the national interest

Yes, the Republicans Are Pretty Bananas

Republican presidential hopefuls, Mitt Romney (L) and Newt Gingrich, take the stage for the NBC News, Tampa Bay Times, National Journal Republican Presidential Candidates Debate at the University of South Florida, January 23, 2012, Tampa, Florida. AFP Photo/Paul J. Richards (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
The crazy – it gives me a headache. Photo: Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images

Ross Douthat wrote a Sunday New York Times column arguing that Mitt Romney’s triumph proves the Republican Party is not crazy. I responded that Romney has run essentially unopposed, and that he has dispatched his woefully underfunded, disorganized and generally pathetic opponents by outflanking them on the right. Douthat replies, “Rather than delivering a point-by-point rebuttal to Chait, I’ll just compare our track records as analysts of Republican primary dynamics.”

I’m kind of surprised he’s so wary of launching the “point-by-point rebuttal” that, we can presume, exists in his head but is too exhaustive to commit to the Internet. I mean, there are only two points in my argument. Why not rebut them?

Instead Douthat abjures any pretense of engaging the argument to instead provide a series of links that, he claims, demonstrate that I’ve gotten the race consistently wrong. It’s certainly true that I was skeptical of Romney’s chances of winning the nomination from a very early point, and Douthat was highly bullish on Romney all along. I suppose he believes Romney really was inevitable, and that the cash-strapped, disorganized has-beens over whom he has climbed are actually political giants. When the thing you predicted comes true, it’s always easy to argue it was inevitable.

But Douthat’s presentation of my views is highly misleading, actually shockingly so, given Douthat’s normally high intellectual standards. For instance, he describes me as having predicted of Herman Cain, “the allegations of sexual harassment wouldn’t dim his star among right-wingers.” Readers would assume I had predicted Herman Cain would continue to climb the polls. The opposite is actually the case. I had argued all along that Cain was running to improve his business as a right-wing speaker/shock jock. The column Douthat links began, “The question of whether the Herman Cain sexual harassment story will hurt his presidential campaign sort of misses the point that there is no Herman Cain presidential campaign.” It proceeds to argue that Cain never really intended to win.

Douthat has two links meant to imply that I was wildly bullish on Newt Gingrich’s prospects. My first assessment, which he omits, completely dismissed Gingrich as a serious candidate. (“It has simply never occurred to me before today that there would be even the slightest chance of the Republican Party nominating Newt Gingrich.”) Two others, which he does link to, cautiously argue that Gingrich may be less implausible than many of us thought, but that major flaws remained (“Gingrich lost most of his staff last spring, and it wasn’t a big staff to begin with. He’s running his own campaign out of the hard drive of his feverish brain, and he may lack the resources to take on Romney in an extended fight for delegates.”) and that his apparent strength mainly reflected Romney’s weakness with the base. Yes, I gave Michele Bachmann a real shot, and she was quashed by Rick Perry, which hardly speaks to Douthat’s view of the Republican electorate shrinking away from extremism.

Jonathan Bernstein notes that Romney’s triumph owed more to Republican elites than Republican voters. (“what we’ve seen throughout is that Republican voters are perfectly ready to support any loony who is willing to use sure-fire talking points about teleprompters and czars and, yes, birth certificates, the ‘issue’ that fueled Trump’s rise in the polls.”) Isaac Chotiner makes another sharp point about this: There are, by Douthat’s reckoning, four candidates in the GOP field, and three of them, by his standards, are loopy. The one candidate who is non-loopy — in his heart of hearts, anyway — is getting a plurality. But the loopy ones have a collective majority. So…if my two points are too much to rebut, how about a point rebuttal?

Yes, the Republicans Are Pretty Bananas