Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Failure to Launch

Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but the last three presidential campaigns for the GOP nomination have had less than impressive beginnings. I wonder if it’s because they’re so eager to get going that they stumble over the start, or if it’s a sign that they’re just not ready.

First up was Newt Gingrich. He’s been teasing the opening for so long that by the time he finally got around to officially announcing, it was old news; we thought he already was. No sooner had he announced then he tripped over himself and the provoked the raging ire of the rest of the party by criticizing the Ryan budget and plan for taking apart Medicare as we know it. His fumble recovery — “Anyone who quotes me is lying” — made for great late-night TV mockery, and within a few weeks he had lost his senior campaign staff and, most recently, his fund-raisers. Last we heard he was traveling to campaign events that were only reachable by car from Atlanta or his home near Washington.

Then Jon Huntsman, the former Utah governor and ambassador to China in the Obama administration, kicked off his campaign in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, campaigning as a comparative moderate (pro-civil unions, believes that climate change is real, is civil to the president), but is having trouble getting traction. Aside from the fact that the current mood of the Republicans is anything but moderate or tolerant and therefore unlikely to nominate a nice polite Mormon who used to work for the Kenyan Socialist Secret Muslim, whoever did Mr. Huntsman’s campaign prep didn’t do a good job in securing web addresses, getting the campaign literature printed with the right address and phone number, and even had trouble spelling the candidate’s name.

And then yesterday Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) formally announced her bid in her hometown of Waterloo, Iowa. She found an enthusiastic crowd and she threw a lot of red meat to them, but then she got a bit of her history wrong by saying that Waterloo was the hometown of one of America’s heroes, John Wayne. Except that John Wayne was born in a different small town in Iowa; the John Wayne that spent time in Waterloo was John Wayne Gacy, the serial killer.

Every campaign has its “oops” moments, and ultimately, to quote the old song, it’s not where you start but where you finish that matters. In the case of these three, however, the start of their respective campaigns reminds us that it’s not just the campaign that has to win over the voter, it’s the candidate, and each of them has so many flaws to begin with — Mr. Gingrich can’t control his mouth, much less his stunning lack of self-awareness; Mr. Huntsman’s views will never get the votes of the Republican base that is essential in the early primaries; and Ms. Bachmann will never get beyond the base in the primaries to attract the moderate and independent voters that make up general election base — that even if each of them had started off without a hitch, a year from now they’ll be in the footnotes of history along with those of the campaign of Fred Thompson, who stood a better chance of being re-elected as the New York District Attorney if he’d stuck to his old job.