As Fred Thompson exits, stage right, from the GOP presidential primaries, he appears to take with him the last hope of some Republicans that the era of Ronald Reagan could be recreated, and that a reasonable facsimile of the Gipper might be constructed and launched at the once again inevitable-seeming dark moon that is Hillary Clinton.
A quick look around the political internet forums reveals a subdued mood on the right. There is mild teeth-gnashing in some quarters about Thompson’s lethargic tease, but the majority seem to be willing to wish him well. Half are hoping he might be the eventual bottom of the GOP ticket, which — according to some — may well have been his goal all along.
If it was indeed Thompson’s goal to use the primary as a veep audition, the odd note of indifference that ran through his campaign like an off-key bass line suddenly makes sense, and so does his withdrawal. To continue to run for an office he did not truly want, while right-wing voices were beginning to urge donations on his behalf, would have emphasized the questionable ethics of the whole endeavor. And as anyone who is paying attention knows, the GOP “base” — so active in the primaries — is seeking nothing less than a paragon of ethical, moral, fiscal, social, and spiritual perfection for 2008.
Spend a little time reading right-wing blogs and forums or listen to callers on some talk radio programs, and one can easily get the impression that 2008 will be the year of The Great Goldilocks Republican Sit-Out, because — to many on the right — no one currently running for the Oval Office is worthy of their vote: “This guy is too hard on assault rifles! This guy is too soft on illegal immigration! This guy is too holy! This guy sins too much! This guy wears funny underwear! This guy wears a dress! This guy is too much like John McCain! Wait! This guy is John McCain!”
To the Goldilocks Republicans, none of the candidates is the right temperature, none of them a comfortable fit. But since when does a candidate have to be “just right” before a voter can pull the lever for him? If a presidential candidate has to conform himself or herself to a hand-to-glove fit with every voter before a precious chad can be poked through, then we as an electorate are setting ourselves up to be pandered to and lied to, flip-flopped and flim-flammed, because there is no other way for even the most motivated candidate to jump through so many hoops without faltering.
I wonder, though, if even the Ronald Reagan of 1988 would have been acceptable to the Goldilocks Republicans of today. In his ’88 State of the Union Address, Reagan said:
This year, we have it within our power to take a major step toward a growing global economy and an expanding cycle of prosperity that reaches to all the free nations of this Earth. I’m speaking of the historic Free Trade Agreement negotiated between our country and Canada. … We’re determined to expand this concept, south as well as north. Next month I will be traveling to Mexico where trade matters will be of foremost concern. … Our goal must be a day when the free flow of trade — from the tip of Tierra del Fuego to the Arctic Circle — unites the people of the Western Hemisphere in a bond of mutually beneficial exchange; when all borders become what the U.S.-Canadian border so long has been — a meeting place, rather than a dividing line.
In 2008 that Reagan policy is being described by many in the Republican base as a plan to “surrender U.S. sovereignty to a North American Union” that will “erase our borders.” And the plan is no longer Visionary Reagan Leadership; it is yet another betrayal — in a long list of betrayals — by George W. Bush, the RINO whose “compassionate conservatism” is destroying America.
Republican policy has not changed much between Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. America still extends a helping hand to countries in need. The tax cuts authored by both presidents brought us out of recession. Foreign oil is still a problem; the Middle East is a bigger problem, in ways that Ronald Reagan probably never imagined back when his administration — often at the behest of the CIA — responded to multiple bombings and aggressive actions in that region by removing troops and refusing to set up permanent bases.
Circumstances are different in a post-9/11 world, of course, but President Bush has not moved so far left of President Reagan, not even on the issue of illegal immigration, about which Reagan once wrote:
The idea of a North American accord has been mine for many, many years. I have seen presidents, both Democrat and Republican, approach our neighbors with pre-concocted plans in which their only input is to vote “yes.”
Some months before I declared, I asked for a meeting and crossed the border to meet with the president of Mexico. … I went, as I said in my announcement address, to ask him his ideas — how we could make the border something other than a locale for a nine-foot fence.
Even Ronald Reagan couldn’t utter those lines today without upsetting the base.
Clearly, dissatisfaction with the candidates of Primary ’08 is less about the candidates and more about the slow-but-steady hard-right drift that has occurred within the Republican Party over the past decade, one that mirrors the Democrat drift hard-to-portside.
Internet political forums and talk radio are important and valuable tools for the free expression and exchange of ideas, but perhaps, with their daily repetitions of “unswerving conservative principles,” these echo chambers have helped create the Goldilocks Republicans. Perhaps they have brought us to this point, unimaginable twenty years ago, where — during the primaries — some conservatives would seriously entertain the notion of giving up their vote in order to remain true to principles which — in 1988 — they didn’t even know they had.
A primary season is a lot like shopping at the green grocers. It is a chance to sort through the bins and decide whether the kumquat, the berries, or the banana will appeal to the greatest number of diners, and hope even the “fussy” eaters can shrug and make do with the selection for at least one four-year meal.
This season, with the menu still unchosen, some Goldilocksers are wrinkling their noses at the selection and threatening to throw up or to leave the table, no matter what is served. They are, in essence, declaring that their portion — their vote — may as well be thrown into the compost. They are heading to bed, where they will dream of a brokered convention and the second coming of Ronaldus Magnus — or what their fond remembrances of him have evolved to — until the bears come home, and find them sleeping.