All of which leaves to the party with a situation it's not accustomed to -- being in fragmentation. And it's killing them.
The Republican presidential race is so unsettled that some party officials are openly talking of a scenario that seemed almost unthinkable until now: the first contested GOP convention in 60 years.
Even if Republicans choose a nominee before they convene in Minneapolis-St. Paul on Sept. 1, there's a good possibility he will emerge weeks or even months after the Democratic nominee is chosen, giving Democrats an advantage in fundraising, organizing and campaigning. Congressional Republicans particularly wanted an early nominee to draw voters' attention from President Bush, whose low approval ratings could hurt the entire party in the fall.
Beside leaving Bush as the face of the party, the worries are that the GOP could wind up with a "brokered convention" -- i.e., a nominating process where the candidates are still competing on the convention floor. A brokered convention involves wheeling and dealing, with candidates who have no hope of winning throwing their support (and delegates) behind another candidate who may or may not have come out on top of the primary elections. In today's political campaign climate, it would probably mean more ad buys and more campaigning as the underdogs seek to influence others to back their guy. And that means spending more money and a lot of bloody noses.
Regardless of whether or not the GOP winds up in a brokered convention, such a competitive field is dangerous for them. Not only do they have to burn money to get through the primaries, but they have to deal with the way Republicans compete.
Let's entertain a metaphor; there's an episode in the animated series Futurama where the evil industrialist "Mom" -- of Mom's Friendly Robot Company -- wants to retaliate against the crew of Planet Express. One of her lackeys sits behind a console covered with buttons and looks confused. "Hit any button, you idiot," Mom shouts. "They all retaliate!"
That's the GOP campaign machine -- the only setting it has is "attack." When the going gets tough, Republicans smear. So, if the primary battle goes on long enough, the eventual nominee will be dripping with mud before he even begins to compete with his Democratic rival. A bruising Republican battle will only hurt Republicans.
For an egregious example of this all-offense style of campaigning, we don't have to look any farther than Vietnam Veterans Against John McCain. VVAJM is a brutal smear organization run by the people who started the Swift Boat crap against John Kerry. Karl Rove noticed the little smear group, stole their issue, and gave it to more wealthy and influential right wing nuts. And he did it because the original group -- then called "Vietnam Veterans Against John Kerry" -- was making a difference. Now the originals are back and VVAJM has sent a mailer to various news outlets, making outlandish charges against McCain.
Wall Street Journal:
Reached by phone at his home, [VVAJM founder Jerry] Kiley said his point his simple. He argues that McCain's military heroism is "a myth" and that he contributed to the deaths of U.S. soldiers by his actions in Vietnam -- a minority view that is not widely held in the military community. "He has earned our disrespect," said Kiley. The mailer is the first of this kind of attack against McCain coordinated by the group, but Kiley said he anticipates they will send similar mailers in Florida and in some of the states that hold nominating contests Feb. 5.
VVAJM's site is predictably crazy, with headlines like "Was John McCain Brainwashed by his North Vietnamese Captors to Destroy this Nation?" and "Betrayal, deceit, corruption and John McCain." They argue that McCain was planning to run for president even as he sat in the Hanoi Hilton (suggesting he allowed himself to be shot down to become a war hero), that he gave away secrets to the Viet Cong, and that he's a "Manchurian candidate" brainwashed by communists to destroy the United States.
Yeah, it's insane, but so is creationism, the Iraq war, and the idea that Christians are oppressed in the US -- the rights suffers from no shortage of gullible nuts who'll believe anything. It'll turn off some voters and maybe even boost McCain among them, but it'll fly with the chumps. And, considering that VVAJM is targeting the South Carolina primary, it may wind up working. In 2000, Bush and Rove smeared McCain in that state with a rumor that he had an illegitimate black child (the McCains adopted an Indian child). It worked with dumbass racists and Bush took South Carolina. McCain watched a 19 point lead in the primary evaporate.
Imagine this sort of brutal, lowest common denominator campaigning going on in every state until the GOP convention -- McCain's a commie zombie, Romney and Giuliani are secretly gay, Huckabee's a liberal in disguise, Thompson has "Hollywood values" and probably does drugs, Ron Paul is an insane racist. Republicans have forgotten how to build themselves up, so they chop everyone else down to their level. And, when the time comes to face the Democratic nominee, the Republican nominee could be hacked down to insignificance -- no dem effort required.
If the GOP primary contest remains competitive, they could find themselves bleeding out from a self-inflicted wound. Worse, sooner or later one of these front groups will be traced back to a candidate and it'll blow up in their face. If VVAJM is traced back to -- oh, let's make up a name -- "Kitt Bomney," then poor little Kittens will find himself in the eye of a crap storm of his own making. Being a frontrunner, this would throw the whole contest wide open again and make it even more competitive. Electoral disaster ensues.
Decades of gotcha politics and smear campaigns may finally have come back to bite the GOP in the ass. The only tools they have in their toolbox are hand grenades and sniper rifles. When the smoke clears in the Twin Cities this September, Republicans may find that all their casualties were inflicted by friendly fire and fragging.
At least it would be fun to watch.
Technorati tags: politics; elections; 2008; propaganda; John McCain; Mitt Romney; Ron Paul; Fred Thompson; Rudy Giuliani; Mike Huckabee; When Republicans compete, Republicans attack