If you begin to feel like your sense of the seasons is out of whack, it’s not just the mild winter weather across the country right now. The frightening upshot of Mitt Romney’s clear path to the Republican nomination for the White House is that it might as well be the fall of 2012 right now.
Making full use of their respective, nearly limitless warchests, both the Romney and Obama campaigns will spend the next ten months carpet-bombing each other in the media in hopes of framing the presidential race in their favor. And if you think the comparative name-calling of “job-killing President” versus “job-killing Wall Street puppet” is boring now, just imagine how it will feel by late October, after hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on sledgehammer-style negative ads.
Granted, I know that no one besides Romney ever had much of a chance. With the possible exception of Rick Perry, none of his opponents seemed to have either the money or the seriousness of intent to build a serious nationwide organization; Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich, in particular, seemed more focused on following the Sarah Palin model of feigning a political campaign in order to support book sales and other self-promotion. (Perry, meanwhile, fell victim to the perception that he would lose an IQ contest to Palin.)
Even with Gingrich’s rocket-like ascent into conservatives’ favor as a non-Romney contender, the question was more when rather than if he would flame out. But it sure would have made things more interesting if he could have hung on longer. Aside from the passing distraction of the two GOP heavyweights raining blows on one another, I was starting to amuse myself with fantasies of how Newt could possibly win a general election campaign. Obviously, the first prerequisite (for Newt, Mitt or any other challenger) would have to be the economy remaining sufficiently stalled out that voters were desperate enough to gamble on a return for Republican economic policies. But how would he keep his famously abrasive persona from scaring the electorate into sticking with Obama despite their doubts?
What I figured was that Gingrich would have to adopt a rope-a-dope approach that let Team Obama spend months painting the scariest picture they could of a Newt presidency… up until the televised debates. Then Newt, like Ronald Reagan against Jimmy Carter in 1980, would present himself in the most genial, soft-smiling, shoulder-shrugging fashion he could muster — in short, an unthreatening figure nothing like what voters had been led to believe.
Just the thought of Newt trying to contain himself long enough to pull that off would have kept me entertained for quite awhile. Now, though, we’ll never know what might have been.