The stubborn refusal on the Republican / Tea Party side to ascribe validity to the Obama presidency is one area we might want to check (cynically, some would say) to try making sense of this tidal flow of contenders vying to be the 2016 GOP presidential nominee, the twisted logic among them being, if an Obama could be elected, surely so could any of them. Obama’s ethnicity, in this chauvinistic mindset, having so unequivocally disqualified him from the office he holds, to be dismissive about whatever else he may have brought to the table was hardly a difficult reach from that right-side perspective.
Hence the motley group now assembled of announced and likely-to-announce candidates for this round of presidential dueling. It’s a group that puts to shame, numbers-wise, even the GOP presidential wannabe follies of 2012, when the tally of guys mounting the stage in the slew of debates had to pose all kinds of logistical and other challenges for organizers. And as we survey this year’s even more crowded field, some of the entrants cannot but set us to wondering why are they there. And the idea that perhaps Obama’s elevation somehow ignited some of these folks’ wild aspirations seems not all that off-the-wall.
Along the way, so far, there have been a few individuals accorded “front runner” status at different times. Jeb Bush, who only formally announced his candidacy this week, has been one of them. But Bush is also one of the presidential pretenders whose decision to join the fray is somewhat quizzical. For starters, the man’s name is Bush. He obviously feels he can establish with the public that he is no second coming of his brother. But the legacy of the George W. Bush presidency is such that we’re not so sure Jeb’s tactic of vaporizing the “Bush” part of his name in his campaign will effectively erase an awful Bush-leadership memory from people’s consciousness, the way he evidently thinks it will.
But George W’s wrong-headed stewardship aside, Jeb Bush has wrinkles of his own that would presumably provoke second thoughts about presenting himself for national office. When it recently surfaced in the news that he had sounded off in a 1990s book about the importance of “shaming” unwed mothers, he responded that his views had evolved, before attempting a nuanced re-framing of that outlandish sentiment. It’s a pretty safe assumption that many remain skeptical of how much “evolving” there’d been. He didn’t endear himself either to lots of folk when he injected himself into the Terri Schiavo case while he was Florida’s governor, getting a law passed that authorized him to intervene against the wishes of the brain-damaged woman’s legal guardian – legislation that was eventually thrown out by the courts as unconstitutional. Appealing as those positions are to the social conservative fringe, Bush, as poster-boy for that extremist vision of the state’s role, is woefully out of step with most of America. Not to mention, it took him about a week of announcements and re-makes thereof to convey where he stood on his brother’s reckless Iraq invasion and occupation policy.
Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina senator, is another of the presidential wannabes whose presence in the GOP field is baffling, assuming he’s serious about getting nominated and getting elected. Graham’s unabashedly hawkish ways — ready at the drop of a hat to respond to every issue with American military power — are the defining characteristic of his politics. Especially following the snow job done on the public with the Iraq invasion, any sense that a solid majority of the electorate is disposed to precipitous deployment of American troops for foreign engagement is an obviously skewed read of public opinion today. Making Graham just an out-of-touch hawk.
Wisconsin governor Scott Walker is also frequently mentioned as among the leading contenders. During his gubernatorial tenure, and prior to it, Walker established a reputation for what seems to have been his signature policy plank: intensely anti-worker. And unless such an attribute has now become an eminently marketable political asset, we’ve been quite perplexed by this touting of Walker as president-ready material.
New Jersey’s Chris Christie has not announced that he’s officially in the race but there’s much expectation he will be, since he too was once called a front runner. But he has accumulated so much baggage since those earlier salad days — the not-yet-done fallout from the Bridgegate scandal and New Jersey’s unenviable fiscal woes, primarily — his getting into a nomination slugfest now would seem pretty strange.
Of the character whose entry into these 2016 stakes now makes it 12 GOP wannabes, one Donald Trump, we really believe the less said the better. But altogether, the cast of Republican players gathering for the nomination makes for as fitting a scenario as one could imagine for Alice’s “curiouser and curiouser” remark in the Lewis Carroll classic.