Frank Rich on the National Circus: The GOP’s Dismal Week

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Photo: Jin Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images, Win McNamee/Getty Images, Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

After Super Tuesday, the Romney campaign said it’s over and he’s won. It’s mathematically impossible for any of his rivals to pile up the delegate count needed to win. So when will it truly be over?

At the height of the Vietnam quagmire, the comic Milton Berle joked that the best way to end the war was to put it on ABC — then the lowest-rated network — because it would be canceled within thirteen weeks. We may finally be reaching that stage with the GOP race. Of the broadcast networks, only the lowest-rated, NBC, even bothered to air any returns on Tuesday night. Overall, viewership for Super Tuesday coverage was down almost 40 percent from 2008. The contest may keep going — bouncing around like a chicken head recently severed from its body — but if no one is watching, the last act may have no more consequence than the final episode of NBC’s The Playboy Club.

Wasn’t it thrilling to stay up for those final precincts to be counted in Ohio?

To get to that ambiguous resolution you had to slog through speeches by Santorum, Romney and Gingrich that in length and tedium would rival anything in the Politburo prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

What does it mean for 2012 that the most prominent old media warrior on the right, Rush Limbaugh, is radioactive and that the most ferocious new media warrior, Andrew Breitbart, is dead?  

Limbaugh will keep on keeping on, no matter what the exodus of sponsors. (And by the way, who knew that one of those sponsors was the Philadelphia Orchestra? Doesn’t that august institution have enough problems these days? Then again, Lincoln Center is in bed with David Koch.)  Limbaugh’s staying power is good news for the Democrats, because every day he makes himself the story is another day that the GOP hemorrhages women voters, young voters and Independents. Breitbart’s departure is not such good news for Democrats, despite the celebration in some quarters of the liberal Twittersphere, because he was similarly useful in boisterously reminding Independents and moderates of the right’s racial animus.

But even in death, isn’t Breitbart a gift that keeps on giving? The Web has been aflutter about a newly uncovered 1990 video, for months hyped as a blockbuster by Breitbart, proving that Obama’s radicalism went even beyond palling around with Bill Ayers and worshipping with Jeremiah Wright.

Actually, Breitbart’s video (revealed by Buzzfeed this week) proves to be another example of his empty bluster. All it shows is Obama, then at Harvard Law School, endorsing a protest led by the school’s first tenured black professor, Derrick Bell, against the lack of diversity in the faculty’s ranks. The clip has been previously seen on television, including in a PBS Frontline documentary about Obama’s law school years, and had long been available both on the Frontline Website and at YouTube. And so Brietbart’s final, posthumous stunt will be remembered (if it is at all) as a media pratfall worthy of Geraldo Rivera, who, after breathlessly promising to unearth the contents of Al Capone’s “secret vault” to a national television audience in 1986, discovered that the vault was empty.

Breitbart’s race-mongering may be over, but surely race will rear its head in the campaign.

Well, in Romney the GOP certainly has the whitest candidate it could have. The Mormon church didn’t grant blacks equal status until 1978 — more than two decades after Brown v. Board of Education.* And the party remains as white as ever, its brief affair with Herman Cain notwithstanding. Even the party’s one prominent black face in 2008, its former chairman Michael Steele, is now tossing (gentle) gibes at the GOP from his new sinecure as a pundit at MSNBC.

Won’t war be a big part of the 2012 campaign too? The Iran saber-rattling among the Republican candidates reached a deafening pitch around Netanyahu’s visit and the AIPAC convention.

It did, but Obama deflected the bomb-bomb-bomb Iran crowd deftly at his press conference, reminding voters of what happened the last time America plunged into a war driven by domestic ideology and politics. He might have added that war is a political loser anyway in an election year when the country is sick of the war it already has and can’t wait to get out.

What’s up with Sarah Palin’s return to the spotlight — endorsing Gingrich, defending Rush, campaigning against HBO’s Game Change, announcing her availability for last-minute service at the GOP convention?

She may not be doing Romney and the GOP any favors, but she’s a godsend for HBO (where, in full disclosure, I’m a creative consultant). It’s hard to imagine how she could have done more to promote Game Change in advance of its premiere Saturday night.

What should the film version of the 2012 election be tentatively titled?

Given the way it’s going for Obama so far, I’d say Luck.

*An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that the Mormon Church granted equal status to blacks in 1973.