The Problem For Folks Like Us

I heard it first at the barber shop. Then at the airport. And then from callers to a radio show. Folks like us seem to think we have a problem.

They think that we have too many candidates, and that the candidates will spend too much money tearing one another down, and that the process may produce, after a burst of fratricidal campaign spots, a mortally damaged nominee. This concern is unlike us. Folks like us tend to encourage dissent and welcome debate; we are the permanent insurgency and we thrive on the hurly-burly of controversy. But now that we’re up against the glacial advance of Clinton Inc., these folks seem to be saying, maybe we should skinny down a bit, husband our resources, and begin to look for the high ground of party unity.

I hear these folks. But they’re wrong, or at least prematurely wrong.

To this point in the 2016 campaign, every new voice in the party chorus has been accretive. Take, for example, Mike Huckabee. For years, the coastal elites have been reassuring themselves, if not the rest of us, that the social issues (by which they mean abortion-related issues) are a relic of a dark past, a series of awkward questions now happily closed. Such questions of life and death, Huckabee is reminding us in his gentle way, are never closed. Watch him and cherish him. He is making a moral argument of considerable force while at the same time fetching a critically important constituency for the ultimate GOP nominee. Anybody who thinks Republicans can win national elections without social conservatives is arithmetically challenged.

I have written before about Carly Fiorina. The Clinton-inspired attack on her – damning Fiorina with the faint insult that her Silicon Valley career did not match Steve Jobs’ or Bill Gates’ — is laughable. Who did match those two? Henry Ford at the outset of the previous century, perhaps. Mark Zuckerberg toward the middle of this one, perhaps. In rising from the secretarial pool to the C-suite at a world-beating technology company, Fiorina pulled off a stunning, glass ceiling-shattering accomplishment. (Having served on the boards of all-boy companies, I can tell you that Ms. Fiorina would have needed brains, luck, a sense of humor and a will of tempered steel.) What Fiorina contributes to the current campaign is the power of invidious comparison. She is the woman of achievement, Hillary the woman of privilege. Your choice, America.

Then there’s Ben Carson, the single mom’s kid who rose from the mean streets of Detroit to be head of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins. Is there a more quintessentially American story than his? He stands as a living rebuke to all of the lefty cant about institutionalized racism — and to all of the false presumptions of victimology. For Carson, “Yes we can” retains its original meaning. It means the liberation of personal responsibility, not the dependency of public assistance.

There are other candidates still in the Green Room, awaiting their cue, the underrated Rick Perry, the redundantly financed Jeb Bush, and the much-touted Scott Walker conspicuous among them. Each of them will add color and nuance to the GOP presentation, each of them will help define differences with the arthritic liberalism of Hillary Clinton. They will all, for a time, be team players.

These are the good old days, folks. Enjoy them. Out of all this pluribus we’ll soon enough find unum.

By the middle of summer, I would guess, the herd will begin to thin out, first by circumstance and then by competition. I wish I could tell you what the circumstances will be, but they are in large part unknowable. This is politics we’re talking about.

As a case in point, consider the accident-prone Democrat, Martin O’Malley. It was only last month that Beltway pundits were scratching their chins and musing, “Is it time to take Martin O’Malley seriously?” Fresh and energetic, he seemed to combine a fiery progressivism with top-level executive experience. Oops. That executive experience happened to be concentrated in Baltimore, where he served first as mayor and then as governor of the state dominated by Baltimore. When the city exploded in a fireball of violence and racial hatred, O’Malley got burned. Overnight, he became a metaphor for the failure of liberal governance. No, Mr. and Ms. Pundit, it’s not time to take Martin O’Malley seriously. (The Clinton camp would prefer to see O’Malley disappear altogether, of course, and have him replaced as the Great Left Hope by the aging crank, Bernie Sanders.)

Now, I’m not suggesting that any of the GOP candidates will be hit by an O’Malley-sized asteroid, but accidents happen, some of them facilitated, you will be shocked to learn, by a vast left-wing conspiracy. It’s politics we’re talking about and events may control for a time. But then the serious competition will begin, with this question at the core of the contest: which candidate can stretch furthest beyond his factional base and unify the movement?

We don’t have a problem, folks. Not yet, anyway.

File your views, affirming or dissenting, at nealfreeman@blackwellcorp.com