DOWNWARD SPIRAL

The GOP: Still the Party of Stupid

That Scott Walker speech was great? It was shallow, tedious, and wrong. In other words, it struck the perfect chord for today’s GOP voters.

02.02.15 10:45 AM ET

Mitt Romney definitely had his down sides as a candidate: the retread factor, and, as I noted two weeks ago, the fact that he made all those dramatic and (apparently) wrong predictions about the future of the economy. But I will say this for him. He did pass the this-guy-looks-and-sounds-like-a-plausible-president test. I always thought that was his greatest strength. He’s central casting.

None of these remaining people looks much like a president, with the exception of Jeb Bush; and more to the point, they don’t sound like presidents either. They sound like they’re running for RNC chairman at best, or more likely leader of the Tea Party caucus. So despite all this spin from conservatives about what a strong field this is, as usual the opposite is the truth. It’s an astonishingly weak field, unified not only in their opposition to Barack Obama and the federal government but also in their hostility to actual ideas that might stand a chance of addressing the country’s actual problems.

I’ve just been reading through their “books.” Yes, I know. You’re welcome. They’re ridiculous. I can’t say this with 100 percent certainty, but I may not have seen the word “wages” once. I certainly didn’t see a discussion of wage stagnation anywhere. That’s just one of a hundred examples I could cite.

It’s not so much that they come up short in terms of personal resumes. God knows, the current incumbent had a short one. Being a sitting or former governor, or a sitting senator—those are qualification enough. And I don’t doubt that they’re intelligent people.

But the problem in the first instance isn’t them. Let me put it this way. The greatest cardiologist in the world could move to town. But if everybody wants to eat chili-cheese fries all day and nobody wants to have bypass surgery, there’s still going to be a lot of heart disease.

You follow me? There could be a man in this presidential field who is the political equivalent of that cardiologist—Lincoln and TR and Reagan all rolled into one, with a little bit of Thatcher on the side and what the hell, a tiny dash of Clinton, just for crossover appeal. And it wouldn’t matter. He wouldn’t be able to demonstrate the breadth of his vision, because that isn’t what the GOP base of today wants.

I finally sat myself down and watched that Scott Walker speech from last week that everyone is raving about. If this was the standout speech, I sure made the right decision in not subjecting myself to the rest of them. It was little more than a series of red-meat appetizers and entrees: Wisconsin defunded Planned Parenthood, said no to Obamacare, passed some kind of law against “frivolous” lawsuits, and moved to crack down on voter “fraud””—all of that besides, of course, his big move, busting the public-employee unions. There wasn’t a single concrete idea about addressing any of the major problems the country faces.

Walker’s blandishments toward the base were bland enough to get under the skin even of James Pethokoukis, the conservative economics writer who laid into the Wisconsin Governor for one particular bit of surreality:

Opportunity is equal? The data, unfortunately, do not seem to support Walker’s optimistic claim. First, there are other countries, such as Sweden and Canada, where the chances of escaping the bottom are just as good as in the United States. Second, American mobility rates have been stagnant over the past 40 years. Third, mobility rates vary greatly by race with 74 percent of white sons making it out of the bottom fifth versus 49 percent of African-American sons. Fourth, even the smartest kids have only a 1-in-4 chance of making it from the bottom fifth to the top fifth.

That’s a conservative writer, remember. And he’s right, obviously. But try to imagine Walker or any GOP candidate acknowledging these complications. That opportunity is not equal in America! That Sweden and Canada are our equals! That it’s harder on black people! That candidate would be hooted out of Republican Party faster than you can say Charles Murray.

Walker, I see, has surged in a new Iowa poll, while the only one who at least looks like president, John Ellis Bush, has taken a tumble and is viewed more negatively by potential caucus-goers than he once was (46 favorable, 43 unfavorable). We can’t say for sure why Bush has fallen, but it seems clear that Walker has gained on the strength, so to speak, of his empty-calorie bromides.

He’s gained because those items— kicking Planned Parenthood, denying your own citizens subsidized health-care coverage, pretending that voter fraud is a thing—are what pass for ideas in today’s GOP. Walker is even more vacuous on foreign policy, as Martha Raddatz revealed yesterday, twisting him around like a pretzel with a couple of mildly tough questions on Syria. The Democratic Party has its problems, but at least Democrats are talking about middle-class wage stagnation, which is the country’s core economic quandary. Rick Santorum is, in fairness, but a) his solutions are the same ones conservatives have been advertising for years (lower taxes, less regulation, more two-parent families) and b) he’s not going anywhere in the polls so far, undoubtedly precisely because he’s trying to drop the homosexuality-is-bestiality shtick and talk about actual economic problems.

But you can’t really discuss economic problems as a Republican presidential candidate, because in the pond of voters where you’ll be fishing, “America” has no such problems. Some people—roughly 47 percent of them—have economic problems, but that’s all their fault, you see. So these candidates are about to spend a year pandering to that. That will make them weak in more ways than one.