselect.org.).
From the loony sector, a roster of characters emerged who faded as they made themselves too absurd to take seriously. Rick Perry, the Texas governor (whose Christian mass prayer rally for rain against the state’s killer drought was followed by wildfires), backed by a fundamentalist group of pastors called “New Apostolic Reformation,” could not remember in a live televised debate which three government agencies he would abolish – and so presumably couldn’t be trusted to keep track of what countries he’d bomb.
Herman Cain, the African American pizza executive whose candidacy was created and promoted by the oil billionaire Koch Brothers, fell apart when The Milwaukee Journal editorial board asked him about Libya, a country which his handlers had failed to brief him on where or what it was. (The video went viral on YouTube, where you can find it if you missed it.) Then there was Michele Bachmann, of whom let’s just say she may not be able to produce an authenticated birth certificate proving she was born on Planet Earth.
As this lot faded out of their 15 minutes of political fame, here’s what remained:
- Mitt Romney, former Massachusetts governor and Bain Capital (see below) executive who straddles the hard right-extreme right boundary, guided by the overriding political principle that he should be President, and is therefore properly trusted by no one.
- Rick Santorum, former Pennsylvania Senator who wants to get government out of the corporate boardroom and back where it belongs, in our bedrooms. Fanatically anti-abortion and homophobic, Santorum proclaims that “Satan is attacking America” through gay marriage, contraception and Obama’s health care reform. Santorum withdrew citing family reasons.
- Newt Gingrich, a former House of Representatives speaker disgraced in a 1990s corruption scandal, who also practiced family values by abandoning his first wife while she was battling terminal cancer. His campaign is now a vanity operation which will last as long as it’s funded by billionaire casino sugar daddy Sheldon Adelson, who’s paying Newt to pronounce that Palestinians are “an invented people.”
- Ron Paul, Texas Congressman and perennial presidential candidate who at least has principles of a sort and attracts substantial (mostly white) youth support for his libertarian antiwar positions and opposition to America’s insane “war on drugs.” Many of these supporters are unaware of his previous associations with neo-nazi types attracted by his ravings about the Federal Reserve as an Illuminati conspiracy and opposition to Civil Rights legislation. Paul’s economic theories and isolationist nationalism place him on the cutting edge of 19th Century thought.
Mitt Romney emerges from this morass as the now-inevitable nominee (although his narrow margin of victory over Santorum in Michigan showed how chaotic the race could have become), partly by default, partly by his superior campaign organization (he ran previously in 2008) and partly because of the massive funding provided by his fictionally “independent” Super-PAC, a new monstrosity in U.S. politics arising from the Supreme Courts decision striking down a century of campaign financing laws.
Romney does have problems. Christian conservative fundamentalists tend to choke on his Mormon religion, which many regard as literally a Satanic cult (trust me, this is America). The Tea Party right wing is likely to saddle him with an absurdly reactionary party platform and possibly dictate his vice-presidential choice. There’s also a school of thought that these elements in the party actually don’t want him to win, because they see a better chance of seizing power in 2016 when Barack Obama won’t be running again.
President Obama, the thoroughly centrist corporate Democrat, should be considered the favorite entering the campaign, but – depending on the state of the economy, the price of gas and possibly another catastrophic war – it is conceivable that Romney could win, especially if Republican laws intended to suppress Black, Latino and poor voters go through. And he is a freaky-scary character, for reasons having nothing to do with his religion or strapping the dog to the car roof on a family vacation.
At one point in the campaign, Newt Gingrich called Romney a “vulture capitalist” because of Bain Capital’s record of taking over companies, destroying decent-paying jobs and replacing them with low-paid ones. The charge is misplaced, because the real issue is that capitalism today is a vulture system – where the really big money is not in creating jobs as rightwingers blather about, but in degrading or destroying them. And in this respect, Romney’s stance as a ruthless efficiency expert does make him an authentic representative of much of the U.S. ruling class.
Romney denounced President Obama’s auto industry bailout – which quite frankly saved Wall Street’s butt – because in his view “a regular bankruptcy procedure would have led to an even healthier outcome.” What this means is that bankruptcy could have been an opportunity to wipe out auto workers’ union contracts altogether, so that – instead of engaging the unions to cut wages for new hires in half, as Obama and the United Auto Workers leadership did – everyone would have had to work for $10 an hour, or less. That’s the Romney vision of “restoring America’s future.”
The other salient feature of the coming election is that because the warring Republican factions – as reactionary as they all are – really do despise each other, there’s only one thing that can unite them: their racist, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant bigotry, concentrated in their hatred of President Obama. That hatred, accompanied by all the subterranean mythology that Obama is not Christian and not American, will escalate to fever pitch as 2012 develops.
How Obama and the Democrats will respond is another whole story. But what’s certain is that the 2012 U.S. election will be the most vicious and racist in living memory, not to mention the most expensive in history.
David Finkel is an editor of Against the Current, published by Solidarity, available online at www.solidarity-us.org.