GOP 2012: The Anti-Primary

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Watching Barack Obama battle Hillary Clinton during the 2008 Democratic primary race, you sometimes had a strange sense that neither of them could possibly lose. Obama had a movement of delirious activists and newcomers behind him, while Hillary had Clinton machine loyalists, women and other groups ready to fight to the bitter end for her. By and large, each side had to concede that the other candidate was pretty formidable in his or her own way, and the differences were mostly argued out at the margins. It was like two unstoppable forces on a collision course. 

In the 2012 Republican race, the dynamic is reversed. Within the context of the GOP, both Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich are horrendously flawed. Party activists and conservative leaders see Romney as an ideological chameleon who can’t be trusted to advance their agenda, and one who increasingly appears to be a political klutz. But the GOP’s Washington-based leadership–its top pundits, lobbyists and financiers–can’t believe Newt Gingrich has even made it this far. To them he is unstable and unelectable–a man who dresses up like Pericles in front of his mirror but could never defeat Barack Obama, much less govern the country. Which leaves the party with what you might call two immovable objects. I don’t exactly see how one defeats the other. But it’s also hard, at the moment, to see how either one crosses the primary finish line. Seeing how that happens–if that happens–will make for fascinating viewing this winter and spring.