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The Republican Nightmare

Postscript: New Hampshire, in the last week before the primary, showed the vanity of all predictions about a party as veering as the Republicans are at the moment. Gingrich acted against Romney with an unbridled indelicacy. He said a private capital firm like Romney’s Bain—with a special line in takeover scams that minimize employees and maximize profits—failed in its moral duty when it denied compensation to the people it left jobless. Romney would “have to explain why would Bain have taken $180 million out of a company and then have it go bankrupt, and to what extent did they have some obligation to the workers? Remember, these were a lot of people who made that $180 million, it wasn’t just six rich guys at the top, and yet somehow they walked off from their fiduciary obligation to the people who had made the money for them.” With those words, Gingrich opened the dangerous subject of Romney’s fortune, and fleetingly placed himself to the left of President Obama, who has been careful to portray the financial collapse as a disaster without a villain.

But the staring fact about the New Hampshire vote was the continuing success of Ron Paul. He came in as the solid runner-up, 23 percent to Romney’s 39 percent, and got more votes than Santorum and Gingrich combined. His speech to his followers on primary night—which more nearly resembled a victory speech than Romney’s recitation from a teleprompter—was an enthusiastic cataract of words. “Freedom is popular,” Paul said, “don’t you know that?” And: “We’ve had enough of sending our kids and our money around the world to be the policemen of the world.” He took obvious pleasure in the fact that his door-to-door workers were young. And even the network commentators, wary to the point of avoidance of his campaign, have now begun to notice this.

The reason Paul commands a young following like no other Republican may be (as Chris Matthews pointed out) a certain idealism but also an innocence that has the force of a memory. His campaign returns a glimpse of what the GOP looked like sixty years ago, before it mixed its anti-state ideology with drop-in blocs of voters and advisers who want the state to serve their separate ends: converted Democrats from the South, the Christian right, the neoconservatives.

—January 12, 2012

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