Political Animal


January 24, 2012 10:00 AM No more white knights

By Steve Benen

Republican voters, activists, leaders, and pundits are all coming to the same realization: in November, either Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich will be the GOP nominee against President Obama. And as this insight takes root, many of those same voters, activists, leaders, and pundits are once again asking, “Are we sure it’s too late to nominate someone else?”

The latest is the New York Times’ Ross Douthat, who weighed in yesterday.

For months now, even as the rest of the conservative commentariat has gradually resigned itself to the existing presidential field, the Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol has continued to pine — publicly, unstintingly, immune to either embarrassment or fatigue — for another candidate to jump into the race. He’s dreamed of Mitch Daniels, touted Chris Christie, talked up Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio, name-dropped Jeb Bush, and circled back to Daniels once more. He’s quoted poetry on behalf of his cause — Yeats, and (with some revisions) Andrew Marvell. He’s endured snark from the Huffington Post, eye-rolling from Slate, mockery from New York Magazine. But he’s continued undeterred — and in the wake of Newt Gingrich’s South Carolina victory, he was back at it again, throwing out a link to “a new online petition was launched Saturday night … at runmitchrun.com.”

And do you know what? He’s been right all along. Right that the decisions by various capable Republicans to forgo a presidential run this year have been a collective disgrace; right that Republican primary voters deserve a better choice than the one being presented to them; and right, as well, that even now it isn’t too late for one of the non-candidates to change their mind and run.


Over the late summer and early fall, when a large number of party officials expressed deep dissatisfaction with the GOP field, it was not unreasonable to reach out to possible candidates watching from the sidelines. Indeed, to a certain extent, these efforts worked — Rick Perry got into the race.

But September was a long time ago. Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina have already weighed in, and Florida is a week away. I don’t blame Republicans for feeling underwhelmed, at a minimum, by the prospect of a Gingrich or Romney nomination, but it’s past time for the right to come to terms with the reality of the situation.

There are no white knights coming to rescue the party. It’s simply too late. As Eric Kleefeld documented nicely, “In every primary state up through early April, the filing deadlines have passed. That includes the very delegate-rich Super Tuesday of March 6…. [F]or a Republican hero to ride in on a white horse, it would take a scenario that verges on political science fiction: A combination of write-in voting where applicable — and for Romney to fully drop out and endorse this new savior candidate, to essentially bequeath his place on the ballot by telling his pledged delegates elected in this manner to go along with it.”

And what about talk of a brokered Republican convention? That’s “not going to happen,” either.

There are four candidates left — Romney, Gingrich, Santorum, and Paul — and one of them will win the 2012 Republican nomination. If the party isn’t satisfied with these choices, too bad. They should have thought of that before it was too late.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • chi res on January 24, 2012 10:06 AM:


  • c u n d gulag on January 24, 2012 10:10 AM:

    Rejoice at your own peril.

    If the economy stays bad, and especially if it gets worse, say hello to President Romney, or President Gingrich.

    Never underestimate the stupidity, ignorance, and gullibility of the uninformed American voter.

  • biggerbox on January 24, 2012 10:11 AM:

    <muntz> Ha-haw! </muntz>

    Poor GOP. This is what happens when you spend decades training your base to be an angry mob, and driving the country into a ditch. No one with a brain larger than their ego wants the job of GOP nominee.

  • zeitgeist on January 24, 2012 10:22 AM:

    all that said, Steve, we should encourage the Douhats and Kristols to keep it up. the message it sends to Republicans is that they should be disappointed and disspirited. who am I to disagree?

  • beejeez on January 24, 2012 10:22 AM:

    I'm hoping Democrats will recognize the weakness of the GOP presidential candidates as an opportunity that isn't likely to come again, and direct their resources to capitalize on it below the top of the ballot. Obama's finances appear to be fine; he should send every penny he doesn't need and every ounce of political capital he doesn't need to help with the other races. Re-electing the prez won't help matters much if Democrats don't hold on to the House and/or Senate. They can do this by reminding the middle class early and often that they are their friends.

  • square1 on January 24, 2012 10:22 AM:

    The problem that both Gingrich and Romney have is that they are known commodities, although Romney so less than Gingrich.

    Presidential elections favor youth and potential. Many political elder statesmen run for President, but few win.

    In order become President, you need to appeal to a broad number of people, many of whom have inconsistent political views. In order to do this you generally need to be extremely vague about your aspirations. This is hard to do when, as Gingrich does, you have a long track record. Particularly on the hot-button politics in D.C.

    The best candidates tend to be relatively young and outsiders (generally governors).

    I'm kind of surprised that Ryan didn't chuck his hat into the ring, although he may still be hoping to get tapped for a V.P. nod and set himself up for 2016.

  • SYSPROG on January 24, 2012 10:23 AM:

    Oh screw 'em. They haven't discussed issues, policies or ANYTHING that will be good for the country. There is nothing substansive except GET RID OF OBAMA...HE'S RUINING THE COUNTRY. They can't even tell the truth about small issues let alone the big ones. They are NOT entitled to the Presidency no matter how much they think they are. So...screw 'em.

  • stormskies on January 24, 2012 10:23 AM:

    right that Republican primary voters deserve a better choice than the one being presented to them..........


    wrong. they deserve exactly what they have now ... these repiglican cretins have created a reality defined by Fox propaganda in they cling too at all costs ... and as a result of that propaganda, the delusional nature of it, we now have these candidates who, like robots, recite that very delusional propaganda ...... their 'platform' is the platform of Fox propaganda ..

    so of course these repiglicans deserve exactly what they now have ....... and welcome to it .. these repiglican candidates are the laughing stock of the entire world ......... just like the repiglicans themselves .....

  • DRF on January 24, 2012 10:25 AM:

    Douthat claims that Republican primary voters deserve a better choice. The obvious response to this is that you reap what you sow, and when the GOP turned towards the angry, contentious, hyper-partisan hard right, the got the candidates they deserve.

    Another view is that Republicans had better choices; they simply rejected them. Huntsmann, while not perhaps the greatest candidate, was certainly a man of potential Presidential caliber, conservative but not of the extreme right, and ran a campaign that, unlike Romney's was not entirely given over to dishonest pandering. Mitch Daniels toyed with running for a brief period before it became clear that his more moderate positions on several issues would not be acceptable to the party's base. Several other individuals who would have been acceptable to Douthat and Kristol chose not to run presumably because they recognized that the current GOP, with its extremist character and intolerance for dissent on any issue, would have chewed them up and spit them out.

    Douthat says that the failure of these individuals to run is a collective disgrace. Surely, though, the blame does not rest with these individuals but with the party's base and with those "leaders" who have succeeded in whipping the base into a frenzy of ugliness, intolerance, anger and fear--the Limbaughs, Hannittys, Levins, etc. Besides these obvious culprits, the blame should also fall on those candidates and leaders who were silent or actively encouraged this hatefest--Romney, Gingrich, Perry, Donald Trump, etc., all of whom cynically exploited the fear and anger for their own interest.

  • Josef K on January 24, 2012 10:26 AM:

    I really miss Herman Cain right now. Watching him meltdown on the Convention floor would've been a lot more amusing than any antics these four clods are likely to do.

  • T-Rex on January 24, 2012 10:26 AM:

    Gulag, I agree -- the joke turns sour when you realize that it might end up not being a joke. So we'll have to hope desperately that the economy does continue recovering, and recovering enough for people to notice the improvement. If that happens, Obama will be unstoppable. If not, people would probably vote for Satan.

  • DAY on January 24, 2012 10:26 AM:

    The subliminal message to Republican voters is "stay home".

  • Diane Rodriguez on January 24, 2012 10:27 AM:

    The early candidates didn't bear up under scrutiny and for the most part, orchestrated their own demise. I can't imagine this Hail Mary crew would fare any better. The Republicans are a like a bunch of fading aristocracy, complete with the results of inbreeding and the requisite hemophilia.

  • tom on January 24, 2012 10:28 AM:

    OK, so I'm curious what people think about this. I can well imagine that a number of potential V.P. candidates would sign on with Romney, knowing that they will probably lose, but setting themselves up for 2016. Would this same set of V.P. candidates be so excited about tying themselves to the Gingrich crazy train?

  • John Dillinger on January 24, 2012 10:38 AM:

    Tom, I think you just pinpointed why Fred Thompson just endorsed Newt.

  • T2 on January 24, 2012 10:42 AM:

    Agree with Stormskies...the GOP has let itself get hijacked by what it began as a diversion. The GOP created the TeaBag monster and now the chickens have come home to roost. They've got crappy candidates espousing unConstitutional, illegal, stupid, insensitive, unworkable and proven wrong policies and positions. All to appeal to the TeaBaggers, a small minority of Americans bent on having their way - even if they don't realize "their way" would screw them as much as the rest of us. Newt Gingrich is the best they have to run the country?? Really? and as tom says above, what kind of fool would sign on to a Gingrich ticket? To be honest, there is a long line of GOP fools to choose from.

  • dj spellchecka on January 24, 2012 10:44 AM:

    ross dross-hat : "gop primary voters deserve a better choice than the one being presented to them"

    trent reznor "bow down before the one you serve, you're gonna get what you deserve."

  • Need More Coffee on January 24, 2012 10:50 AM:

    Various capable Republicans? Who might they be?

    Na, I'm sure there's some sensible Republican leadership buried in the mix, one or two, but this is today where one cannot be seen unlocking from The Party; any deviation from the Happy Media empty talking points or the Obama hate rhetoric and boom, you get viciously sidelined for making the rest of your party look flaccid and tossed in the email echo-chamber as Not Being Conservative Enough, and suddenly the aforementioned crowd of Is There No One Else refuses to support you.

    Any capable Republican out there who hasn't had their independence drummed out of them, who might actually want to talk real facts on real issues, discuss an authentic way forward rather than just play ping-pong with abortion and gay rights, without even dragging the God Forgave Me shield out as his only defense for past deeds would find himself figuratively killed by conservatives with 'liberal sympathizer' painted on his character.

    And conservatives STILL wonder why this bunch of empty banana skins are their only choices?

  • KurtRex1453 on January 24, 2012 10:51 AM:

    Dems take note, this could be you in 2016. Few mentions have been made that the lenght of the nominating process is excessive. I think, that lenght prevents people who might make great presidents from even considering the presidency. How to change? A natiional law preventing primaries until May.

  • Michigander on January 24, 2012 10:53 AM:

    If you don't want to see a Republican sworn into office next January, then be proactive and get out there and work on Obama's campaign. I signed up at the local campaign HQ on Sunday and will start donating my time on Thursday.

  • sparrow on January 24, 2012 10:58 AM:

    What's not to enjoy about the Republican establishment whining for a Savior to suddenly come forward to save their bacon and watching their two defective front runners doing their best to bloody each other as best they can? More please.

  • Lifelong Dem on January 24, 2012 10:58 AM:

    Am I the only one who thinks all the "white knights" have baggage they don't want to deal with right now? Daniels has that hole in his marriage, Bush has the daughter with the drug record, and Christie has an obesity problem. Yeah, it would be indecent to drag these things into a campaign, but what has been decent about the GOP race so far?

  • Peup (aka Jim Benton) on January 24, 2012 10:59 AM:

    Steve, I don't like to 'play the age card' too often, but it's relevant here. People as young as you have either forgotten or never realized that conventions actually vote on the nomination. They don't just ratify the choice of the voters, and, even 'bound' delegates are usually only bound for a limited number of votes -- and there isn't much of a penalty for even breaking that rule, afaik.

    The delegates can vote for anybody, whether they ran in the primaries or not. One convention picked a candidate who had earned a total of 17 votes -- not delegates, votes. (True that was John W. Davis after the famous 103 ballot long convention.) Neither Eisenhower nor Kennedy had a majority of delegates going in, it took three ballots for Ike and the famous deal with LBJ for JFK to get the nomination.

    I have been predicting right along a brokered convention, with no one having a majority, no one willing to yield a the beginning, and a total 'dark horse' being selected. (Not Daniels, though, these delegates are going to be clown car supporters who will want someone extreme.)

    And I want to expand on beejeez's point. Not only do we have to take advantage of Republican craziness on down-ballot races, we are being given a weapon that will be forged by the delegates. The platform they come up with is likely to be so extreme all we will have to do is tell people about it.

  • slappy magoo on January 24, 2012 11:07 AM:

    A good friend has been predicting that the 2012 GOP Convention won't be a brokered convention so much as a co-opted one - people will be screaming "no confidence" until their throats are raw, and we'll see someone who did not go through the primary process have the mantle of nominee thrust upon him (or her...OK, him).

    The more this freak show goes along, the more I think he could wind up being right, and therein lies a rich hypocritical moment - the right, who whines the most about how only they know what is truly American, will ignore the voices of the millions who invested time and energy to canvas for a candidate, who watched the eleventy-seventeen debates and searches their soul for what just might be the least of 9 evils, and made their choice, only to have their choice "stolen," not by someone who did better but by someone the party elders deemed better. or more electable. Or with fewer known scandals a few months before the election so maybe they'll get lucky and win before the dirt comes to light like they tried to do with Palin (who let's face it, was considered the REAL face of the GOP candidacy for a brief time) back in '08.

    Then and there, the question will be - will these real Americans willingly sacrifice their voice in the hopes of victory?

    Does a Newt have three wives?

  • martin on January 24, 2012 11:21 AM:

    Look at the bright side. Assuming the Republicans lose this time (and gawd help us if they win), the base will cry "He wasn't conservative enough" and bring forth an even loonier right winger in 2016. With any luck, we are watching the death spiral of the Republican conservatives.

    Capthca has odd reading habits: allegool quarterly

  • RepublicanPointOfView on January 24, 2012 11:27 AM:

    Our bitch Mitch Daniels for ruler!

    He just got "right to work" passed into law. This makes his bones for the funding wing!

    He has worked vigorously to defund Planned Parenthood. This makes his bones for the theocratic wing!

    Plus, he has proven his mastery of budgets by being the Budget Director guiding fiscal restraint under George W. Bush and he has proven his appreciation of capitalism by selling the Indiana Toll Road for a multibillion dollar slush fund under his control.

    Now, if he would only be vocal in calling for a war against Iran, he would have all of the bases covered in our republican party.

  • Diane Rodriguez on January 24, 2012 11:42 AM:

    The early candidates didn't bear up under scrutiny and for the most part, orchestrated their own demise. I can't imagine this Hail Mary crew would fare any better. The Republicans are a like a bunch of fading aristocracy, complete with the results of inbreeding and the requisite hemophilia.

  • SteveT on January 24, 2012 11:43 AM:

    We are witnessing a collective descent into madness in the Republican party.

    The Republican base and the Teabaggers they elected have lost all touch with reality. They earnestly believe that Obama is Lenin, Stalin and Castro rolled into one America-hating, Black nationalist illegal alien. They believe that there is a conspiracy of the Liberal Elite (as if the leaders of the the assorted leftist groups could even agree on where to meet for lunch) to oppress the white majority and suppress the Christian religion.

    They truly believe that the Republican Recession was caused by the Community Investment Act, which forced the Wall Street banks to make loans against their wills to lazy, undeserving dark-skinned people. They reject all evidence that shows that the Community Investment Act had nothing to do with the crisis, or that Fannie and Freddie had little to do with it, preferring to believe that somehow the Federal Reserve is part of the conspiracy of the Liberal Elite.

    The Republican base longs for the "lost" halcyon era of America that was depicted in "Leave it to Beaver" and "The Andy Griffith Show", and they don't realize (or they don't care) that the Beaver's home on Pine Street was almost certainly part of a restricted neighborhood and that Mayberry, North Carolina was probably a "Sundown town".

    Republicans a looking for a "white knight" to take on Obama -- an ideologically pure conservative like Ronald Reagan. But they are no longer capable of recognizing that if the real Ronald Reagan spoke to today's Republicans he would be hounded off the podium in a hail of teabags for being too liberal.

    For a Republican running for office to be acceptable to the Republican base he either has to be stupid enough and/or crazy enough to share the base's delusions or he has to be dishonest enough to be willing to say anything, no matter how demonstrably false, in order to get elected. The "white knight" that the Republican base is longing for doesn't exist.

    And what worries me is what the Republican base might do if Obama is re-elected. There is no way that the folks wearing the revolutionary war hats lined with aluminum foil will accept that Obama could legitimately win. They're angry, they're nuts . . . and many of them are well armed.

  • T2 on January 24, 2012 11:45 AM:

    Slappy, what if the GOP gets to their convention with Newt and Mitt virtually tied, and what if, in the end, due to a level of divisiveness such as you describe, the GOP ends up without any candidate to oppose Obama? As crazy as today's Republican Party is, maybe they'll just quit.

  • golack on January 24, 2012 11:47 AM:

    Captcha 0.988 eekkud.... I guess you could round it up to 99%...

    Maybe it's the message??? I'm not talking about the one needed to pander to the base, but the fundamental rational for the modern Republican party. Gov't has a role--and once co-opted you get Bush's crony capitalism. And that's really hard to unwind. Eisenhower warned about it, the "military-industrial complex"--but we let it grow and morph and spread--so it ended up as fiasco finances.

    There is no such thing as a truly free market. The best was to make money is to be a monopoly so you can get away with whatever abuse you choose. Corporations have many more resources than most people--so is it cheaper to deal with real problems people have, or do just want to make them go away? Gov't and consumer protection laws, including the right to sue and to form unions, are there to block that abuse. Once the gov't regulatory authority is just a tool of corporations, you have the Bush administration.

    Ok, preaching to the choir....

  • IGD on January 24, 2012 12:07 PM:

    I think this is part of a larger important point that has generally been missed. I believe it was pointed out in this blog that the name G.W. Bush largely remains absent in the current debates. Presumably this is because at some level, GOP folks know that administration was a disaster.

    Now, GOP pundits are whining about the remaining primary candidates. At some point hopefully, someone will make the connection that the real problem is simply that the most favored representatives of the GOP are generally clowns. It's not as though Democrats elect the officials of the GOP...they're also not selected by deities (despite their claims). When clowns continuously rise to the surface in the representation of a group of people, one presumably should conclude those people (or a healthy proportion of them) are clowns. No mystery here. If Douthat, Brooks, or any other GOP sideliner doesn't like it, then presumably he or she should either run and change it, or find a better party. Right now however, it appears as though its clowns all the way down.

  • Trollop on January 24, 2012 12:32 PM:

    All I can think is "how does it feel"? How does it feel to know that your party doesn't have a chance in Hades to win next election, nor does it have any long term ideas whatsoever as to how to address energy policy, climate change, income disparity, global economy, etc..?

    You've only got your Jebus, your anger and a couple of real dildos running for office. Seems like you've got a whole lot of nothing! Good luck with that..

  • Mimikatz on January 24, 2012 12:48 PM:

    It seems pretty simple to me. Primarily it has to do with the GOP leaders pandering to delusional people (witness Rick Santorum refusing to contest a woman who said Obama was a Muslim and not legitimately President) and in essence either being afraid of their crazy base or agreeing with them. And of course the insane nominating process, particularly on their side. Huntsman's fate has to give any of these saviors pause.

    Another seldom-mentioned point is the abysmal job of party-building and team-building that GW Bush did as Pres, even apartfrom his abysmal Administration. He not only did not groom a successor since from the get go it was assumed Cheney couldn't run, they let the RNC deteriorate and then the clown Michael Steele ran it into the ground. Their bench is people like Scott Walker, Rick Scott, Paul Ryan etc who are so right-wing they will be unelectable in 2016. I can see a rerun for them in 2016 assuming Obama wins while we have a (plausible but not perfect) governor in Andrew Cuomo who could pair with any number of very good progressive Western Senators (Merkley, the Udalls) or maybe even someone like Christine Gregoire with an Eastern Senator like Sheldon Whitehouse. I doubt Hillary or Biden would run because of age.

  • Anonymous on January 24, 2012 1:55 PM:

    Good pun, Carpetbagger!!

    "White Knight" as in Knights of the KKK?

    After all, isn't that what the Right, really want?
    Newt is tapping that racist element, perhaps all the way to the top.
    It's not that Kristol doesn't enjoy a good racist leader,(as long as they are on his side) he just doesn't want them to be so obvious about it. He seems very "old school Right, mask your bigotry in a smarmy smile.

  • Redshift on January 24, 2012 2:10 PM:

    To paraphrase PT Barnum, no one would ever lose money betting against "Bill Kristol has 'been right all along.'"

    Douthat can't even get something that obvious right.

  • Sean Scallon on January 24, 2012 2:24 PM:

    If Kristol wants another candidate then he'd better start be nice to Ron Paul because the only way it's going to happen is at the convention and the only way that's going to happen is if there are three candidates with a sizeable portion of delegates preventing a first-ballot victory.

  • RT on January 24, 2012 2:34 PM:

    @Lifelong Dem:
    'Am I the only one who thinks all the "white knights" have baggage they don't want to deal with right now?'

    Hell, not being batshit crazy qualifies as baggage these days. It makes sense to hold back until the Tea Party subsides.

  • Margaret on January 24, 2012 7:24 PM:

    The viable ones are waiting until 2016 so they don't have to go against the inevitable winner in 2012 ...Obama 2012!!!!!

  • Doug on January 24, 2012 8:07 PM:

    I don't rule out a brokered Republican Convention, but right now the odds aren't in favor of one. I do think that, sould Romney or Gingrich NOT have the nomination sewn up BEFORE the convention, they probably WON'T be the candidate.
    IF there is no candidate with enough delegates to win on the first ballot, and considering the crazy running through the Republican Party today, I shudder to think how far into the depths the delegates would go to select a candidate that would satisfy their ids.
    But go there, they will...

  • MikeN on January 24, 2012 10:05 PM:

    Just a reply to square1 way back at 10:22

    "Presidential elections favor youth and potential. Many political elder statesmen run for President, but few win.
    The best candidates tend to be relatively young and outsiders (generally governors)."

    That certainly applies to Democrats: (post-WWII) Kennedy, Carter, Clinton, Obama; the exception being Johnson 64.

    But Republicans?: Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan, George H.W.Bush.
    The exception being Dubbya, and he was hardly an outsider.

  • Prup (aka Jim Benton) on January 25, 2012 11:00 AM:

    Bad examples, MikeM. Reagan was an outsider, running against the Republican establishment, who had made himself credible in his previous, unsuccessful bid for the nomination -- much like Goldwater did in 1960.

    But Eisenhower was the ultimate outsider, never held elected office, or non-military office of any kind (he was President of Columbia University when nominated), and also the candidate against the organization Republicans (who preferred Taft), supported by then-insurgents like Dirksen. In fact, in 1948, when the Democrats considered nominating him, no one knew what party he even belonged to.